A good work-life balance is essential for maintaining a sound mind. We all know this. But sadly this isn't always apparent in the way that SaaS orgs operate at a senior level.

Take the issue of parental leave, for example, we believe that women professionals shouldn't have to choose between life progression and career progression. Instead, the two should work together in tandem. 🤝

In not allowing employees to take the time to nurture and grow their families, SaaS orgs risk starving their team of high potential talent. But negotiating time off in a rapidly scaling org is not always easy. Nuanced, rigorous discussion is essential.

Luck you for us, at the Women in SaaS Summit 2022, Customer Success professionals Lauren Hayes and Celia Gouveia did just this. We've selected the best bits from that discussion, which you can read below. But you can also catch the full unedited talk right here.

Main talking points include:

About our panelists

Lauren Hayes: I was the Manager of CS Ops at Alyce, and I'm currently working on a stealth project. I've been in CS for about 10 years, and during that period, I’ve had two children, so I'm familiar with the ins and outs of advocating for parental leave, and I'm excited to talk about that here.

Celia Gouveia: I'm also a CS professional. I've been building and leading customer success teams for about 10 years at various sized companies, ranging from stealth startups to larger companies like SAP and LinkedIn.

I’m currently at a company called Wisq, which just came out of stealth; we’re creating a space for life at work.

I also have two little ones who are under five. I've taken parental leave from various sized companies, and I'm really excited to share my journey today

Telling your manager

Lauren Hayes: The first time I found out that I was pregnant, I had just moved to Seattle for work. I was taking on more responsibilities, and I was at a place in my career where talking to my managers about leave and not being around to do certain projects felt really daunting.

One of the things I’d like to share with anybody who’s expecting is that you shouldn't be nervous about having those conversations. You should always feel like you can advocate for yourself and talk about what is happening in your life.

With both of my pregnancies, I was very lucky to work in environments where I had strong personal and professional relationships with my managers, so I opted for the “better sooner than later” approach when talking to them.

Sharing the fact that I was expecting earlier gave me a lot more of a runway to set things up for my departure and figure out what my leave was going to look like.

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Celia Gouveia: Those mixed emotions are something that many of us struggle with. I’ve also struggled with those feelings of “Oh no, this is not the right timing.” We have to remember that we're humans and it is a human reaction.

I think many people struggle with those emotions, and I'm here to say that they’re normal. Don't fight those emotions, but think about what's best for you.

I also shared that I was expecting earlier on because I felt very comfortable with my manager and my team, and I wanted to set that path. That doesn't mean that's necessarily right for you.

I would consider how comfortable you feel talking to your manager and what type of culture your company has. Hopefully, it's just as rewarding as the ones Lauren and I have been part of. If not, you can just provide the notice you’re legally required to provide.

Whether you're at a company that has a published policy, or you need to do some digging to see what's required for your country, state, or company size, it's so important to do that.

Lauren Hayes: That's a really good point. You’re not required to tell anybody at the 12-week point, which is when people often say you can start sharing that news.

When you decide to get the ball rolling should depend on what you are comfortable with – you shouldn't feel pressured to do anything that you aren't comfortable with. And also, look into what timeline you have to give legally.

Understanding your rights to parental leave

Lauren Hayes: That's a good bridge into the next point: How do you know what leave is available to you? How do you understand what different policies mean? How do you navigate company, federal, and state provisions? You have to start researching early.

Even at my early-stage companies, there was somebody who knew the ins and outs of our health plan, leave policies, and things like that – go to that person in your company and have them explain your options to you.

That was really helpful for me because I'm more of an in-person conversational learner than somebody who wants to read a giant healthcare doc.

Utilize those resources, because that's what they're there for. Those HR people are there to help you navigate this, and they want you to have the best possible experience.

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Celia Gouveia: Well said. I would add that even when you're interviewing, it's okay to ask for policy information – it doesn't imply that you necessarily are pregnant or expecting to use the leave.

It's okay to say, “I want to understand what your policies are, how you treat your employees, what your culture is like, and what you value,” and it doesn't implicate you in any specific scenario. I think it's really important to ask about that when you’re interviewing.

You may be at a company that doesn't have a leave policy yet. I was at a startup in California once and I was the absolute first person to take leave, so I did my research on the state’s policies.

I've also been a manager throughout Europe and APAC, so I've had to do research in different countries for my team to make sure that they're being well taken care of and that I'm advocating for them as their manager.

You should also look at competitive information on what companies of similar sizes in similar locations are offering. That way, you can advocate and ask for the same, whether that be during the interview process or once you're on board.

Lauren Hayes: Absolutely. One of the things that I would piggyback on top of that is investigating your state requirements and making sure you’re getting everything that’s required.

