Monthly Archives: March 2016

How we (don’t) talk about maternity leave in the tech industry

This morning, Business Insider pointed me to a Medium post by Peretz Partensky, whose co-founder Na’ama Moran is pregnant while raising another round of VC funding for their startup.

It’s a great post, and if you’re interested in this topic at all – by which I mean, if you work in tech you should be – it’s an important read.  It also links to several other thoughtful pieces by women reflecting on pregnancy and work in high tech.

When talking about venture capitalists, Patensky says,

“But just because they aren’t asking, it doesn’t mean the pregnancy isn’t foremost in their minds. It is almost worse left unaddressed.”

This is an incredibly important point, and one that is relevant in general, not just in the venture world.  Somehow, the anti-discrimination laws introduced to protect women during pregnancy have instead created an environment where people are afraid to talk about pregnancy.

I’m lucky, and I know it – during both of my pregnancies and subsequent maternity leaves I worked for people who were open and invested in my successful departure and return.  Most recently, at my current company Infinio, where we’re very direct and everything is discussed openly, and before that at Dell, where I had great management who were somewhat stifled by corporate guidelines.  And that put me in a situation where I find the anti-discrimination laws, at least as they were enforced, a hindrance to figuring out exactly how I would manage being out.

I get it – first and foremost there should be laws that protect women from discrimination while they are pregnant and when they have children.  But right now this is coming at a cost of better – actually, any – dialogue about pregnancy and children in the workplace. People are afraid to say the word “pregnant.”  Afraid to ask about a woman’s plans. Trained not to push a woman to commit to plans after maternity leave.  And thus relegated to making assumptions about women’s preferences and choices that may be completely incorrect.

Like I said, I was lucky.  Before I went on my first maternity leave, my Director asked me if I thought I wanted to come back to the same level of responsibility or something that was less taxing.  (Legally, they had to hold my role at my level for 12 weeks, but he was asking something subtler than that.)   Knowing I wanted my old job back but being open to the idea that once I had the baby I’d feel different, I said, “I think full force, but I won’t know until it happens.”  I will always remember what he said, “No, if you think you want to come back full force, you probably will.”

It was great advice, and he was right.  It is also a great example of the kind of direct conversation that is usually missing in planning for maternity leave.

I’ve written about this before.  Here are my comments on maternity leave, and here are my thoughts on Marissa Meyer.  I also found this post on someone else’s experience being the first pregnant woman at her startup very helpful.

Twitter’s impact on public and private

I’ve been reading a lot about Twitter today, being its 10 year anniversary.  I joined Twitter just tweetover 5 years ago – so halfway through, although I’d argue it’s not the more interesting half.

One thing I read this morning was Om Malik‘s original critique of “twittr” from GigaOm.  Most notable was this comment: “The annoying SMS messages from nocturnal friends is not the only thing which bothers me about this service, but also the fact, that the texting a message(reply) to twttr ends up on their website.”

How far we have come that we don’t even think about that any more – or we do, and we want it to be on the website.

The thing I’ve noticed is this: we’re being really careless – liberal maybe? – about what’s public and what’s private online these days.  I started to notice this on Facebook first.  I’d comment on someone’s post, and someone would reply to my comment, but really be starting a 1:1 conversation with me.  Say the original post was about common core math.  I’d write something like “I don’t think it’s that bad – that’s how we make change from a $20.”  Then suddenly someone is saying to me, “Sheryl, hey, how’s your baby doing?”

At first I avoided these conversations, feeling like out in public on Facebook was like talking (too) loudly in a cafe. But over time it’s become somewhat a new norm and I have to admit to participating in it.

Another example is group text messaging.  I’m in several group chats for text messaging.  And eventually they all evolve into 1:1 conversations that everyone else is just a part of.

Another example is that I’m part of a ListServe (yes I live in 1992) for moms in the Boston area. Over 10,000 people are members.  The freedom with which we casually post questions and advice to an audience of 10,000 is stunning.

None of these is a bad thing, but I’m noticing that this blurring between what’s a private conversation and what’s a public conversation is getting greater.  It’s not public/private like people divulging secrets (although social media seems to be ripe for that too).  More what I’m getting at is that everything has become, by default, public, rather than by default things being private.

And I see that as Twitter’s influence.  The “Twitter Effect” if you will.  None of this is news, but think about it in the context of public and private.  Facebook is based on reciprocal relationships – you decide who is in your circle, and when you share, it is with those people. Twitter, conversely, is about showing up and talking, and anyone who is interested can listen to what you have to say. (OK, face it, they are both about selling your information and preferences, but this is about how you interact with the other users, not the advertisers.)

There are benefits to this – the impact of transparency on businesses, for example, is often positive.  And many people have cited social media as a simple and inexpensive way to alleviate loneliness, to connect people, and to provide access to resources not otherwise available in a traditional network.  But there are drawbacks, too – like oversharing, information overload, and a loss of the intimacy that comes from 1:1 sharing between friends.

The world we live in gets stranger by the day.  And it’s good to take a minute to reflect on where we are with social media – and where we’re going.