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Unsolicited parenting advice for those considering joining a startup

5 May 2022
Michelle MacRae

Startups and parents are an unlikely match made in heaven. I say unlikely as startups are renowned for instability, little structure, huge hours, and being not so female-friendly. The reality of startups, which I’ve learned from joining Dovetail, is that startups can:

  • Be highly effective - with teams focused on outcomes over output

  • Facilitate flexible hours and working arrangements

  • Cultivate happier, personally connected teams

  • Have fewer systemic barriers that inhibit their ability to respond to the needs of women

  • Less hierarchy means fewer politics and more purposeful work

I believe Dovetail has achieved this for the following reasons:

  1. Benjamin and Bradley’s (the Founders) goal is to be the best employer we’ve worked for.

  2. An early commitment to Project F.

  3. A 50/50 split of men and women in the leadership team.

Why do Project F and gender diversity matter?

A diverse and inclusive workplace means improved creativity, problem-solving, speed of innovation and profitability - in other words, all the good things!

Unfortunately, low gender diversity in technology is a global phenomenon 😔. This is not because there aren’t amazing women in tech to be hired, it is largely due to tech not being a female-friendly industry. One of the main challenges I have observed and personally experienced is women in tech are required to operate in masculine contest cultures. The norms of this culture include;

  1. Show no weakness. Never admit doubts or mistakes.

  2. Endurance (long hours) is valued over output.

  3. Work comes first and your personal life should not interfere.

  4. Ruthless competition, where winning is everything.

These norms aren’t productive for men or women - creating anxiety-driven, hyper-competitive, and counterproductive work environments.

Project F is a strategic and progressive program that helps companies to drive action to address challenges women face when working in tech. The program helps to identify and remove the primary and systemic drivers that cause women to seek alternative careers.

Why this is important to me.

My decision to join Dovetail, when returning from maternity leave was a decision that made me feel a little crazy at the time. I had a great job, at an awesome and stable company, with supportive leaders and lots of perks that would make returning to work “easy”. So why did I take the gamble? Because I believed that a startup was more likely to offer purposeful work, ownership, flexibility, and community.

Why do I need these things more now than ever?

As I approached motherhood I became increasingly cognizant that the time I spent at work would come at an opportunity cost. It was important to me that I spent this time in a meaningful, authentic, and productive way. At Dovetail, I have the ability to create outcomes that will not only be positive for the company, but also for me and my family.... which helps with the mum guilt.

In the lead-up to motherhood, I also spent countless hours wondering if I’d have to pursue a different career because I knew I’d need more flexibility. I love being a PM but the nature of the role is that it’s typically “always-on”. I believe having a supportive leadership team and creating an empowered product team will mean this fear is always wasted energy and never a reality.

In some ways, being a mom isn’t too different from being a PM - you can have the best-laid plans, but some days the shit hits the fan and you just have to roll with it. I could rant about how parenting comes with endless housework or how breastfeeding is almost a part-time job or how without flexibility I’d drown... but that’s not productive, so instead here is a visual that shows how my life has changed.

Me surfing at 30 weeks pregnant
Me surfing at 30 weeks pregnant

A “normal” week in my life, pre, and post motherhood:

What my schedule looks like before and after becoming a mother.
What my schedule looks like before and after becoming a mother.

Dovetail is supporting me to return to work part-time and Tuesdays and Thursdays are currently my days off.

In addition to being able to ramp up part-time, Dovetail has:

  • Supported me with flexible working so I can spend more time with my family

  • Empowered me to change my days or hours when I’ve needed to

  • Set up a mothers room for me when I told them I was still breastfeeding

  • Surrounded me with an incredibly supportive and understanding team

  • Welcomed me into their parents and carers club.

Any parents considering the move to a startup, I encourage you to be clear on what is important to you at this stage of life and be transparent with the startup you are considering about why this is important. It’s likely that they will surprise you!

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