In an early-stage environment, it can be easy to overlook some of that and not know what all of the requirements are, especially because they vary so much from state to state.

If you’re hoping to craft your own leave policy, make sure that you’re in line with what is required. We all know that here in the United States, leave can vary widely, by industry, by state, even by company, and so it's really important that you make sure you're getting what you want.

Another thing that was helpful for me was just asking a lot of questions about how I could use my leave. I was really lucky with my second baby to get 16 weeks of paid leave, and one of the questions that I wanted to ask was whether I could split that up, maybe taking the first three months and saving the rest for later.

If you have any of those questions or if something is confusing, don't be okay with what you've been handed – ask what you need to know.

I come from a place of extreme privilege, being from the United States. So many women have much less than I have when it comes to leave – but still, don't be afraid to fully take your leave.

If you’re in a company that offers a certain amount of leave but there's social pressure not to take it or to come back early – I think this particularly applies to fathers – don't do that. Your leave is part of your package and you’ve already paid for it, so you should absolutely take it.

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Celia Gouveia: I was just going to say that. If you’re having a child with a partner, make sure you look into what leave their company offers too, and remember that when you take your full leave, you're setting up others for success.

It doesn't matter whether you're a manager or an individual contributor  – you’re showing others that you're worthy of this, that it’s necessary, that you can be a working parent, and that you can leave work and come back just as successful.

Sometimes it helps me to reframe things in terms of helping others who may not be in the same situation. If I don't advocate for myself and take my full leave, how can I expect others to do the same in the future?

Lauren and Celia’s experiences

Lauren Hayes: The first time I went on leave, I had just moved to Seattle. I was in a very high growth period of my career, so I was really nervous about navigating that process.

The startup had just been acquired by a bigger company, so I had access to their plans and resources, which ended up being really nice for me. They were very compassionate and completely assuaged my fears. I'm glad I went in early and brought it up.

The second time around, I was at an early-stage company, and I was the first mother to take parental leave – we had a few fathers who had taken leave before. Luckily, it was, again, a very understanding and supportive environment. But figuring out what that leave would look like was a process.

I live in Texas now, so there was some back and forth in figuring out how parental leave would work for the Seattle-based company that I was working for. We had to do a lot of state-by-state research to figure out what my leave would look like.

Again, I think erring on the side of early and open communication was the best path. It gave me a long runway to move my work around and figure out what my leave and my return to work would look like.

I was able to take a full four months and not worry about work, which in an early-stage environment is pretty amazing – I got really lucky with that. I think a big part of it was having that length of time to plan.

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Celia Gouveia: The first time I went on leave, as I mentioned, I was the absolute first parent to do so at a very early-stage startup. As you can imagine, I was a bit nervous about it. I also had a brand new manager, who I had to announce my leave to on their first day.

My leadership team was extremely supportive. We looked at competitors and came to a solution that we felt was competitive for a company of our size.

It would allow me to spend enough time working and enough time taking care of my newborn baby, returning feeling recharged and rested, but also able to ease my way back into work without overloading myself.

My first experience was quite unique but very successful, whereas I found out I was expecting my second child during the pandemic, which was a very different story. Working from home, you may not need to tell people as early because it's not as visible, and there are so many other factors that go into it.

I was at a much bigger company at the time with an established policy, so I could just look on their intranet to find the exact policy and fill out a form. I waited a little bit longer since I was remote, it was my second, and I knew there was an established policy.

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Once I shared that information, I was met with the right type of response and emotions from leaders and others. They were very supportive, asking a lot of questions, and determining the path forward.

You want to be able to plan for your leave – everything from finding the right backups early on and having everything documented process-wise for the projects you’re working on, so it’s really easy for someone to cover and you feel good going out.

Advocate for yourself to be able to ease back in and not have to come back at 120% – that may not be realistic. You usually need to get up to speed again and maybe go through a mini onboarding.

Allow yourself the time and grace to ease in and get comfortable while your colleagues hand work back over. If you can, I highly recommend coming back either part-time or on shorter hours while you adjust.

You have to prioritize yourself and your mental wellbeing, and if your company is behind that, that’s going to help you find the right balance going forward. And then set your priorities. Work and family are always a balance – your priority is your family, but you know you have a job as well.

If there are certain times that you need to block out of your calendar for drop-offs or childcare, you should absolutely be advocating for and keeping those.

That sets the stage for you to be successful, and it shows other parents at your company that it’s normal that you may not be available during certain periods because you are a parent and you have other responsibilities.

It's okay to pick up and drop off your child or take them to that weekly music class. If your children are sick, it’s okay to take a day to help them.

Finding a company that supports you and cares about you and your family is going to allow you to advocate for yourself and have the most balance and success.

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