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5 Ways Startups Should Support Pregnant Employees

A recently pregnant VC lays down the law about how startups hoping to attract top talent should handle an employee who is expecting.
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If you wanted advice on how to approach pregnant employees at your startup, you'd probably want to ask a pregnant lady. Or maybe an experienced venture capitalist from a hugely respected outfit. Handily, Christine Tsai, a partner at 500 Startups, ticks both boxes.

Having recently taken maternity leave to give birth to her second child and experienced life as a pregnant high flyer, the veteran investor also, of course, has an intimate view of the financial and hiring realities at some of the world's most promising startups. So what does she recommend you do when one of your employees comes to you to announce she's expecting? Tsai recently talked about her own experience as a mom in the male-dominated world of investing and offered advice for founders on the 500 Startups blog. Here's some of the top takeaways:

Don't Think of Pregnancy as a Bummer

As a human being, you almost certainly think of bringing new life into the world as one of the greatest joys there is. As a business owner, you might be tempted to forget this basic truth and focus on the disruption and headaches caused by an out-of-commission employee. Resist this impulse, says Tsai.

"Oftentimes companies (especially small ones, where resources are stark) will view pregnancy as a burden. Some are even reluctant to hire women for that reason, especially married women of childbearing age. Don't be that company. You'll only do yourself a disservice and miss out on amazing talent," she writes.

Be Flexible

Pregnancy can be rough on women physically and involves LOTS of doctor's appointments. Don't make it any rougher by limiting your pregnant employees' options when it comes to scheduling and coping. "If you need to rearrange meetings or schedule around your team member's appointments, do it," urges Tsai.

Let Her Decide

An expecting employee throws up lots of questions: Will she be up to taking on that new project? Can she travel to conference X in three months? The right way to get answers to these questions is to actually ask the pregnant lady, Tsai instructs bosses. Don't make assumptions, even if you're just trying to be nice. "While your intentions may be good, this is something every expectant working mom fears--being phased out. I'll put myself out there and admit this has been/is a fear of mine. Let her be the one to decide whether something's too much for her to handle or not," she writes.

Be a Maternity-Leave Hero

Yes, it's daunting supporting your expectant employee, but it's also the right thing to do--and for business as well as moral and social reasons. "Of course companies should comply with what their state law requires. However, depending on the state, it might be rather stingy and it's in your best interest to go above and beyond what you're 'required' to do," Tsai recommends.

Why? "Startups may think they can't afford to have an employee out for too long, let alone pay them during that time. But remember that it's temporary and most likely it won't have a significant impact on the bottom line if you were to (for example) provide fully paid leave. Being as generous as possible will go a LONG way in both retaining and attracting talent for both moms and dads."

Do NOT Touch Her Stomach

Every pregnant woman ever will applaud Tsai for including this tip. It should be common sense but, sadly, it seems not to be. If you wouldn't touch her belly when she's not pregnant, DO NOT DO IT NOW!

Don't Forget Dad

The visuals might not be as dramatic, but expecting a new member of the family is a momentous time for dads as well. It you have a new-father-to-be on your team, try to be as supportive as possible. "I love the fact that Facebook offers equal leave for moms and dads. Consider that for your company," Tsai writes, "offering unequal leaves just reinforces the longstanding notion that parenting responsibilities aren't equal, and that doesn't help anyone." (Yes, it is doable, even if you're much smaller than Facebook. Just ask Songkick.)

Yes, It Is Doable...

And speaking of doable... maybe all of these recommendations have struck fear into your heart as a bottom-line-minded business owner. You really want to do the decent thing, but is it actually possible? Committed startups can make it happen. This recent Fast Company piece offers a deep dive into the nitty-gritty of building a woman-friendly work environment while still maintaining your company's success.

What's your business's policy towards expectant parents?

Last updated: Aug 5, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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