7 min. read
Toddlers, Timing & Taboo Topics
Navigating parenthood in tech
Christmas is more than just the season to celebrate Santa Claus. December 1st well and truly kicks off the festive season. While some of you were enjoying the twinkling fairy lights at Berlin’s famous Christmas markets, drinking glühwein and strolling through the festively decorated streets the Capital has to offer; others had a different kind of celebration in mind.
December 1st is an important day for the team at Xena because it just happens to be our birthday. And how did we celebrate you might wonder? Only by hosting the best end-of-year Meetup with our good friends at Babbel and our incredible community of women in tech.
Since Xena turned 2 we thought it only fitting to dedicate our next theme to “Toddlers, Timings & Taboo Topics”. We know you can’t wait to learn about the taboos we shattered – allow us to fill you in on what you missed at this truly inspiring event. But first, allow us to introduce our speakers.
Director of Engineering at Zenjob
Bhuvana’s been working in Tech for the last 21 years. She’s held leadership positions at some of the biggest tech giants in the world including Google, and Zalando. A mother of three, Bhuvana says “Equality starts at home” and that she teaches her boys to judge someone based on their capabilities.
Director of Engineering at Clue by Biowink
For those not familiar with Clue, it’s the most downloaded period tracking app in Europe. Iryna is the mother of a 6-year-old and is passionate about normalising the topic of motherhood in technology. When Iryna isn’t building infrastructure, she’s on a mission to break the taboos we have about menstruation and parenthood.
Principal Organisational Development at Babbel
Charmilla focuses on organisational development at Babbel. She is a mother of two and recently became a grandmother. Charmilla works with organisations like Frauenloop to give women access to opportunities in tech and has a contagious passion for mentoring and coaching women from a wide range of backgrounds.
Engineering Manager at HelloFresh
Karima is a Technical Manager at HelloFresh and single mother of a 3-year-old. Karima is an advocate for single mothers and has a passion for creating awareness of the stereotypes women face when it comes to careers in technology.
1. To be or not to be
Is there ever a right time to have a family for women in tech?
Karima kicked things off with the first topic: Is there ever a right time to have a family in tech? Take a wild guess… For Karima, she likes to live by the “work hard, play hard” motto, and pre-toddler, Karima’s life consisted of travelling, work, parties and any excuse to live it up in Berlin. She was in her first role of an Engineering Manager when she became pregnant. Being an expat in Berlin where she had no support from family led to fears of her being ready for the motherhood challenge. But with the right support from her manager, she felt encouraged to become a parent and hasn’t looked back since.
For Bhuvana and Iryna there was a mutual feeling about how becoming a mother would affect their career progression. Going on maternity leave at the forefront of your game and returning to find your team working with new technologies will support your delayed decision to take the plunge. But you need to remember that the world will constantly change and there will never be a right time, so just go for it.
Making that decision might seem like the hardest part but that’s only if you are lucky enough to have a healthy and safe pregnancy. Charmilla was quick to remind the audience that society needs to deconstruct this romantic notion of “when is the right time to have a baby.” There are a lot of single mums and women who make other choices or struggle to conceive. It’s a very personal experience and we need to start talking about how society can show up for you to be a parent – we couldn’t agree more.
2. Challenges, fears and expectations
So you’ve made it through the pregnancy and childbirth stage. Now you’re trying to come to terms with what will be expected of you with your new reality of motherhood. Let’s rewind for a second and talk about “expectations” and where these “expected norms” are derived from. For Charmilla pop culture plays has a massive influence on how we perceive new mothers and what we expect from them. She reminded us that society is guilty of portraying mums as “career women, a sports athlete, a good friend, a good mother, and the perfect daughter.” And perhaps even the socialite. It’s this notion that you can do everything, but you can’t. We need to get to a point where our narrative for new mothers isn’t “you look fantastic after birth” but, “How are you holding up?”
What we’re forgetting is that you are bringing a new person into the world and everything is about to change. “It’s a generational conversation of how burnout is so rife at the moment. Not just for parents but for everyone.”
If you need a painful reminder of how women have been conditioned by society to live up to this expectation just take a look at the Kellogg’s ad back in 2017. We’ll just leave the link here for your convenience…
You might be under the impression that a one-size-fits-all maternity model will work. What works for your co-worker might not work for you. Especially considering if your child has health difficulties. This was the reality for Karima who tried to juggle going back to work after three months, hospital visits, and two nannies to only find herself putting half of her salary into childcare, resulting in a distant relationship with her daughter.
