Maternity Leave at Startups: Does it Exist?

They call us job hoppers. The average tenure of a millennial employee is just 1.5 years to 3 years, according to various studies. If only there were opportunities to actually move up within our own organizations, we won’t be so tempted to hop. But there often is a great divide between opportunity in one’s current position versus the opportunity outside of it. Leaving becomes the only way to move up.

I’m very committed to my company, so committed that I’ve probably stayed longer than I should have given the opportunities that have presented themselves. I am just hungry for a new challenge, a new topic, a new game to win. I also have, in my deep reflective thought over the past few days, realized that at this point in my career I need to surround myself by positivity and growth, not stagnation or worse.

That said, I’m absolutely terrified of change. I’ve grown very comfortable in my role, which maybe is the problem, but I really respect and like my coworkers. Culturally there’s a long-standing fit, and I see a few potentials as cultural misfits but amazing opportunities. I want to make sure wherever I go next I can commit to for 2-3 years.

The next 2-3 years are incredibly important to me from a strategic life planning point of view. I’m 30 today, and want to have my first kid by 33. That means this is the job I’ll likely be in when — if I can have kids — I give birth to my first child. It also means this is the job I’ll be in when I get married. When I attempt to go on or postpone my honeymoon. When my father with terminal cancer reaches the final stages of his life, which I’m completely not prepared to deal with.

All of this requires flexibility. Working for a startup is not exactly the smartest if flexibility is the top requirement. But I also want to spend this time taking one more chance, trying one more time to come in early and work for a startup that can at least provide me a viable downpayment for a Silicon Valley house to put those potential kids in.

It’s not like job opportunities are falling at my feet right now — there’s a few here and there, but I’m really excited about one and don’t want to pass it up just because I’m afraid of limited flexibility or cultural fit. I know this is the right move, I just need to secure the job, pretend to be someone else for a few years, kick ass, and help the company win big. If it does, great, I get a house. If not, oh well, I move out of the Bay Area for good and write for a local paper in the middle of nowhere, USA.

Working for a startup of 10-20 employees that is practically all male isn’t the ideal situation for discussing flexibility for having kids — especially if that will be 2-3 years out and thanks to your messed up genetics you may not be able to have kids at all anyway. But I do want kids, and I’m going to try my best to have them. I see how challenging it is for a startup — with many women of childbearing age — to have females disappear from their roster. It is really challenging for a small company to have key employees missing for a month or two. In fact, many (who have husbands who earn high six-figure salaries) decide not to come back. I will never have that luxury.

I’m the main breadwinner and given my s/o is about to return to school to become a teacher, this is probably going to stay set in my life. The quality of my life, and my future children’s life, especially financially, is all on me. My boyfriend could care less about having luxury money, but I don’t want to live a life of constant stress and worry about the bills, exhaustion, and having to miss out on my kid’s growing up.

I look at my friends — one who has a 7 month old, another who is pregnant with her first kid — and see how important the flexibility is for them. The one with the 7 month old works but part time as a freelancer, and she’s absolutely exhausted with her kid keeping her up all night. Lucky for her, her husband is a FT senior engineer at a top technology company in the area. The pregnant one is also married to an engineer and will likely quit her job for a while to take care of her child.

What I don’t want is to invest so much into my career that I miss the opportunity to have children. At this point, I’ve decided I want kids. Yes, I want to have a kid or two. If I don’t, I will regret it. And as I want to have a kid or two, I need to start having them soon.

Wouldn’t it then be wise to work for a company now that is known for top-quality benefits for women? That will rarely if ever be a startup. But I also don’t want to contribute to the ongoing lack of women in startups issue. I love working for small companies and it’s what I’m good at – so why let the fact that I’m a woman who wants kids hold me back? Well, there’s dreams and then there’s reality. If I take this job now and commit to four years of a vesting schedule, that means I’ll be 34 when I’m fully vested. That doesn’t mean anything other than that if the company is doing well I’d be an idiot to leave and give up unvested options in order to have a kid. That means that if I take this job – or any startup job – I’ll be faced with:

– fertility treatments and frequent doctor’s visits
– if they work, nine months of pregnancy, morning sickness, et al
– a baby that needs constant care and keeps me up all night

Yes, plenty of people have kids and don’t have the luxury to take time off from work. But I’m making a choice here that could make my life a lot more difficult over working for a larger company where the parental benefits are more clearly defined or even considered a special benefit for the firm.

It doesn’t help that the “The Family and Medical Leave Act” only applies to companies with at least 50 employees. Granted, by the time I want to have kids in 3 years any startup that I join today which isn’t at 50 employees by that time is one I probably wouldn’t want to still be at.

I don’t want to make any of my professional decisions based on my being female, but as I approach the whole getting married and having kids part of life it’s becoming harder to ignore it.








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One thought on “Maternity Leave at Startups: Does it Exist?”

  1. One of the main reasons why I left the U.S. (aside from the crappy work life and salary), was the whole problem with health care and maternity leave.

    You basically said it all — the cost of having a child is ridiculous there. You have to pay for everything, and unless you are covered under an employer’s plan, it is some serious money.

    In Canada as a freelancer, I do not pay into EI (Employment Insurance) so I can’t take mat leave from the government.

    I wrote a post on this: Is it worth it to be freelancing in Canada and paying EI for maternity leave benefits

    So I just saved up a motherlode of cash and will pay for living expenses out of pocket.

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