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Handling Parental Leave

Jennie Lees

Director of Engineering at InEvent

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Problem

"My personal circumstances changed pretty drastically throughout the time that I had with a particular company. One of those momentous occasions was when I learned that I was expecting my child. Luckily, I had prior experience with this situation due to the fact that I went through this process with two of my direct reports. But before that I was unclear about what to do if one of my reports was expecting a child or if I were to expect a child."

Actions taken

"I was unaware of the company's policies and therefore didn't know what to do. As a result, the first thing that I did was go to Human Resources (HR). In some cases it's not necessary to go directly to HR but I wanted to make sure that I was doing things properly. They told me which boxes I had to check and which boxes could be left alone. Then I had a good conversation revolved around what the next few months were going to look like. I did this with both my reports when they were expecting as well as with my manager when I was pregnant. It was important that we all knew that the company had our backs. That we wouldn't be penalized for going to our doctor's appointments. That if one of us had to call in sick, we could call in sick. As long as we got the core of our work completed, then we shouldn't worry if we had to take some time off. Another thing that I personally did was make a 90-day plan. I documented all of the things that I was accountable for getting done before I left on leave. This plan covered all that I needed to achieve up to two weeks before I was expecting my baby. I gave myself an exit date of two weeks before my due date because with a pregnancy anything could happen. Though, I actually completed the 90-day plan a couple of weeks early and due to an unrelated medical issue I was able to take PTO (paid time off) the last week and give my body the rest that it needed. In addition to an exit plan I also made a return-to-work plan. There were actually two parts to this. First I created a Google doc for myself detailing all of the things that I was doing before I left. This was meant just for me and acted as a refresher for when I returned. Secondly, I emailed my manager and gave him a specific date for my return and what was to be expected of me at that time. I told him I would be returning part-time for the first two weeks so that way I could acclimate back into the workflow. Rather than asking management what to do, I used the strategy of simply telling them what was going to happen, which in my case worked out very well. Also, due to the fact that there was a large gap of time when I was going to be out - 18 weeks - I arranged backfill coverage. In my particular case it was difficult to find someone to come in full-time and take over my responsibilities temporarily. As a result, my manager took on this role. I set expectations with the team so they knew that they would be having monthly meetings with him. More so, they were expected to keep a running log of their achievements so that I could catch up easily upon my return. When team members on my team took leave, it gave opportunities for others to step up and do their roles. For example, I had a Scrum Master and a tech lead who took leave. It was a chance for mid-level engineers to step up and get an intro into tech lead for a month. We put in place a plan for how that person would be mentored by the individual in that current role, ways we would track their performance, and then set expectations of having been in the position of power for a short while but then having to return back to their designated role. If the temporary replacement did a really great job during the interim, though, then maybe it opened up a new door for them. These gaps created by parental leave can sometimes be really advantageous. Lastly, when I was on leave I checked my work email once per week. Technically I wasn't supposed to, but it gave me the opportunity to clear out any spam I had so I could focus on the important emails once I returned. It also allowed me to stay up to date on some of the big topics. I usually didn't read the details of the email but I got a general sense of them and then flagged any relevant ones for a deep read when I came back. Thus, instead of having a mountain of emails to return to it broke it down into one manageable task per week."

Lessons learned

  • "With my first two reports who were out on parental leave, I made the mistake of not bringing up the pregnancy. I just didn't talk about it in the office. But now, having had my own child, I realize that becoming a parent is a really big thing. It is a huge part that changes your whole life. You're thinking about it constantly. And as a manager for me to not even bring it up probably made it look like I didn't care about that person. (though of course I did). I was under the notion that it was a personal matter, something sensitive, and I simply didn't want to get into it. I realize now that I didn't have the right level of empathy."
  • "After maternity leave I returned to work part-time, sometimes working mornings and other times working afternoons. However, I did not clearly articulate this unconventional schedule to my team members. As a result, they didn't know if I was around or not and so I would get messages at all hours. When returning to work, make it well known what is expected of you and when you will be available."
  • "If you're planning to have a family (or not) choose a company that has flexible PTO and know their parental leave policies ahead of time. I believe it's important to not only have decent maternity leave but paternity leave as well, providing leave options for both parents. A company can't assume who the primary caregiver will be and a company's policies should reflect equality. I prefer companies who are thinking about the big picture and not just the conventional notion of maternity leave."

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Jennie Lees

Director of Engineering at InEvent


Engineering ManagementLeadership RolesTeam & Project Management

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