AlterConf Minneapolis 2016 – Maternity and Motherhood in Tech by Sarah Olson

AlterConf Minneapolis 2016 – Maternity and Motherhood in Tech by Sarah Olson


(upbeat music) – My name’s Sarah Olson. I’m a senior software
engineer at the Nerdery. I’m also the director of
our local women who code. I have two beautiful children. I’m a mom, and so my
children must be beautiful. I’ve had those kids while
I was working in tech at a smaller company where
there weren’t a lot of kids. I had my first one at a large corporation where there were a lot
of people having kids and there were a lot of
benefits attached to that. I’m going to talk a little bit about what benefits are available to women who are having
children and to families, and how your company may or may not support you with those children. So if you look at this map here, we are one of the only
countries in the world that does not have paid leave for mothers. It’s pretty bad. Out of the 185 countries they looked at, the three that do not offer any paid leave are the U.S., Suriname,
and Papua New Guinea. Every other country has
some sort of paid leave, and that goes anywhere from a few weeks to over a year, depending on where you go. In the U.S., all we have is the FMLA, which is the Family Medical Leave Act, which gets you 12 weeks unpaid, and that just means that
you can’t lose your job, but it doesn’t really give
you any benefits beyond that. If you do have maternity policy it’s usually covered under
short-term disability, which is strange because having a baby is not really a disability, and your coverage is anywhere from 40 to 100 percent of your pay. Adoptive fathers and adoptive
parents rarely get leave. If they do it’s usually
around a week or two. They did a poll to find
out how many people supported paid leave, and there’s a lot of support for it from actual employees. Unfortunately employers have been a little bit slower to get on board. Some of the research on how many people actually get to use paid
leave are pretty bad. Currently 25 percent of employed mothers return to work within two weeks of having a baby, childbirth. Two weeks. There are a lot of benefits to having mothers at home with their babies. And it’s not just actual medical benefits. They have shown that it
substantially reduces the death of infants and young children, and the longer that the mom is at home, the longer that that benefit is in place. It improves the health
of your babies medically. It also improves the mother’s
ability to breastfeed. I don’t know how many
people here have breastfed, but being stressed out and
constantly running around and trying to take care of your baby and work at the same time it’s really hard to keep up your milk supply. It’s also good for moms at employers. They did a study with
Google when they upped their parental leave to
18 weeks the rate at which mothers left the company
fell by 50 percent. So it helps support moms
in their careers as well. So employers are finally
starting to offer paid leave. They had a little dip
in 2014, but 2015 was the best year for parental leave policies, and hopefully that is only increasing. A lot of the top tech
companies are substantially increasing their paid leave right now. Etsy just announced that
they have six months for both men and women
who are having children. There’s a lot of Netflix,
Microsoft, Adobe, Facebook, Amazon, Apple,
they all have policies now that are more than two
months, two to six months. So it’s good to see that
that is starting to happen. The city of San Francisco
just this last week passed a parental leave law where you get six weeks fully paid,
and that’s for everyone who works in the city of San Francisco. So that’s a really great policy and I hope to see other
cities follow suit. It’s really important to
note that parental leave is not just about moms who
actually give birth to a child. This is important for everyone who is bringing a child into their family. And it’s also important for men, if they are offered parental leave or even if they’re not, that they take it. A lot of the problems
with gender disparity is that we’re putting too much pressure on women to take care of their families, and we’re not putting
that same pressure on men. And the more that men show how important it is for them to be at
home with their families the more it’s okay for
women to do so as well, and it’s going to make it more supportive for both of them at their employers. So what are some things that we can to do to support moms who just
had babies and are nursing? These are some really awesome
stock photos that this woman took based on her
experiences pumping at work. This never happened to me at work, but it did happen at a dinner after work because I had had long meetings and I didn’t have a
chance to pump after work. Fortunately I had a sweater to cover up but it was still pretty embarrassing. So just note that if you are working with a mother who is nursing, to make sure that she has time to take breaks, that she can get out and
