The Gina Monologues: On building my own maternity program

I was 6 weeks pregnant when Ovuline created its maternity policy. The company was just over two years old, and I was the first team member to become pregnant on the job. When the time came, we wanted to create a policy that would enable all employees at Ovuline to have healthy, fulfilling birth experiences consistent with our company values. It was my hope that our program could be an inspiration and model to other employers who would looking to better support women and families.

What is included in Ovuline’s new parenting program?

Parental leave, not maternity leave

Each family is different, in composition and caregiving responsibilities. But most companies have maternity policies that assume a “traditional” two parent household where mom takes care of the infant. We wanted a policy that accommodated every family, grounded in the beliefs that all parents are caregivers and that the weeks after birth are important for building a family bond as well as the physical recovery of the mother. We want all of our team members to enjoy this incredible time.

12 weeks of paid leave

I’m not the first to say that parental leave policies in the US are embarrassing. With no mandated parental leave at the federal level, the US trails behind other countries like the UK, which guarantees 40 weeks, to Vietnam and Ireland offering 26 weeks, to Mexico and Iran offering 12 weeks. Only 21% of organizations in the US offer paid maternity leave, and only 22% offer family leave above the required federal FMLA leave, according to a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Ovuline offers 12 weeks paid for parents, both women and men. We’re not the first tech company to lead the way. Companies like Facebook, Netflix, and TOMS Shoes are also creating policies on the generous side of the spectrum for both women and men. It’s not Sweden, but it is a start.

The baby bonus!

After a team member returns to work, he or she will receive a “baby bonus,” an additional compensation equivalent to 10% of the salary he or she earned during paid leave.

It’s expensive to have children, and we want to support our team members financially, but we also want to support them emotionally and professionally. The baby bonus sends a clear message: “we are thrilled about your baby, and excited to have you back!”

Pregnancy perks

My Ovia Pregnancy app (which I used every day during my pregnancy, obviously!) integrated with my insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, so I could view my baby’s development and maternity benefits information all in one place. Over 300,000 Ovia moms and moms-to-be have viewed their unique health plan benefits through the Ovia apps, and are surprised and delighted by some of the awesome perks their plans provide, from fitness class reimbursements to free breast pumps.

Support throughout and after pregnancy

When asked if they feel supported by their employers, 21% of Ovia users reported “rarely” or “never”. Only 35% of users reported “yes, always”. We want all Ovuline team members to feel fully supported throughout their pregnancy and leave, and after their return to work. A lot of this is cultural rather than policy, and it has to start with commitment at the top. My team was incredible. My pregnancy was celebrated every day before my leave, and my leave and return to work were thoughtfully planned. My team stepped up to take on extra responsibilities while I was out, and when I returned, they made sure I was caught up and integrated into every project.

They also made sure I had a dedicated room to pump breast milk, which wasn’t easy in our open floor plan (stereotypical start up) office, and respected my twice-daily pumping sessions. Months later, my team is still very supportive, and understands the challenges and joys of a working parent.

Empowerment

After designing my own maternity leave, I realized that it’s not enough just to support women and new parents. We must empower them. While offering paid leave may feel like going above and beyond in the US, it’s not enough. There’s a systemic issue at play. Many employers are missing the mark on women and new parents: thinking of pregnancy as an inconvenience, and paid leave as a “recruitment and retention tool” for women. But pregnancy and parenthood is one of life’s greatest challenges and joys, which most employees will experience at some point in their lives. And it’s up to every employer to foster a work environment that empowers parents with the knowledge that they are supported in all aspects of their lives, and that being a great parent and a great employee can go hand in hand.