Exceeding expectations isn’t everything. Life is short so don’t compromise spending time with your kids. Your priority should be yourself and your family.
Another challenge brought to the forefront was how your technical skills will come to a halt when you go on maternity leave. How to deal with this? We asked Iryna how she returned to work after a two-year break. For Iryna, she found her time away from work to be stressful out of fear of how technologies would progress while she was on leave. She even started to study when her son was sleeping to try to keep up with the changes. Her advice – don’t do that. After feelings of exhaustion, she realized “he will grow up and the work will remain anyways.” So enjoy the present!
Bhuvana on the other hand, was more realistic about the demanding nature of becoming a mother, especially when you are dealing with twins! She recognized she missed out on certain learnings but reminded the audience that:
“I have a life time to learn. I am bringing a child into the world and I need to focus on spending time with this child.”
3. Sharing the news
When should you tell your manager and your team you are expecting?
If you asked Bhuvana, the sooner the better. The earlier you tell them, the more support you will receive. Perhaps you might want to delay sharing the news for the first three months because the first trimester can be very challenging.
Iryna on the other hand took a different approach. Being on a male dominated team can be intimating and with some advice from a co-worker she decided to wait until someone would notice… Eventually Iryna realised that her co-workers were not going to notice, so she built up the courage to tell her manager who greeted the news with open arms. He gave her some of the best advice during her pregnancy, which was “Take as long as you can when you apply for your maternity leave, you can always come back earlier, but extending is not always that simple”.
On the other hand, just because someone is expecting doesn’t mean they will follow through with the pregnancy. People can change their minds, and maybe you decide it’s not the right time. That is ok – it’s your choice. Make sure you know your rights if you want to be protected under the law. That means sharing the news that you are pregnant as soon as possible. Charmilla reminded us that if someone is telling you they are pregnant, be open to what they’re going to say because they might not want to keep the baby. Listen, don’t judge, and give them space.
4. The Great Return To Work
Navigating the right time to return to work and the part-time vs full-time model was up for debate during this next segment. For Charmilla she believes that institutionalising the part-time model was the biggest systematic change organisations could make in order to support parents in the workplace. “How do we make this something that we don’t need to make a conversation?” Normalising part-time work and the idea of job sharing where people can come in and contribute needs to be revamped – amen to that sister.
We asked Bhuvana how she approaches long absences on her team, and what type of advice she had for other Managers. Bhuvana went on to explain how in the end, it comes down to business. When someone returns to their role after a year, we need to re-evaluate whether, based on their skills they can continue to do the same job – essentially, after a long absence you need to interview that person again, understand what makes them tick and where they can add value. Are there other things they are better at, or perhaps your employee feels that they need six months to develop a skillset/ technology for the role. If that’s the case, work closely with your employee who is returning back to work so that they can find their feet with your support.
Returning part-time was a no-brainer for Iryna. That said, her supervisor started asking questions about why her work was taking longer to deliver. She quickly realised that a part-time contract came with full-time work expectations. We need to change the narrative around this way of working and setting realistic goals of what you can achieve on this contract. Charmilla may be right. There is a much more significant systemic and societal shift that needs to happen to support parents returning to work.
5. Is honesty the best policy?
To round things off, the conversation turned to how much information you should share with your team, or on an interview panel when you are pregnant. Karima felt like being transparent about her child’s health requirements when interviewing was the right answer. In reality, she was rejected from 4 positions that she succeeded the job requirements for. Unfortunately, biases still exist in this world so stick to sharing information about your work capabilities.
It’s worth noting that the women on this fantastic panel are in a position of privilege and established themselves in their careers. But Charmilla reminded us that that’s not always the case. Forget nannies and career progression because some solo parents’ first concern could be how they will afford to bring a new life into the world or cover the cost of the rent. Charmilla has been on interview panels where someone has signed a contract and then shared that they are pregnant. It comes down to survival at the end of the day and making the best choices for you – so know your rights.
What you can be honest about are your boundaries. Especially if you are working in a global company where multiple teams are contributing at any time of day. Bhuvana strongly recommends communicating your start and finish time with your team so you can focus on work-life balance.
And that brings us to the end of our panel discussion for our last Meetup of 2022. If you can’t get enough of this topic check out the recap from our Pregnant, then screwed? Meetup with Hubs.
If you missed this one, follow us on LinkedIn for information about our 2023 schedule. The future is looking bright.
About our partner
Babbel is driven by a purpose: Creating mutual understanding through language. This means building an ecosystem of language learning offerings that helps people connect across cultures. It is the most profitable language learning app worldwide, with more than 10 million subscriptions sold.
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