pump when she needs to, try to break things up a bit. She has a lot going on. When I started working when I had my child I worked at Thomson Reuters, and they had a really fantastic mothers room. It had little cubes with doors that shut and it was like our own
little private sanctuary. When I started working at the Nerdery they did not have a mothers room at that time so I was trying to find conference rooms to go
and take breaks into, and I actually used this sign on there. It says, Wonder Woman is
using her super powers to feed her infant child,
please don’t disturb. Because I work at the Nerdery, you know. But I was always terrified
that someone was going to barge in on me, or
that I wouldn’t be done and another meeting would be starting up and I wouldn’t be able
to go answer the door. So please don’t make moms do this. Don’t make them pump in a bathroom. It is not good, not only because
you have a lot of supplies that you’re trying to
balance and put places, but also do you think about the smell? I mean, you’re feeding
your child with this milk and you don’t want to be
sitting in a smelly bathroom. It’s not sanitary, it’s really bad, it’s actually illegal in Minnesota. Please don’t do this. Don’t do this either. Find a safe, comfortable
spot for women to pump. Also, it’s fantastic if
they have their own sink, because otherwise you’re bringing your pump supplies into the kitchen where everyone can see it, and
it’s not the best scenario. So having a sink in the
room is also fantastic, someplace they can clean up. So here’s what a really nice
mothers room looks like. And this is actually the mothers room I had to use at a conference once. They told me they had a mothers room and I was super excited, but it was in a basement in a building
that no one else was in. It had no ceiling. There was actual construction
debris on the ground and tape closing it off
but I had no other option, so I actually pumped in that room and I took a picture of
it and put it on Twitter. (audience laughs) So here’s what moms use to pump. They have this bag with
a cooler and they have their bottles and the pump,
and it’s a lot of stuff. You have to worry about where you’re going to put this milk to keep it cold. So there’s a lot of stuff that women need to have in order to comfortably pump. So here’s a list of things
in case you’re wondering what can I do to support women. What can we do to support
families, not just women. Flexible work work arrangements
are really important. People will leave without it, so it’s not always something that
employers notice is a problem, but you’ll notice through attrition. So offer telecommuting, offer
different work schedules, a compressed work week,
or part-time options. Don’t micromanage,
where all you care about is that your employee
is sitting in a chair at the certain time, just look at the work that they’re doing, look
at how productive they are. Trust your employee. Onsite daycare is something that not a lot of employers actually offer, but the ones that do have seen really great results with employee retention and with sick time and other leave due to
problems with your daycare not being available, to you child getting sent home early because they’re sick. There’s all kinds of
issues that families have trying to find childcare, and if you make that really easy for them they’ll have to take less time off of work. This is one that I really struggled with. When you have a baby, especially for the first time, there is going to be a pretty substantial period of adjustment, where both parents are
going to be very tired and not quite thinking straight, and they’re going to have memory issues, and trying to multitask is hard. Just understand that that’s a thing and try and support them through it instead of making them feel like they can never keep up and
that they’re struggling. It’s going to hurt their
performance even more. So just now that there’s
this period of time where six months to a year
after they have a child that things are going
to be a little rough, and do what you can to
support them through that. So talking a little bit
about my experience, so like I said I was
working at Thomson Reuters, which is a huge company here,
when I had my first child. I at that time had eight weeks of full pay for my maternity leave, which
was really good at the time, and I used two weeks of vacation. So it was a pretty good leave. When I came back we had
the great mothers rooms, but it was still very much a struggle. I was really tired, it was my first child, and that kind of year
after I had that baby I was really struggling
with keeping up with work, with getting enough done,
with having the right kind of mindset to be really productive, and I feel like that
really hurt my performance at the company and I really didn’t feel like I was doing the best I could there. I ended up, because of the commute time and the inability to telecommute, I changed careers and I went to Optum. It was closer to home. They had a pretty good mothers room, not as good as Thomson Reuters. My child was older so it
was less of a struggle. But big corporations have
great insurance benefits, they have better leave
