A few years ago, a friend of mine got hired by a company as a software developer. She was an early riser and liked to get into the office around 8AM. A diligent worker, she was super focused from the moment she sat down at her desk--and so by the time 6PM came around, she had gotten a lot of work done and ready to call it a day.
Her young male colleagues had a different approach. They strolled in at around 10 or 11AM, and didn't really get going for real until about noon. They spent a lot of time distracting themselves, but worked deep into the night--doing the same amount of work as she did, but stretching it out until 10 or 11 at night.
Because my friend would take off "early", she got a reputation for not working as hard as everyone else, even though the results said otherwise. Eventually, they let her go.
What struct me about this situation was that it was a culture that obviously couldn't scale past young, single people. I thought, "Wow, there's no possible way anyone with a kid can ever work at this company."
As I spoke with Adam Milligan about in the Startup Recruiting Podcast, tech companies are idea factories--and they win by bringing the best ideas to light. That means that successful environments are ones that foster a diversity of perspectives, support great communication, and favor quality of solutions over the speed and hours of simply "typing" the code.
That's why a great barometer of your potential for success can be found in how ready your company is to support a mom (or a dad, of course) returning to the workforce after taking time off for family. If your hiring process really does favor the people who can bring the best ideas to the table, statistically speaking you should have a lot of moms in that process, particularly when they're often your biggest customers. The question is, can they find success in your environment, and what might hold them back.
That's where efforts like Path Forward come into play. Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to empower people to restart their careers after time spent focused on caregiving--not just moms raising a kid, but all sorts of family situations. They fulfill this mission by working with companies to create midcareer internships — sometimes called “returnships” — to give women (and men) a jump start back to the paid workforce.
I interviewed Path Forward's founder, Tami Forman, on the Startup Recruiting Podcast (or here at Soundcloud, in case iTunes hasn't updated yet) to talk about companies can go about making their environments supportive of this transition and how the companies involved in the program have tapped this underutilized talent pool. (Over 80% of the participants in their program wind up getting hired by the companies that they intern at.)
I'm a big believer that companies should rethink their purpose in order to achieve sustainable success. What if the goal wasn't to create shareholder value, but to create the best place for the most talented team (not just individual people) to work? Remember, teams are more than the sum of their parts. Wouldn't product and sales success flow naturally from that? So why not focus on it as a priority? Seems to me that's something that should be done from day one, not just when you get around to hiring your first Head of People.