Reflections on balancing families and parenthood at work
At Visible Hands, we believe that our staff — and our founders — should be fully supported as whole people. It is easy to disregard the roles one plays outside their job title and description, especially in the entrepreneurial landscape. But we know for every 8+ hours of work completed each day, there are just as many hours each individual puts into their personal and family lives.
We recently spoke to our GP & Co-Founder Yasmin Cruz Ferrine about her role in creating a culture that supports families and parents at work. Swipe to see some of the main takeaways from our conversation.
On starting VH while pregnant:
“I started contributing to building the foundations of the firm while pregnant, and one of my core responsibilities was building our HR function. From the beginning, we established a parental leave policy. It is interesting to hear people talk about being a part of a VC firm, and there being no parental leave policies or precedents for new parents. So I think it is crucial to build those types of policies and habits from the beginning.
At VH, we do not have a typical face-to-face type of business since we are mostly virtual. Being pregnant, you have so many doctor’s appointments. While I was pregnant during a pandemic, many appointments were in telemedicine, but some were still in person. We wanted to set the precedent that you can go to as many of these appointments as needed without feeling as if there was this pressure that you’re taking time away from the work day. We have built a culture of trust, flexibility, and accountability: getting what you need to do in the time that works for you. And I think that is also really important for pregnant people.”
On returning to work after having a child:
“There is specific research that states that women work on average ten or more additional hours in unpaid caregiving a week on top of their work week. As a new mom, you have your physical body that is still recovering–it takes 18 months for a pregnant person to physically recover from a pregnancy, something that is not well known. So even beyond your 12 weeks [of maternal leave], you could have lingering health issues to manage, physically and mentally.
For some women returning to work means reconnecting with a former identity; for some women not used to feeling the guilt of being multi-hyphenated, it can be a lot of pressure.
Plan to be graceful with yourself and not expecting to over-deliver all the time because when you come back, you are not coming back as whoever you were before. And in many ways, a longing to strive to be your “old self” again is an exercise in futility. Becoming a parent is a full-on transformation.
From a performance standpoint, what I say is that sure, everyone here is managing their goals, potential growth, and all the things they want to achieve. And as a new mom, my goal was to focus on my transition back into the workplace and into the new person that I did not even know yet. Becoming that person is going to take time to get comfortable with and be acquainted with, especially as a first-time mom. I think on your first child it is important, from a productivity and goal-setting standpoint, that your focus is on a period of grace and transitioning, and not a period of stress.”
On allowing space for families during work trips at VH:
“50% of pregnant people continuing to breastfeed end up stoping breastfeeding prematurely because of supply. And one of the other things that is not well known is that the first time this supply can dramatically decrease is when you come back to work because all of the time that you were nursing the baby is the time that you are now getting work done.
The way that lactation works, it doesn’t care where you are or what you’re doing instead. If you were feeding at 1:05 pm, it doesn’t matter that you’re now meeting with whomever at 1:05 pm…Now you’re prioritizing things other than lactation to manage your new schedule, and so your supply inevitably changes, and then eventually, you know, you may not continue.
However, if you have a business trip with VH, and you were typically nursing your baby at a specifc time, you do not have to worry about shipping the milk back. You can take the breaks you need to feed your baby or pump, and your baby is allowed to be there. We support parents bringing their young children and caregivers with them on team retreats. We pay for their travel to join you, so you do not have to choose between work and your baby/family.
For me, even being in a situation where I have a really strong partner, taking the baby on a trip now without my support the entire week, can be difficult for my partner. So I want to set the baby up for success, set my partner up for success by being close to them, even when I’m on a work trip.”
On setting an example for VH staff on family empathy:
“Some people may have other types of support that allow them to leave from the same location as their child, but I didn’t have a full-time person dedicated to Natalia (Yasmin’s child). I tried to be as much of a presence as possible in my model for what works for me. The other thing, too, that I’ve done, and then I think, hopefully, will permit other people is, if Natalia has to be on a zoom, I’ll have her in on the zoom meeting. I think we have all gotten to a place where people understand that you know, you may have a puppy that is present or a child, and they need to be taken care of at that moment. I have a daughter who at times, if her childcare is done at three, and you want to be at a call with me at four, she may be there too.
I don’t have many examples of other women who have been able to integrate their families into their leadership roles. I’ve seen kind of only two extremes: that mentor, who you admire but who has no work boundaries, who’s in the delivery room doing transactions, is right back at work post the baby’s arrival, and then doesn’t have a huge presence in their child’s life; I have examples of a lot of peers of mine who feel it’s just too much pressure to go back to a high-performing job and then add in these 10 extra caregiving hours that no one had in the first place. So I think I am looking to create a balanced example. One of the things that I am intentional about is trying to find someone who can weigh in. I think this is where coaching is also helpful. Becoming a parent might be a great time to do executive coaching, so that you can feel like you’re more in control of all the ways you don’t have control.”
On easy ways to celebrate families at work:
“It’s more than benefits, right? It’s culture too. At VH, when we have in-person staff events like retreats, we try to infuse family into our plans, by having family-friendly activities and inviting partners and children to our bonding experiences to signal that you are not just a team member but are family. We also love giving gifts, like giving the babies and partners gifts.”
On advice for founders who are trying to create a space within their startup to allow for people to feel comfortable balancing their work with their families:
“The way we approach our career roles is like, ‘Okay, if I want to learn about capital raising, I’m going to learn the investor facing piece, I’m going to understand the art of storytelling, and there are specific things you’re going to learn in a clearly defined roadmap.
Don’t treat becoming a parent like that; don’t expect that your employees will learn parenting in a ‘neat and tidy way.’ The culture around parenting has got to be a little bit more intentional than that. And part of that is educating everyone around you about parenting, regardless of whether they have children or not.
In my case, my VH co-founders don’t have kids; it’s hard for other people to appreciate the challenges and obstacles that you’re facing on an hour-by-hour basis if they have no exposure to them whatsoever. So part of what I do is, I talk about it. Talking about the mom piece allows other people to better empathize, and then it permits other parents in the company to feel comfortable putting a block on their calendar for their children’s appointments or needs.
I will also give credit to the team because I think the response from the team has been: “how can parents at VH be seen, surrounded, and supported with childcare?” Childcare during our orientation in Tulsa, for example; that’s not something we had to ask for. It was something that was offered to us, so I think the rest of the team has been great being receptive. And that’s also a testament to our workplace culture and to us being not so full of hierarchy that people are not feeling like they’re overstepping boundaries. The fact that we’ve created a culture where someone else on the team is like, ‘Oh, let’s just build that support regardless of who needs it,’ is a testament to us, creating a culture that’s inclusive to families, regardless of your role.”