Parenthood in the tech world
People who dedicate time in their lives to their career experience a change of focus as they navigate the new world of having a young child. They, or their life situation, will make a choice. Some choose to stay at home, leaving or pausing work while their children are young. But those new parents who want or need to continue working full-time (yet feel that they can’t) add to statistics like:
50% of women leave the tech industry by age 35*
*as per a 2020 Accenture "Resetting Tech Culture" study (compared to 20% in other industries)
There are bound to be many factors contributing to this, but the Accenture study suggests that creating “an inclusive culture” reverses this concerning trend. How can companies do this?
In November 2021, I gave birth to a daughter, Amelia, and began a wonderful, intense journey that I was entirely unfamiliar with.
It isn’t something anyone can really prep for. I didn’t try to read all the books and articles about what to do in advance. We were still in lockdown, so I went to the prenatal groups that I could and received advice from friends and family via WhatsApp osmosis.
I soon learned that the landscape shifts faster than AI technology. On demand advice worked much better than reams of prep; a bit like hammering Stack Overflow to find that one person with the same issue as you.
I could try and shoehorn in clumsier technology analogies, but they’ve all been done before, and none do this part of my life justice. The first year was beautiful, emotional, and a massive learning curve. Everyone has a totally different experience, and even the slightest variable change (illness, weather, sleep) could send a day off in an entirely different direction. After the first three sleep deprived months, things started to settle, and we all found a new normal.
Spending time together
I really enjoyed this bonding time, caring for and learning about Amelia. We got ourselves a little routine together – daily park walks, me getting some downtime while she slept, and when we’d moved to Devon, baby classes. Oh yes, my partner and I moved from Bristol to Plymouth when Amelia was less than 6 months old. It went surprisingly well! As soon as we were there, I felt relieved to be closer to my family support unit, who are an integral part of our parenting journey.
I was lucky to be able to take a year's maternity leave with Amelia. Rock Solid Knowledge paid me three months full pay, and then I went onto Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP).
The United Kingdom has several parental leave policies, with Statutory Maternity Leave (SML), paternity leave and pay, and the option to use Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP).
I am so glad that my company didn’t stick to the minimum UK government policies for parental leave and pay. According to a 2022 Boundless HQ study, the UK and Ireland are some of the least generous countries in Europe when it comes to maternity pay and leave. Things would have been far harder without the longer time off and extra money. This went towards baby essentials and helped to mop up some of the financial loss that comes with a salary pause like this.
Before long, we were through the scorching summer and Amelia was a year old. It was time to return to work, and my first day back was Halloween 2022. I’d barely opened my laptop all year, and certainly hadn’t been coding! Not only that, but due to a mixture of lockdown, pregnancy and the house move, I’d hardly seen anyone from the office in person.
As Autumn unfurled, a mixture of nervous excitement and unproductive thoughts bubbled above my head.
- Would I still remember how to code?
- What if the landscape has changed so much that I need to learn everything from scratch?
- What if something I worked on ended up having such a big issue that people didn’t want to tell me about it?
As a side note, this type of thinking can feel overwhelming, but the statements are real examples of “cognitive distortions”. If you’re interested, Rahat Chowdhury did a splendid “CBT vs Imposter Syndrome” talk on this subject at Umbraco Codegarden 2021.
These fears can be big enough to scare someone off work, maybe permanently.
I was both nervous and excited about returning to work because I'd never left my daughter in childcare for a whole day before, and I didn't know how she or I would cope
There are, always, so many things to worry about for parents. I thought I worried a lot before. Now I know it was merely the tip of all things in the world to think about!
If anything, I’ve reached a sort of worry funnel where I can literally only think about so many things at once, and the other smaller things just fall away.
Parents of small children may worry about many things when thinking about coming back to work, such as:
- Breast/chestfeeding their baby: That they won’t have the privacy to express milk if needed
- Nursery: That they won’t be able to pick up their child from nursery due to inflexible working hours
- Baby: That the baby won’t cope with the change of schedule and being away from them for part of the day/week
Returning to work without the support of your employer could cause massive anxiety in the returner. Some people are naturally vocal and shout about things they aren’t happy about. Others might not feel comfortable speaking up but internally resent the lack of a supportive policy and quietly leave.
A new parent could leave their career sooner than they had planned to due to these fears, and if they are a mother like me, contribute to the depressing statistics of women leaving tech.
Luckily, my company helped me allay these fears through a mixture of supportive policies and generally just being sensitive to how I might be feeling.
I was the first employee to take maternity leave, so it was Rock Solid Knowledge’s first time at this, as well as mine. They did well! But I want to make sure other companies in our industry get it right, too. There are big opportunities for companies like ours to help balance the ratio of those in tech who have children and return to work.
In my case, I wrote a maternity handover about every project and had handover meetings before I left, along with explaining what to do if someone needed to get hold of me, (which never happened). I emailed a few questions during my leave that my managers replied to quickly and reassuringly. But during the whole year, I could care for my baby without the stress of work emails.
A few weeks before I returned to work, I felt quite nervous about how Amelia would cope with myself and my partner working full-time. I didn’t feel part-time was right for me, although I could have requested it as part of a flexible working request.
