When Anna Steffeney approached her employer while pregnant with her second child, she hoped that her new company would offer the same parental leave as she was given the first time. But this time, she was pregnant in Seattle, not Germany. She wouldn't get anywhere near the year of paid parental leave she got in Europe, and decided to leave the job.
The decision, Steffeney said, wasn't simply financial. Nor did she feel that her career would be put at risk, which is a common fear for expectant mothers. It was, rather, the fact that her decision must be made with such secrecy.
It was 2012, before Anne-Marie Slaughter published Why Women Still Can't Have it All--one of the most popular pieces in the history of the Atlantic. At the time, Steffeney "couldn't find anyone else openly doing this and talking about it at work," she said. "I was told 'to keep it hidden as long as possible,' for fear of being penalized in my performance review and promotion possibilities." The decision felt binary.
"It was work or family," she said. "Simply put, I didn't feel supported."
Inspired to improve family leave policies in the US, Steffeney decided to move in a new direction. She started a company, LeaveLogic, to help negotiate parental leave.
At first, the company was set up to help employees directly. But Steffeney soon learned that this was a difficult task—workers were reluctant to be honest about their needs. So she began working directly with companies to implement leave plans, essentially helping them offer a secure space for their employees to plan leave in advance. The goals, she said, are to help both managers and employees effectively plan for the future.
LeaveLogic also partnered with the Center for Parental Leave Leadership to help companies create customized leave policies, which has created a "one-stop shop for companies when considering expanding or launching new paid leave programs."
According to Steffeney, there are many challenges that come up in leave negotiations. Employees don't often know the actual policy, and may be afraid to ask. Employers don't always prepare for substantial leave times, and can be caught off-guard when needing to fill role. There are questions about what the job will look like upon return. Concerns about benefits to new mothers, like lactation rooms, backup childcare, medical reimbursement, and more. LeaveLogic aims to bring openness to these issues.
What LeaveLogic provides is a streamlined platform—"It's sort of like filing your taxes. We're doing what TurboTax did to filing your 1040's," she said.
So how does it work? Employees use the platform, which includes a personalized dashboard and leave calendar, to answer questions related to their individual leave, before talking to human resources or a manager. The questions include:
- How much time do I get off?
- How much will I be paid?
- What benefits are available to me?
- When should I tell my manager?
- What are the necessary steps I need to take to have a successful leave?
LeaveLogic calculates the answers like time off and pay and puts it on the calendar. Then, it categorizes the tasks the employee needs to accomplish depending on what stage of pregnancy or leave they are in.
The platform makes it easy for employees to remember what stage they're at in the leave process, and what else needs to be done. "We send text message reminders, emails throughout the entire thing so the employee feels supported," said Steffeney.
It's important that companies have this information for three reasons, said Steffeney. First, it relieves some of the administrative burden to the human resources department. It also "standardizes the employee experience—no more boss lottery or mommy/daddy track, which normalizes this in the workplace." And it offers employees the chance to explore their options before even considering leave, by forcing them to answer questions like "should I stay at this company to have a family?"
Since good leave policies help ensure worker retention and can ultimately save companies money, it's critical for the private sector to serve employees well while with minimal disruption to their co-workers and the company. LeaveLogic aims to do this through organized planning. "This means resource needs and constraints can be mitigated," said Steffeney, "instead of addressing an employee leave in a fire drill fashion." LeaveLogic is now one of several initiatives to help soon-to-be-parents manage their upcoming leave—other companies such as emissaries.co help coordinate freelancers to backfill spots during parental leave.
The role that LeaveLogic plays has larger societal implications. "it is essential we normalize these life events in the workplace," said Steffeney, "as there are almost no ideal workers—those who don't have to care for children or parents, or become sick while employed. We need to adapt our policies and cultures to accommodate it." And this message was recognized when the company quickly drew attention from an unlikely source—shortly after launching, President Obama invited Steffeney to attend the White House Summit on Working Families.
Services that help families and employers grapple with parental leave are especially vital In the current economic climate, with many young workers saddled with student loan debts, rising rents, and a rapidly-shifting job market. Especially in the tech industry, where leave policies are often more generous, it is essential to offer competitive leave policies as a benefit that can help attract and keep a talented employee base.
Today, the decision to have a child is a "really big financial lifestyle question," Steffeney said. "If you can't equally access that information in terms of benefit coordination with your company, it is too much of a leap of faith for many."
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Parental leave platforms ease employees' fears. Providing transparent answers about company policy and support helps workers understand and manage their benefits.
- Software helps companies stay ahead. By allowing employees to understand and manage their leave, companies benefit by addressing concerns and timelines early in the game.
- Good leave policies are good for business. Competitive paid parental leave helps attract and maintain talented employees
- Four startups helping companies successfully implement parental leave (TechRepublic)
- Addressing work-life balance, tech giants expand leave policies, sparking mixed reactions (TechRepublic)
- How to ensure employees take leave: 7 tips from the experts (TechRepublic)
- Anne-Marie Slaughter offers an alternate reality check on the future of women, tech, and the workplace (TechRepublic)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.