Flexible parental leave policy gives software startup a hiring edge

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Smaller tech companies fight an uphill battle when it comes to attracting talent--especially in areas dominated by giants like Amazon. Here's one way to combat the "work hard/play hard" mentality.

Manny Medina is CEO and co-founder of Outreach, which provides a sales activity and CRM system for salespersons. This startup company, which began with six people in 2014, has grown to 120 people and is establishing a strong reputation for itself in the sales software space.

However, Outreach also co-exists in the tech-rich Seattle-Bellevue metro area with tech behemoths like Microsoft and Amazon, and it must compete against these companies in the Seattle employment market. This isn't easy when you are a younger, smaller company--and the competition offers bonuses, stock options, enticing benefits, and large salaries.

Facing these hiring challenges also made Manny Medina look at his own life. "I was going to be a new father," he said. "I found myself thinking about juggling the demands of being a CEO of a young company with the need to take care of a newborn. It made me understand the stress that many new parents in the tech industry go through, especially women in tech."

The unspoken but well understood credo in the tech industry has always been "work hard, play hard." The "work hard" part of the motto often translates into 80-hour workweeks for software developers who are trying to get a product ready for market. This is not an environment that syncs well with mothers and fathers of newborns who also happen to be in tech.

SEE: Employee privacy policy

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When he looked at Outreach and projected new growth plans, Medina realized that he had a number of highly successful leaders in the company who were women--and he wanted to hire more.

"In the interviewing process, we began to get feedback from job candidates like, "The company sounds great, but I have kids, or the company sounds great, but I plan to have kids," he said.

Concerned about being able to compete for local talent, and equally concerned about retaining the talent Outreach already had on board, Medina began meeting with employees.

"We met with employees so we could learn how we could better integrate what they were doing at the company with what they needed for their personal lives," he said. "What we wanted to end up with was a company philosophy and policy that didn't force people to make choices between being at home and being able to continue and to advance their careers."

The end result was a parental leave policy at Outreach that gives expectant fathers and mothers two weeks off prior to a baby's due date. After the baby is born, Outreach provides new fathers and mothers with eight weeks of paid night nurse support and also paid home deliveries of meals.

"We wanted to show our employees that we understood the stress that new parents were under," Medina said. "You might be up all night with the baby and then have an early meeting the next day that you have to be prepared for--or you might have so many things to take care of between home and work that it gets to be 10 pm and you realize you forgot to have dinner! There are also those times with a newborn when business just can't transpire as usual. You might need to be away from work to take care of something--and the company can give you the flexibility to take care of that situation."

SEE: Telecommuting policy

Internally, Medina found that employees were extremely enthusiastic about the new policy.

"Many of our employees are in their late twenties or early thirties, so having a baby or wanting to have a baby is very important to them," he said. "It can also create a lot of anxiety when these same employees start thinking about how they are going to balance their personal lives with the need to continuously advance their careers. For women in particular, having a baby has historically been a kind of unspoken glass ceiling. We didn't want that to happen here."

To the delight of Outreach employees, the new parental leave policy goes into effect this month. The same policy might also give Outreach a new competitive edge against the "work hard, play hard" companies it competes against.

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