In most tech companies, balancing parenthood and work can be extremely challenging. As a single mother in an executive position, it can be virtually impossible. Among a young, male-dominated workforce that sees long hours as a badge of honor, work-life balance often seems like a quaint relic.

No wonder so many women are leaving tech companies in their thirties – the very time when their male counterparts’ careers are taking off.

Thankfully, I’m not one of them. I haven’t had to give up on the career I worked so hard to grow, or be forced to pick one role: executive or mom. I’m able to balance both these roles – in fact, I’m able to thrive in both – because I have an employer like productboard.

Inclusion and flexibility in action

I’ll admit, I’ve hidden the fact that I’m a single parent during interview processes with other companies. Like it or not, there is a certain stigma attached to single parenthood, and I feared people would automatically write me off as a candidate. 

You can see interviewers thinking to themselves: so you’re a single mother in a demanding position how on earth are you going to balance all that? And it’s a fair point. In many companies, the lack of flexibility and empathy would simply make it impossible. 

Thankfully, productboard isn’t one of those companies. During the final stages of my interview with our CEO, Hubert, I said to him, “I previously shared with you that I’m a mother, but not the fact I’m a single mother. The way I balance all my obligations is with flexibility on my schedule. I need to be able to work from home sometimes, take my son to appointments, and to look after him if he’s sick.”

I feared this would be a deal-breaker, but I was wrong. A big smile spread across Hubert’s face as he replied, “None of this is an issue. You don’t know me yet, but I’m totally flexible and I understand the position you are in. All that matters is you deliver. If you need flexibility and to work from home a few days a week, no problem.”

To get that response from the very top was amazing. Instead of cold prejudice, I got warmth and empathy. Instead of rigid rules, I got flexibility. The result is that I can meet my commitments as a mother and as an executive in a tech startup – it doesn’t have to be one or the other. 

It all starts with culture

This perfectly sums up the culture at productboard, which is built around inclusivity, respect, and trust. We’re on a mission to make work a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds, and we see the differences between ourselves as something to celebrate. 

We don’t treat flexibility as a perk, but as a right. Everyone can work from home whenever they need to, choose when they start their day, and work around personal commitments. In addition to a generous PTO policy in all locations, we have nine sick days that we can take when we’re under the weather or when we need to look after loved ones. As a parent, this is priceless.

We don’t treat flexibility as a perk, but as a right.

Beyond flexibility, it’s about creating an environment where parents are accepted and accommodated. We offer paid parental leave after six months of employment, and we try to schedule social events that start and end earlier, allowing parents to participate. 

We also understand the boundaries that parents need due to childcare and family routines. We emphasize and respect the importance of family, and we can talk openly about our experience as parents without others questioning our commitment to work.

Supporting working parents through thick and thin

The support we receive [during the COVID-19 outbreak] includes reimbursing the cost of emergency childcare, allowing employees from two-parent households to share the childcare by working part-time, and complete acceptance for single parents who need to care for their children full-time while schools are closed.

Here’s a great example of our culture in action. Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, both our San Francisco and Prague offices have been closed as a precaution, with the entire productboard team asked to work from home. With schools already closed in the Czech Republic and beginning to close in the Bay Area, this has put a great deal of pressure on parents. Hubert quickly jumped on Slack to reassure the team and explain how productboard can help. 

The support we receive includes reimbursing the cost of emergency childcare, allowing employees from two-parent households to share the childcare by working part-time, and complete acceptance for single parents who need to care for their children full-time while schools are closed. And these sentiments are fully endorsed by the entire leadership team.

When a company gives you opportunities like this, it’s only natural that you want to repay them. Trust breeds trust, respect breeds respect. This is the foundation of a healthy relationship between employer and employee, and I am truly grateful that I work for a company that gets this. 

Trust breeds trust, respect breeds respect. This is the foundation of a healthy relationship between employer and employee, and I am truly grateful that I work for a company that gets this. 

Time for tech companies to stand up

I’m fortunate to work for a tech company that understands that it’s possible to be both a mother and hold an executive position. But I realize that many other mothers have had a different experience. Many have been forced to give up on promising careers just when they were getting started, or forced into the impossible position of choosing work over family. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. Rather than asking women to pick one role or the other, or encouraging them to try various life hacks to make the impossible possible, the onus should be on the tech sector to be more accommodating to working mothers. 

This starts with individual companies addressing their own attitudes towards flexibility and inclusion, and challenging the deep-seated stereotypes and prejudices that clearly still remain.  In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing about how productboard’s approach is remarkable. Every company should be doing the same. 

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing about how productboard’s approach is remarkable. Every company should be doing the same. 

Spreading the word

In the coming months, we’ll host a private viewing of Real Moms of Silicon Valley, a film in which inspiring moms discuss their experience of balancing work and motherhood in the ever-demanding tech industry, at our San Francisco offices. The viewing will be followed by a panel discussion.

We’re hoping this event helps further the discussion around work-life balance in the tech industry, the particular challenges that women face, and why helping working moms balance both sides of their life benefits everyone. 

After all, motherhood shouldn’t be seen as something that takes away from a career. If anything, it should be seen as something that adds to it. Being a parent teaches you so much about patience, tolerance, time-management, prioritization, and selflessness. These are invaluable qualities in the world of work.

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If you’re a working mother looking for a company that will support you in both your professional and personal life, look no further. We’re hiring across the board. Check out our careers page for more information.

Jessica Keeler
Jessica Keeler Mar 13, 2020