Small business owners: Parental leave isn’t about you
Apr 12, 2017
This week I had the privilege of chatting with Capital Gains about the unique intersection of entrepreneurship and motherhood. Just a small, not-at-all-controversial topic, right?
When I first sat down with the reporter I asked her, why motherhood? Why not explore the topic of entrepreneurship and parenting as a whole? Don’t women get singled out enough when it comes to the topics of careers and parenting?
Because the experience of being a female entrepreneur with a child is so unique, she explained.
Well, I don't know if that's true, but damn... Isn't that the truth?
That's the thing about parenting: Sometimes it feels like one giant contradiction. It's this massive shared experience, yet so uniquely different for each and every individual.
Each of us can only really know and understand the experience we've lived. We can try to expose ourselves to others' unique perspectives, we can surround ourselves with people whose experiences are completely different than our own and those who are more similar, but at the end of the day, even that search for knowledge shapes our own unique perspective.
No one of us is an expert. Each baby is different. Each family is different. There are as many ways to parent as there are people. But one fundamental belief becoming a parent instilled in me is the need for small business owners to create better family leave policies.
Before my leave, I was proud P&G offered a 6-week paid maternity leave with the option to take up to 12 weeks unpaid.
Of course, living the experience gave me a different perspective. But maybe not in the way you’d think.
I was convinced that, as a small business owner, it would be impossible to take more than two full weeks off. If I can just get the first two weeks, then I can start checking emails, maybe taking a phone call here or there, I thought. I wasn’t sure if I’d want more or be ready to head back into the office, but I didn’t believe I had options, so frankly, it didn’t matter what I wanted. I was right.
My team and business coach had a different plan. It was really important to them I get the full six weeks, or as much time as I felt like I wanted and needed, and everyone worked so hard to make sure that possibility became a reality. We modified our operations process. We pulled in freelancers. We cross-trained. We waited, and waited, and waited for my two week late baby to finally show up.
I think an unpopular but real element of small business maternity leave is that they’re hard on the rest of the team. They’re inconvenient. They’re stressful. Yup. I said it. And you know what? That’s okay. Not everything in business is easy. People being out of the office is a challenge regardless of the reason. But it’s not insurmountable and it certainly shouldn’t be a reason why we make choices for families on their behalf about what they need or want or, worse, deserve.
But when I came back from leave, I made some significant changes to the P&G leave policy, not because I wanted or needed more time, but because I recognized that my experience couldn’t possibly represent every employee’s experience. I immediately corrected the glaring error of our policy being a maternity leave policy and changed it to a family leave policy open to parents of any gender or gender identity. I added in adoption and surrogacy. And I made it a 10-week paid leave with a part-time phase in period.
I didn’t do it because I want people to feel “ready” to come back, or have “the time they need to heal.” I can’t predict that. I can’t know when someone will feel ready or won’t. I can’t control someone’s body <ahem>.
But I can try to give people more options in an environment where the current options often suck.
I don’t want a pat on the back. I don’t deserve a cookie. I’m simply supplementing a glaring gap in our governmental (and societal) practices, but it’s a needed supplement. People deserve better than what we give them.
As small business owners, we need to remove our personal experiences from the conversation. What YOU needed doesn’t matter. Whether you took five days or three months, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t about you. It’s about giving people choices – albeit imperfect ones.
This may be the only time I’ll say this, but the WHY doesn’t matter here. Why someone needs or wants parental leave doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they don’t feel ready or they are still recovering or they don’t have adequate childcare or they want that time to bond with their kid. It doesn’t matter if their leave is a little slice of heaven or the trenches of parenting. No one should have to justify themselves or their access to a parental leave.
Paid parental leave can be expensive and hard and inconvenient for a business owner, sure. And you know what? It doesn’t actually matter if it’s “worth it” or not.
Because each family, each person, will experience and be affected by parental leave in a different, unique way. Having more options and control over how they welcome a new family member? THAT is what matters.