Reflections on Returning to Work

Last month was a big one for me: it was my first month back to work after maternity leave.

VH VP & Marketing Lead Sumia Shaikh with her newborn Inayah.

It is a reality that we lose many women in the workforce as they take on the majority of the caregiving burden in families, especially as the pandemic has affected our childcare and caregiving options. SHRM shared information from the National Women’s Law Center that analyzed the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Report. They shared that from “February 2020 to January 2022, 1.1 million women left the labor force during that span, accounting for 63 percent of all jobs lost…[and] while women gained 188,000 jobs in January 2022, they are still short by more than 1.8 million jobs lost since February 2020.” Experts point to the lack of support in paid leave, sick time, and childcare as a big reason why many women leave the workforce.

Like many women who return to the workforce, I had a mix of emotions. I was thrilled to get back to a job that I love but nervous about timing, support, and balancing it all. I wondered what it would be like to step back into a role at work when my role in life had changed in nearly every way in the past four months.

And to top it off, returning to work just as the Supreme Court made a policy decision to overturn Roe V. Wade in a country without any policy protections that support childcare, breastfeeding at work, or national parental leave, hit my emotions differently.

Visible Hands is a venture capital firm that invests in overlooked founders at the earliest stages through programs, hands-on support, and providing capital. It’s also a newer company. I didn’t know what to expect.

I’m blessed to say that the last month has been pretty great. Don’t get me wrong, the four-month sleep regression is brutal, but I’m grateful to work for a firm that prioritizes its team’s health, family, and wellness. I’m glad that Justin, Yasmin, and Daniel are deliberate about building a company that supports families — for their employees and the founders we serve.

Here are some things that VH did to support me during my pregnancy and my return to work:

  • Meant it when they said unlimited sick time/PTO: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I had a pregnancy from hell. With my Hyperemesis Gravidarum condition, I spent 2–3 mornings a week getting IV infusions and most days bedridden. I could not stomach water for over five months. It was the sickest I’d ever been and quite terrifying. During my high-risk pregnancy, I worried about how I could take care of myself while not letting my team down. My managers reminded me that my health and family are paramount. My leadership and team were accommodating by stepping in or up to take over whenever I needed. Many women with my condition leave their jobs indefinitely or take short-term disability. I felt so supported and had access to quality medical care and flexibility that I didn’t need to take an extended leave. I took time off when I needed to. I know it’s not the case for all, but being able to work remotely and do something I love was a huge benefit that got me through pregnancy. Providing proper medical care and wellness time off is critical for families.
  • Maternity leave planning and respecting time away: Leading up to my maternity leave, I met with my managers over two months and fully planned to hand over all my responsibilities so I did not have to work during my leave. They wholly respected time away and would not reach out unless it was for something unavoidable, such as making sure I knew of our new 401K enrollment date. I honestly did not expect this at a firm that works with startups and is somewhat of a startup itself. I focused on recovery and enjoying bonding time with my baby. Startups and smaller firms should allow people to have uninterrupted time away from work. You get more recharged, refreshed, and invested employees in return.
  • GPs all personally called or reached out to *sincerely ask* how to be supportive of my transition back. They let me know it was ok to start without being at 100% capacity of where I was pre-baby and they’d help me ease back into the swing of things. In this last month, I’ve seen this first hand in my check-ins with leadership. It makes a difference if your managers and leaders care about their employees as whole people.
  • Flying my family out for business travel: Our team is fully remote; that is a huge benefit for me as a new mom. However, we have quarterly trips to meet in person and focus on working together and building a team culture. Pre-baby, I would have been over the moon excited about a team trip to Miami, but with a baby, I had to worry about many more logistics. Thankfully, VH flew out my husband and baby and provided family and nursing-friendly accommodations throughout. They wanted me to join without the anxieties about feeding and caring for an infant 100+ miles away. I was encouraged to leave during the retreat if I needed to breastfeed or pump/deliver milk to my baby. VH even included my family on team lunches or after-work bonding events. Supporting childcare and infant feeding is a huge benefit that companies can provide.
Sumia & Inayah take Miami Beach!
  • No sacred cows: the biggest thing that has supported me throughout my journey is my leadership and team’s belief that we are continuously iterating to create the best possible experience for founders and employees. This also means providing psychological safety and welcoming feedback if we can do something better. I am comfortable suggesting Milk Stork or looking into on-site child care for future business trips. I am comfortable asking whether I can find a nearby Airbnb with better family-friendly accommodations versus a hotel. Companies must be open to feedback and implement more inclusive policies.

There are many steps that companies can take to support birthing people returning to work. I staunchly believe that inclusive environments are built by design and through iteration. Inclusive environments do not just happen by accident. Returning to work and having a positive experience, I see the amount of support that is needed from companies and beyond to support mothers.

Visible Hands values and emphasizes team and founder wellness from day one. They are truly building a company that not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk” when it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I hope sharing how my team supported me helps someone through theirs.

The Visible Hands team in Miami, June 2022.

I want to give thanks to my team that supported me and continues to support me in bringing my whole self to work. Special thanks to Yasmin Cruz Ferrine. Yasmin has built family-friendly policies and protocols from the onset. She also has been someone I needed: a role model who is mindfully building a company while being a fantastic mother and an empathetic leader who supports other parents.

Written by Sumia Shaikh, Vice President, and Marketing Lead at Visible Hands

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Visible Hands

Visible Hands

Visible Hands is a VC fund with a 14-week, virtual-first fellowship program that supports overlooked talent in building technology startups.