What new mothers have to say about returning to their jobs in tech

Recode readers responded to our survey in their own words.

Earlier this month, Recode put out a call to new moms in tech to learn about their experiences coming back to work after having kids. We surveyed these women about their jobs’ maternity packages, work flexibility, childcare benefits and even the quality of lactation rooms — all important elements for companies to retain their female workforce.

About 230 new tech moms responded. Their workplaces include everything from big companies like Google and HP to tiny digital advertising or software startups. In all, we heard from new mothers working in tech at about 150 companies.

Their experiences varied based on where they work.

We asked that they rate everything on a scale of 1 (horrible) to 5 (great), and write their own commentary, some of which we’ve included in italics.

Here’s what we learned:

Maternity benefits

Maternity benefits ran the gamut, from no paid leave at all to upward of 20 weeks paid time off.

On average, tech maternity benefits were well rated among survey takers. Some 55 percent rated their maternity leave packages at a 4 or 5 (great).

Of course, bigger companies were often able to provide better benefits packages than smaller ones. About 65 percent of those that rated their companies’ benefits at a 5 (great) were from companies that employed more than a thousand people — and usually a lot more.

At smaller companies, maternity benefits were sometimes limited or nonexistent. One in five of those surveyed had no paid maternity leave at all. Nearly all worked at small startups.

“We had no package, I was the first. 3 months paid (some through disability leave) and company made up the rest.”

“My company is small and doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, but I was given a generous bonus and allowed to take as long as I wanted unpaid.”

“We’re a startup, so the paid leave was not great. But the company gave me an additional month of unpaid leave beyond FMLA, and also went out of their way to offer me as much flexibility as I needed when returning to work (came back part time initially).”

“No maternity leave. I had to use PTO and then take an unpaid leave of absence to get a total of 9 weeks off work post c-section.”

Flexibility to work from home

Since tech workers often execute their jobs over computers, flexibility to work from home was one of the most consistent perks for moms working in tech. More than 60 percent of respondents rated that flexibility as a 4 or 5 (great).

“During my first pregnancy I used to call into morning meetings when I felt nauseated. In the last trimester I had troubling backache and my manager and team encouraged me to take it easy and work from home as much as I need.”

“It was all 100% flexible. The return to work (that I was dreading) turned out to not be a biggie at all. I got to change my hours to adapt to nursery collection times and work from home if I wanted to regularly as well as on the days when the baby was ill.”

“I work from home 3-4 days a week, which is especially critical for me because I have a long commute. I get every morning and evening with my daughter, and am very productive during the work day as a result.”

Still, there were plenty of issues.

“I work for a small marketing agency. Owner cannot relate as she is single with no kids. She does not support work from home. When I asked to extend my maternity leave she was not happy.”

“I was given freedom to work from home, but overall that hurt my role in the company and ultimately needed to be in the office for meetings etc.”

Childcare

Childcare was one of the biggest pain points for respondents.

Sixty percent of survey takers rated their job’s childcare offerings at 2 or 1 (horrible). Indeed, most women said their employers didn’t offer any sort of childcare options like in-house daycare or subsidies for other childcare options.

“While there is no onsite childcare, we are able to bring our children into the office if necessary, and there is a play room set up with a table for these situations.”

“Childcare has been my biggest struggle. It would be wonderful if work site offered onsite childcare.”

“We had none for my company and it nearly broke my household to just get 2-3 days a week of time. It wasn’t financially sustainable to have a sitter or nanny or daycare in the city.”

On lactation rooms

On average, lactation rooms were well-rated. Many companies went above and beyond the government-mandated requirement of providing a space for nursing mothers that’s not a bathroom. These lactation rooms were comfy, clean and private and were equipped with sinks, extra nursing equipment and good Wi-Fi.

However, the 30 percent of women who rated their lactation rooms a 2 or 1 (horrible) had many of the same recurring problems.

Lactation rooms often doubled as storage space, server rooms and conference rooms. They also could be dirty, hard to book or would offer little privacy.

“It is tiny and filthy and next to a men’s room so I can hear everything going on in there while I was pumping.”

“Some were warm, others cold and seemed like they were trying to check a box rather than really providing a good environment.”

“I was in back to back mtgs/calls every day, making pumping at work pretty impossible. I think I pumped once at work. I returned to work when my baby was 12 weeks, moved her to night nursing that week, and had lost my supply and moved to formula by week 15 or 16.”

“I wish I knew how bad and time consuming it would be to locate a lactation room and figure out a time when it wasn’t being used. That was the only reason I stopped pumping once I got back to work.”

“My former job was at a startup in which I had to pump in a server closet or a bathroom and often was interrupted by other (male) colleagues knocking on the door. They often left for lunch without me since I was often pumping before lunch during discussions about where to go. One time I came into the server closet and found a wifi camera in there as well not intended for me but freaked me out nonetheless.”

“It was the only conference room that didn’t have a window — so it wasn’t a dedicated pumping room so I had to kick people out a lot even when I had booked it.”

“Although the rooms were nice, the hardest part was blocking time for pumping. People constantly attempted to schedule over my blocked time for pumping, and just generally wanted me to do things (allday meetings) with no breaks. I was able to continue breastfeeding despite all of this.”

“After my first child I worked at a small startup with 5 male engineers and I chose to pump in my car since pumping in the closet next to them would have been so uncomfortable. I don’t think most people realize that pumps make a very distinct noise so being in poorly insulted and less private spaces can be a little distracting for everyone.”

Overall experience as a new mom in tech

About half the women surveyed rated their overall experience as a new mom returning to work in tech as a great one (4 or 5). Even some who reported terrible individual experiences with benefits, work flexibility or childcare thought highly of their overall experiences.

Encouragingly, the vast majority of respondents, more than 80 percent, are still at their places of employment after the birth of their kids.

Still, 25 percent of women said their overall experience was closer to horrible (1 or 2), so there’s a lot of progress needed to make tech an inclusive place for women with kids.


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