With the number of female founders on the rise, it is no longer uncommon to publicly discuss the challenges of raising capital while visibly pregnant, how long one can put off starting a family, or what constitutes an appropriate maternity leave plan for businesses that are not large enough to require adherence to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The underlying assumption, of course, is that the arrival of a baby directly translates into increased risk to your company. Risk can come in a variety of forms, including diverted attention away from the business, reduced speed to market, and the potential for health complications or even death. This perceived risk, let alone the demands of running a business, often lead the female founder to avoid the subject until a later date and trust that modern medicine will allow her to “have it all” a little later on.
So, while there may never be an ideal time, I discovered that there are ways to minimize risk presented by pregnancy for your company, your clients, and your investors.
Pregnancy and babies are incredibly unpredictable, so throw out the requirements document and become more agile. At the close of my first trimester, I informed my team and largest clients that we had a “new project,” of which I would be the scrum master. I outlined the anticipated hurdles we would face and included a pilot exercise to allow for adjustments.
2. HIRE PEOPLE SMARTER THAN YOU.
My pregnancy happened to coincide with a major growth spurt for our organization. The imminent arrival of a baby meant that I needed to hire fast, but smart.
3. INVEST IN KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER.
From client history to passwords, my staff immediately recognized the first hurdle–the company was too reliant upon my brain to answer daily questions.
4. PILOT YOUR LEAVE.
Three months before I was to take maternity leave, I went on a two-week vacation and dropped out of sight. While senior management knew how to reach me in an emergency, everyone else, including our clients, was to operate as if I were on maternity leave and completely unreachable.
5. EMBRACE THE BOUNDARIES.
During early pregnancy, the hard and fast boundaries around eating and sleeping taught me to set expectations with others and work smart. My leave also had boundaries; I wanted to be fully apprised of all activities, but my formal work would be limited to only the most critical decisions only to be made by the CEO.
In this sense, de-risking pregnancy not only protected the company; it yielded positive externalities in the form of longer-term agility, leadership, and maturity required of every scalable business.