Before I had my first day back, our Human Resources Manager, Tegen Eve, travelled down from Bristol for a coffee in my hometown, Plymouth. My daughter had a babyccino (which ended up all over the table!). We had a gentle chat about what had been going on generally, life events, project statuses… and by the time I left I felt much more confident about working here again.
This face-to-face meeting reassured me more than any email or phone call would have
But how did Rock Solid Knowledge create this inclusive culture, one that helped reassure me that new mothers and parents are welcome additions to the office?
Putting policies into place in a clear and well-researched way undoubtedly helps those who see parental responsibilities in their future. When it comes to sharing experiences and recommending friends, clearly the company that supports someone with a helpful policies that make financial sense will leave a good impression (and it is expensive to hire!).
These might be internally developed policies, or if your company needs guidance, partnering with a company such as Motherboard can help with coming up with clear and inclusive policies that hit the mark. Rock Solid Knowledge did this, and many of our policies were guided by Motherboard. These included the following, listed in the 2022 Motherboard Impact Report:
- Improved parental leave policies
- We don’t just have default SMP. Employees are entitled to three months of full company pay during their maternity leave. We're also looking to create a singular parental leave policy that will give all parents access to what currently is limited to mothers
- Implemented breastfeeding rooms and policies
- Learning that our company had worked with Parent Promise to develop an updated breast/chestfeeding policy, and a new lactation/wellbeing room really reassured me, as I felt like my needs were being considered. Having been back in the office weekly since returning, it is good to know that the room was there to book if I needed
- The room is also available as a place of comfort and chillout space for anyone in the office. This comes under our wider Employee Wellbeing movement - whilst the initial motivation came from creating a lactation room, we expanded this out so the room would be available to anyone who should need it
- Overhauled return to work policies
- We re-wrote our Employee Handbook, so the policies and practices reflect the employee need and become more flexible to each person's need
- Introduced mental health champions
- Our mental health first aider is Tegen Eve. The role acts as a support for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. Tegen creates a bridge between our employees and the services available to them, whilst having a framework for navigating difficult conversations in a way that is effective in the moment
- Increased equality, diversity, and inclusion awareness internally
- We wanted to increase our understanding of our own unconscious biases, pronouns, privilege, and neurodiversity, so that we can better create an inclusive environment for everyone working with us
- Increased entry level tech opportunities within their businesses
- We regularly take on apprentices, some of whom have become full-time employees. We provide work experience opportunities and internships
- Created gender neutral job specs
- These are demonstrated on our website careers section
- Tackled internal issues with the gender pay gap and began to close the gap
- Each year we do a pay review and adjust accordingly. This is also the case whenever we make a new hire - if the negotiated salary falls above others with the same skillset an adjustment is made so that pay scales remain fair
With these sorts of policies in place, parents and carers can return to work confidently, enriching the workplace with their own diverse experiences of parenthood. A lot of these policies go beyond parenting-centric policies and benefit the entire team.
Flexible working & home working
As well as all the above policies, all companies are obliged to consider flexible working requests. We follow the core hours of 10:00am - 4:00pm with a 2:00pm finish on Fridays. Flexible working can be requested as a day one right for all employees, where an individual’s working pattern is reviewed. For instance, I have arranged to leave earlier on a nursery run day and catch-up once Amelia is asleep that evening.
I’m not saying working in the evenings is ideal or maintainable long-term, though. I’m finding that Amelia’s early wakings mean that I’m ready for bed when she is. I used to work into the evening past my assigned hours, eat late, skip routines etc. Sometimes when the focus hit me, I just went with it and felt like I was able to be extra productive in that zone. Looking back this wasn’t really a healthy way to work or live and working on a fix in the night wasn’t usually helpful. I’d login the next day and realise the issue straight away with fresh eyes. It also could give a false cadence for the project to do extra hours than budgeted.
Having a little one to look after now means I must be much more disciplined with my own time, finish at a specific time to collect her from nursery, have dinner earlier, do my hours but not work extra hours to finish things. The only extra time I can fit into my day is after Amelia's bedtime in the late evening. After some adjustment, I feel like this has helped my work life balance.
At Rock Solid Knowledge, most of us work from home three out of five days a week, with one or two days in the office depending on peoples’ location/preference. This working from home policy massively helps me, in terms of being able to be close to family in Plymouth for support and childcare.
I have recently had to take a day’s dependent leave with my sick daughter, something I’ve never had to do before. Once her illness was over, I was glad to reflect that it had been fine – I’d managed it. Because my company were relaxed and understanding about this occurrence, it reassured me that, despite having a busy and productive full-time job, I would be able to look after Amelia on days that she couldn’t go to nursery.
My next exciting challenge will be attending and talking at my first conference since becoming a mother: Umbraco Spark in Bristol.
Now that I’m back to full-time work, I feel I have a new perspective as a parent, and I hope to be able to use this to bring new ideas to the work I do. I feel I have increased my self-discipline on the hours I keep, which has worked out better for me than I expected. And I’m clearer about my needs and expectations because I am not just advocating for me, but my daughter too.
I’d love to hear from other parents who are on this journey, in any role you’ve played in it. We’re all learning, and it would be amazing to share experiences with a tech parents and carers support network!
I'm so pleased that my employer is focusing on this area for parents and carers, and I'm keen to get involved to help further shape the experience for future returners