If pregnancy is measured in trimesters, the fourth trimester is that window where newborns bring their new parents joy and many sleepless nights.
But what is the fifth trimester?
According to Lauren Smith Brody, author of a book with the same name, it starts with the birth of the working mother.
Speaking to a virtual audience of Rackspace employees around the globe, Brody shared insights and advice gained from her own experiences as a working mother as well as from interviews with more than 800 others. Her work focuses on actions working parents – and the companies they work for — can take to cope with the demands of home and work.
“The goal is to change the culture,” Brody said. “The best way of doing that is by being honest about your needs and the challenges you face.”
Brody, who also founded The Fifth Trimester, a consultancy that helps companies improve workplace culture and policies around new parenthood, will be speaking at the sold-out 2018 Texas Conference for Women. As part of its commitment to women’s leadership, Rackspace is a sponsor and co-chair of the event.
Rackspace Vice President of Integrated Solutions Kelly Hopping kicked off the event, sharing her own stories of returning from maternity leave. “When I had my first child, I was unsure what to expect,” Hopping said. “What I learned over time is that there are resources available and people are really understanding.”
Brody’s talk began with a discussion of the “motherhood penalty,” a data-backed trend that found working mothers are systematically disadvantaged in terms of pay, perceived competence and benefits in comparison to women without kids.
Offering advice for new mothers to inoculate themselves from its effects, Brody included tips for both home and work.
“Financially plan while you family plan. Get a good understanding of how your benefits package will carry on while you’re on leave and make a plan to help supplement where needed,” she said. “And beware of gatekeeping if you’re sharing responsibilities with a partner. Make sure you each have the know-how and are comfortable performing necessary tasks for your newborn.”
Brody also spent significant time helping employees who do and do not have children understand one another’s needs. Her suggestions? Understand that the desire for flexibility and bringing your whole self to work is universal. As often as possible, remove gender from the equation (to include all parents), and try to see the benefits flexibility can bring to the entire organization — not just to working parents.
While listening, Rackers recounted their own wins and struggles in an exclusive Slack channel set up for the event. Dragana Perez, a software developer in Managed Public Cloud Product Engineering, highlighted the power of this shared wisdom.
“The biggest lesson I learned as a new working mom was from my new manager, who was hired very pregnant for a very stressful role,” Perez said. “She told me to be open to my team about what to expect (as in, I have to leave at 5 p.m. today to pick up my child from daycare). Your team will understand and adapt, but they need to know what they can expect from you.”
“I was very open with my leadership,” Hopping added. “The nice thing is you don’t have to figure it all out once, you can figure it out day by day.”
While encouraging employees to scaffold their emotional wellness as a working parent and to make time for self-care, Brody cited the #1 key as being open to seeing the strengths this life change brings about.
“As challenging as it is to get through the transition back to work, there are so many skills that you build along the way that set you up for every work/life balance issue you’re going to have in the future,” Brody said. “They are inevitable, but to know that you’ve gotten through this one really helps you to see that you can do it. And, culturally, you’ll help others in your organization see that they can do it too.”
In addition to coaching new parents, Brody also consults with businesses to help make the return to work easier on new parents — including a comprehensive review of maternity and paternity benefits.
In 2015, Rackspace increased its paid maternity leave to 12 weeks and paternity leave to four weeks, offering new parents time to bond with their newborns and get settled into new roles and patterns. The company also offers four to six weeks of leave for adoption or surrogacy, backup childcare benefits and adoption assistance reimbursement. RackParents, an employee resource group that provides support to working parents, was formalized in 2015 to help meet the needs of this ever-growing employee population.