Despite male dominance in the entrepreneurial world, more than 40% of businesses in the United States are run by women. For female entrepreneurs of a certain age, the question of private life is almost unavoidable. Many reports are asked by investors or stakeholders about their fertility plans.
Unfortunately, these plans are often seen as conflicting with business growth. If businesswomen do decide to become pregnant, many fear losing money, perceptions of their leadership, and their professional status at risk.
Women running their own businesses can make provisions for parental leave in their organisations. But it can be a daunting task, as female founders are often key in their organization, making taking time off can be challenging.
There are also few resources to support women entrepreneurs. The US is one of the only high-income countries without paid parental leave (though a few states do).
Human Ventures recently partnered with BBG Ventures to deliver a masterclass on parental leave with Arianna Taboada, author of Entrepreneurs looking forwardAs an investor in dozens of women-led startups, having seen more than a dozen babies born after we funded founders, we knew more resources were desperately needed on this topic.
We review the key takeaways from the Taboada conference below, which provide a basic roadmap for entrepreneurs and leaders who want to prepare themselves and their teams for maternity leave.
Find out your financing strategy
First, business owners need to plan how they will fund vacations. There are several possible paths to consider:
If your state offers coverage, apply for: These policies can be difficult to navigate, especially if you don’t have an employer who helps you with your paperwork, so you may need to hire an expert. States with paid leave programs include California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington and the District of Columbia.
To purchase short-term disability insurance: Yes, pregnancy is still considered a disability. Short-term disability policies cover recovery after childbirth and can be purchased with other company insurance.
build reserves: It’s a good idea to start thinking about setting aside money early to supplement state or insurance coverage. Looking at your team, predict which programs employees can take advantage of, and then understand how many you need to keep to make them complete.
Plan operational restructuring
Planning how to get things done while the founders are on vacation is a daunting task, as founders hold multiple roles, from people operations to customer service. Here’s how to break down key responsibilities:
Reverse Engineering Workflow: List the most pressing workflows at specific times of your leave so you can reverse engineer where you need support.
Conduct a two-week time review: Keep track of your time for two weeks and categorize workflows into items that can be taken away from your work by automating, delegating, or pausing.
Set your boundaries: Your vacations may look different than those of employees in larger companies, and you may maintain regular touchpoints in certain areas. Decide where you want to stay involved and where you want to step back.
Ahead of Client and Investor Communication
While intimidating for many, sharing news of your upcoming vacation can ultimately help you build greater trust with your customers and investors. That’s it:
Solve the expected problem: It is up to individuals to decide how much they are willing to disclose. However, sharing your news early will allow you to anticipate many inevitable problems and provide enough time to reflect on your expectations and boundaries.
Take advantage of opportunities to build trust: The more you think about the holidays and plan what your business might experience in the coming months, the more impressed your customers and investors will be. This could be an opportunity to shine as a leader.
Follow four key communication points: Schedule an initial notification meeting (phone/Zoom, or face-to-face) to share news and high-level program overviews. At approximately 37 weeks, send your vacation reminder and summarize the main points in writing. When the vacation starts, turn on an automatic reply with clear instructions, or ask people to email you again after a certain date. Finally, send your return to work notice when you return.
transition back to work
When you return to work after leaving, you will be living in a different reality. Here’s how to consider retaking responsibilities while balancing new responsibilities:
Respect your transformation: Becoming a parent and returning to work may not be easy. Give yourself a space to integrate your new way of working and remember that things will get easier over time. Add all your new responsibilities to your calendar: Pumping or nursery time is now part of your routine.
Gradually rejoin: You don’t need to go back to the 8-hour workday right away. For a few weeks, you might be online for a few hours a day to check in with your team (Taboada recommends a 30-60-90 day check-in framework to get back to work).
Revisit your role: You may not need to take back all the responsibilities you delegated while on leave. Parental leave may be a mandatory feature in terms of updating operating manuals, training new employees and restructuring teams – and some of these changes are likely to persist.
Every founder’s vacation looks different, but the best scientific evidence shows that six months of paid vacation is best for women’s physical and mental health. Taboada stressed that the two to six weeks postpartum recovery time is the most critical, so parents should make sure they are in the best possible health. Whether you are in labor or not, maximizing flexibility and working in stages for 16 weeks is recommended.
Having a family doesn’t mean sacrificing your career. Elements of parenting can even enhance leadership skills. Taboada shared that perinatal brain changes can unearth “management and sales superpowers” after childbirth, because there is so much coordination between listening and relationships.
Heather Hartnett is the CEO and general partner of Human Ventures.