For as long as I can remember, I’ve been laser-focused on my career. From the structured environment of finance to the rollercoaster of start-ups, my commitment to personal and professional growth has remained a constant.
And then I got pregnant.
At the time, I was a VP at a well-known Series C stage tech company in New York City. Company revenue — as well as several people’s livelihoods — depended on me.
For the first time in my career, I felt deeply insecure. The questions started swirling in my head. How would people perceive my commitment to the company? What would my direct reports do while I took leave? Could I still participate in major company decisions while going through this life event?
And most important: how could I remove myself from work for three months, and not have my team fall apart — or my career stagnate?
While I felt deep anxiety, at the same time, I was personally thrilled about becoming a mother. I wanted nothing more than to care for my baby, and to ensure that I welcomed him into this world in the best possible way.
So I did my best to plan for my maternity leave. And I enjoyed a wonderful 12-week paid parental leave with my son.
At the end of my leave, I was excited and ready to return to work. Two weeks before I went back, I was promoted and told that I would be building a much larger team with much greater responsibility.
But as I discovered during my first few weeks back, some of my original fears were well-founded. I returned to work and found that while my team had worked overtime and tried their best, it wasn’t enough to deliver the business results we wanted. They missed our sales goals — in large part because I hadn’t appropriately renegotiated the goals based on my pregnancy — and they felt exhausted from covering for me while I was out. Additionally, several major projects hadn’t advanced because they needed my input. This meant that in addition to building out a larger team with more aggressive goals, I also had a lot of “catch up” work to do as a result of what happened while I was on maternity leave.
So I put my head down and worked harder than ever to catch back up. I worked long days to get my piece of the business back on track, while still waking up every three hours to feed my son. One day, I finally thought: it would be so much easier to just quit and start fresh somewhere else. The issues created as a result of my maternity leave seemed so insurmountable that I wasn’t sure I wanted to climb uphill anymore.
It was an ironic realization. The whole reason companies provide paid parental leave is to ensure retention and ongoing career growth for parents, especially women.
So I started to ask my friends and business school peers who were also starting to have kids: was my experience unique, or is this what my peers were experiencing as well? The feedback was nearly unanimous: everyone — it seemed — was struggling with how to prepare their business to succeed without them. And they all reported major challenges in their “return to work” experience.
I thought back to all of the women I knew who had quit their jobs within a year of returning from their maternity leaves. None of them had actually dropped out of the workforce — they had just switched companies.
I wanted to understand why parental leave — a well-intentioned, progressive workplace policy — was having all of these unintended negative consequences on both parents returning to work, and the teams and businesses that rely on them. Despite my experience, I still believed parental leave was critical to entering the rhythms of new parenthood and bonding with a new child. So was it really a foregone conclusion that parental leave would have such negative impacts on the parent and business?
Two years ago, I set out with fellow mother, friend, and Senior Director at Target, Jaime Rooney, to solve this puzzle. We spoke to dozens of new parents, particularly mothers, about their biggest pain points surrounding their upcoming or past parental leaves. After significant research, we launched a three-month pilot program, providing 30 director-level women with weekly online modules and personalized coaching to help them prepare for their leave and return to work as smoothly as possible.
The feedback was tremendous: one mother, a senior leader at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, reported that the organization asked to use her process as a template for the entire organization. Another new mother mentioned that she had fears of becoming obsolete in her organization upon leave, but the coaching enabled her to accelerate certain business milestones and set up her role for greater impact upon return from leave. Despite this being a very early stage pilot, several participants proactively told their company’s HR organizations about us.
And so, we officially (quietly) launched Parentaly in October 2019.
Today, we offer several programs focused on supporting parents preparing for and returning from parental leave. We work exclusively through company HR teams to provide this as a company benefit for any parent taking parental leave.
Because parental leave is so nuanced and personal, every program is a combination of coaching and content — and is very prescriptive. We know exactly what exercises and templates parents need depending on their stage of parental leave and their specific role, and then we layer on the personalization of coaching to ensure successful planning and implementation.
We ask participants to review their role and responsibilities, re-prioritize work, and reset goals and expectations. We also provide crowdsourced recommendations on how to handle the most common challenges and decisions. Expecting parents are asked to work iteratively with multiple stakeholders (direct reports, peers and managers) at their company to mutually agree on three main things:
One year after officially launching Parentaly, we are more convinced than ever that we are solving a critical business need. To date we have worked with over 125 parents, and have clients ranging from very small startups to our largest client who is in the Fortune 50.
This is the bet we are placing: business continuity planning and reintegration — with our specific methodology — will dramatically improve retention and business results when employees take parental leave. We believe this is much more impactful than any other benefit a company could provide a new parent to smooth their transition back to work. Because if the business falters while a parent is on leave, or their role becomes precarious, none of the other benefits a company could provide matter anymore.
We are ready to prove that parental leave does not need to be a hindrance to people’s advancement in the workplace, but a catalyst for reflection, thoughtful planning, and career acceleration.
If you’re preparing for parental leave, or you’re a company that wants to offer Parentaly’s coaching and online modules to your employees, contact us to schedule a consultation.