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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to juggle raising a family while building a company

Even in naming your company’s parental leave policy, be sure to focus on equality and equity.

How to juggle raising a family while building a company
[Source Photo: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock]

As a first-time founder and a first-time dad, August 2016 was quite a whirlwind for me. On August 16, I gathered my team as we cut the ribbon to announce our new office. And, just two days later, on August 18, I was able to make an even bigger announcement as I cut the umbilical cord for my newborn son. The rest of that year, I did my best to juggle fatherhood while raising our first round of funding. While I was excited to be a Dad, I felt that I had to get back to work in order to support my team—as well as my family. By the end of 2016, we had successfully closed our first round of funding, yet I felt like I had dropped the ball in creating a strong bond with my son.

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Since then, I’ve re-evaluated my role as a father as well as our company’s philosophy on work-life balance. Ultimately, I realized that I don’t believe in work-life balance as a concept. I can say with 100% certainty that there has not been a day since my son was born that I felt like I delivered equally as both a father and a founder; and honestly, I believe that we should normalize that. The word “balance” implies equal weight and I know that on some days, I really need to show up as Dad; on others, I need to lean on my wife for familial support as I put in extra hours in the office.

Even today as I write this, I am stepping over Legos, making PB&J sandwiches, and playing with puzzles because our nanny had to call out sick. At our company, we choose instead to emphasize work-life prioritization and we talk about the impact of that intentionally chosen word. I let my team know that when they are at work, I want them to be working and helping us build on the vision that we share for our company. With that said, I know that they cannot be productive or deliver at a high level if they do not have peace at home, do not feel justly compensated, or if they are not feeling well—physically, mentally, or emotionally. But beyond creating a company philosophy of prioritization, it is important to put equitable policies in place to ensure that every employee is supported with the resources that they need to make prioritization a reality.

At the end of 2020, as the entire world dealt with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, my family received incredible news—we were expecting again. While thinking of creative ways to tell our now 4-year-old, I couldn’t help but think about what this meant for my company. Paid family leave has received more attention in the startup world as champions of the measure, like Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian, have become vocal about the impact that it can have on families. While there is not a national law that enforces paid time off, private companies are taking matters into their own hands as potential employees increasingly seek this benefit.

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As a team leader, it is important to acknowledge that your team is watching your actions. You can create a policy to support your employees, but if you don’t also exercise it, you will signal to your team that this is not an important policy. When you set out to create your company’s parental leave policy, keep the following best practices in mind.

BE COMPETITIVE

While some of the best companies in the country offer several months of parental leave, we found that 12 weeks of leave was considered a “best in class” practice in our industry. To remain competitive, consider how your current employees, as well as the market, view your leave policy.  This will help ensure that you can attract world-class talent and also support them as they begin to start families. Ultimately, we arrived at providing six weeks of fully paid leave and the option for an additional six weeks of partially paid leave for new parents.

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BE INCLUSIVE

Even in naming your policy, be sure to focus on equality and equity. You may want to consider how your policy supports adoptive parents, surrogate parents, and also parents who experience pregnancy loss. Understanding that family dynamics vary greatly from household to household, starting from a position of inclusivity will ensure that each of your team members is able to go about their work knowing that they have options for how to best remain a supportive member of their family.

BE FLEXIBLE

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While it is imperative to make sure all employees are treated equally, there should still be room for individualized plans should people need greater accommodation based on their personal experience with having a child or caregiving. One size doesn’t fit all, so the key is to have fair implementation practices. Allowing for flexibility based on individual employees’ needs and company resources will lead to happier employees and happier homes.

In the end, the goal is to facilitate healthy families, which yield healthy employees and team members. I know that having a child, no matter how you came to be a family, is a life-changing event. As an employer, you should design policies that honor that experience while also creating supportive programs and accommodations to allow employees to soak up the moments during that special time. As managers and job creators, we should offer ourselves—and our employees—more grace, more resources, and more time with our families.


Harold Hughes is balancing life as the Founder & CEO of Bandwagon, a blockchain-enabled identity infrastructure company, while being a good dad. 

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