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Equality for Working Parents Starts With You

Heather Conklin, at left, with her two daughters. [Heather Conklin]

Working parents face a lot of career uncertainty when taking off after the birth of a baby. But these Salesforce execs took six-month parental leaves and returned to promotions. We lay out the steps other teams can follow to make this a reality for more working parents.

Planning to welcome a new baby into your family can be the happiest time of your life. For primary caregivers, it can also be incredibly stressful — for reasons that have nothing to do with the sleepless nights or feeding schedule.

Balancing this major life event with your career is incredibly challenging. As managers, we can alleviate a lot of the stress when we’re equipped with the right mindset and effective ways to support new parents.

At Salesforce, working primary caregivers are fortunate to receive up to 26 weeks of leave and flexible work arrangements. But it doesn’t stop at the benefits and HR policies. 

Just after returning from maternity leave with my first daughter in 2017, I was promoted to vice president. Two years later, after another leave following the birth of my second daughter, I was promoted to senior vice president. Yes, I had been out for six months. But there was no delay. There was no question about whether I had earned the promotions, even if my recent experience involved changing diapers and rocking a baby to sleep.

And I’m not the only one here who has had this kind of experience. Earlier this year, when the head of product role opened up on our Trailhead team, we didn’t hesitate to offer the job to Arian Van de Carr – an outstanding product leader who was about to give birth to her third child. She got the promotion, had her beautiful baby boy, and went on leave. She will return in December and get to work. 

A woman is holding a baby and stands next to two children.
Arian Van de Carr and her childreArian Van de Carr and her children

Would it have been easier to give the job to someone who could fill it immediately? Of course. But Arian is the right person for the job. It was more important for us to support her personally and professionally than to optimize for near-term needs.

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Here are a few ways other business leaders can make similar changes for the better in their organizations: 

Create a safe space

Celebrate new babies. Ask about people’s families, and talk about how you support people taking the time they need. If you have children of your own, share how you balance kids and work and the struggles that you face. Allow people to take time away from work when they need it. There’s a lot happening for working parents and they’re trying to balance it all, but they often feel inadequate on one side or the other. Showing you care and providing flexibility to handle whatever comes their way will go far.

Remove pregnancy from the equation

Make hiring and promotion decisions based on the performance and potential of the person — full stop. Women wait as long as they can to reveal that they are pregnant for fear of what impact it will have on their career and how people will treat them. We’ve seen too many people miss a promotion, have that big project offered to someone else, or feel the slowdown of an otherwise speedy career trajectory. My story and Arian’s story are sadly still rare, but together we can make them the norm.

Encourage people to take the full leave available

This is hard in the short term but pays off in a big way over time. New parents need time with their new children – nothing is more important. Company-sanctioned parental leave is, fortunately, getting longer in the U.S. But now parents are asking themselves if they can really take that much time. And if they want to have multiple kids, can they really do it more than once? The answer needs to be a resounding yes. Sure, you’ll have to figure out coverage and things will be challenging for a few months, but a parent who feels the support of their manager and company will come back more productive and more motivated than ever.

Be mindful of what you can’t see

Remember, we all have a lot going on that bosses and co-workers don’t know about. How you show up as an empathetic manager day in and day out implicitly shows people how you’ll support them when the time comes for them to take the plunge into parenthood.

Even women just out of college, who are likely years away from having children, want to know how to navigate family planning. They’re asking themselves: When is the best time to have a child? What events or milestones do I need to plan around? How will it affect my career? Once you start trying to have a baby, there are fertility issues, doctor appointments, morning sickness, and a lot of other things to navigate – usually done without employers even knowing.

Try these tips and watch how the environment changes on your team. Also, don’t forget the dads. Raising kids takes a village and all parents need our support.

Heather Conklin Sr. VP and GM, Trailhead

Heather Conklin is the general manager of Trailhead and a senior vice president of Product Management. She also created and leads our Associate Product Manager program.

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