policies, so if that’s something that’s really important to you those are some of the benefits you get from larger companies. When I came to the Nerdery it
was a much smaller company. They weren’t as aware
of what mothers need, and I had to do a lot
of education with them on here are the things that I need to be successful as a mom. At the time I got six
weeks at 60 percent pay. They have now upped
that to 100 percent pay, which is great, but that
was also really hard for a family who now has two children that they’re going to
be putting into daycare, and how do I afford to take any more time off than what you’ve given me. So I had to go back to work right away, and that was a big struggle. So there was no mothers room at first. I worked with them to get that in place, and they were really receptive to the things as long as I told them, here’s what I need from you. So if you’re working at a small company, make sure you look into the laws, like don’t make me pump in a bathroom. If you go on the Minnesota law website they will actually tell
you that is not acceptable, and you can show that to your employer. I did. Just make sure that
your manager understands I’m adjusting to a new
baby, she’s not sleeping, or he’s colicky, or
whatever the issues are. It might not necessarily
make it that much better but at least you’re being as
communicative as possible, and that they can try to
understand you and your needs. The other thing to be very
wary about is conferences. When you’re attending a
conference do they have a mothers room for you,
do they have childcare. What are the things that you need, because that was the kind of thing that I would kind of go, oh,
I’m going to a conference and I have no idea what I’m going to do, how I’m going to manage this. So the more that tech conferences can offer those things, the
more supportive they’re going to be for families and
especially pumping mothers. And that’s all I have for you. Does anybody have any questions? – [Voiceover] Thank you
for the presentation. I’m involved in organizing
a national tech conference that happens several times a year, and one of the things that I’ve been talking to the actual
company that runs it, is trying to figure out how
to incorporate childcare. From their perspective it’s not an easy or obvious thing to do, so
I’m wondering if you have any insights on how an
organization, or anybody else here, on how a conference can actually do that, such that they don’t run
into liability issues or the expenses not prohibitive, and yet it would actually work for a mother. – Yeah, Ash is probably a good person to talk to about this too, but
I’ve been looking into that. There are companies that offer childcare for conferences, like that’s what they do. So that’s what I’ve been looking into. I don’t remember all the names, but there are definitely
companies out there that just take care of that for you. The one thing that I’m
not entirely sure about is if you have a very young baby, there are requirements
to how many providers there needs to be at different age levels. So if you have really young children, you need more people there
to take care of them. So the specifics of it I’m
not exactly sure about, since childcare was offered here. – [Voiceover] There’s a lot of different things that you can do. One is a lot of childcare providers will tell you things like we need X number of adults per children, we need to know what their dietary needs, their allergies, any special other needs that they have. Another option that I see people do if they can’t get insurance,
because you do need insurance if you have children in spaces, is that they’ll contract with a daycare that is near the event
space, and so parents will drop their children
off at the daycare, and that’s a safe and close space that has all those insurances in place and you know that your
children are being taken care of by licensed caregivers. – [Voiceover] I have a couple thoughts. Just to kind of add to that,
I’ve been to some conferences where they have provided childcare, and I would recommend also
that the outsourcing of it, find a good, reputable company. They tend to know what they need and the type of space they need. They can work that stuff out with you. Another thing to consider
for accessibility is childcare grants. That can be a helpful thing too, to either support, or
at least partly support, the cost of that childcare for the day. And another option, and
this is if it’s going to be a conference that people may
have to travel a lot for, I’ve seen situations where they allow you to use the grant to pay for the ticket to bring along someone,
a caregiver, with you. So we’ve been able to do that, where I brought my
spouse to the conference and we partially funded his plane ticket with the childcare grant. So that’s something that
can also be very supportive. And then I would also just say, if you expect people might have to travel, planning and making people
aware of that possibility as far in advance as
possible so that they know that attending the conference
is an option is very helpful. – Agreed. Thank you. (audience applause) (upbeat music)

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