By Kim Aswell, VP of Tech Product Management
Most working parents can attest to the ambivalence you feel that first day back at work after parental leave. That conflicting blend of immense guilt for leaving the tiny human(s) you recently welcomed to the world and the simultaneous thrill of reuniting with a part of yourself you’d been missing. For me, this feeling of having a foot in two worlds happened immediately, and has remained to this day.
When I reflect on my first day back at work after giving birth to my first child, it is so far from the experience I now have as a remote employee. It was minutes after arriving at my former workplace, and one hour after I began my commute, that I realized it was time for my first pumping session. I knew rationally, and legally, that I should feel comfortable pumping, but insecurity instantly set in. I’d arrived with the intention of being a wholly focused, highly productive member of the team, but I was also bound to the schedule set by my body to express milk every two to three hours. Did my coworkers somehow see me as less committed? Did I owe it to my employer to put in extra time at home after 12 hours away from my baby? This was both an internal dialogue I routinely had with myself – and a real, uncomfortable dialogue I later had with former coworkers about the perceived “breaks” I was taking as a nursing mother.
Things changed dramatically when I started working at Aledade, and when I returned to work after the birth of my twins. As a remote employee, I had no commute, no after-work social functions. I had several hours back with my family. And yet, old feelings had resurfaced when it came to balancing my work responsibilities with my obligations as a nursing mother. With a “cameras-on” culture, I wondered how to handle my pumping sessions. Would I appear as if I wasn’t “all in'' because I didn’t have my camera on? Would I need to share in every one-on-one meeting why my camera was off or that I was on mute to silence the pumping sound? How would I find time to sterilize the equipment, store the milk and ensure I was keeping up with my calorie and water intake (which is essential as a nursing mother) while also managing back-to-back meetings and my workload?
If there’s anything the pandemic has taught working professionals, it’s that sometimes we’re called to not just balance work and life, but to integrate them. This is a challenge long felt by nursing parents, and in my experience, the solution has been to find a company that doesn’t just acknowledge your needs but truly understands and supports them.
Beyond Aledade’s generous 12-week fully paid parental leave policy, the culture here is sincerely supportive and responsive. I feel fortunate to work for a leadership team, including many clinicians, who understands the benefits of the decisions I’ve made for my family. When I’ve said I’m struggling, physically or emotionally, I’ve been heard. If I need to make a tough choice, like attending an off-site retreat virtually because I have newborns at home, it is not questioned.
After a period of adjustment, I finally felt comfortable being transparent about my pumping routine. And after that experience, I’m now glad to see dog-walking and doctor’s appointment icons next to my peers’ names on Slack, hoping they feel that same level of trust to make decisions about how to spend their time. As we get closer to a new “post-pandemic” chapter, remote organizations need to proactively offer this level of trust to all employees. In embracing the work-from-home model, we must acknowledge that these two spheres can and will blend.
This means that as employees, we must advocate for ourselves. And as managers we should be humble and do our best to anticipate our team members’ needs, but also recognize that we may not even know what they are.
Aledade has consistently been named a great place to work, but even great companies have work to do. Managers and employers alike can find ways to more proactively offer support rather than reactively responding to questions or concerns (e.g., communicating what resources are available to new parents their very first day back at work, ensuring meal breaks are long enough for nursing parents to both pump and eat). At Aledade, I have been able to successfully advocate for myself, set boundaries, and define when I’m at work and when I’m off work (which often varies day to day). And from day one, my team has actively encouraged me to take a break whenever I need to – full trust, zero judgment.
I am so proud to be part of this team, and while we are constantly improving, we are not perfect. I missed last year’s team photo due to a last-minute schedule change that I couldn’t accommodate with my pumping schedule (the venue did have a really great pumping room though!). It was a bummer, absolutely, but I guarantee no one meant for that to happen. But it just shows how small and seemingly meaningless changes can actually have an impact, and we have to be mindful of that. To be better employees, leaders and peers, we must recognize that we can’t assume to know others’ day-to-day struggles, or ambitions. But we can check in with one another, advocate for ourselves and others and remain both humble and curious about what it means for each of us to have a foot in two worlds and to feel wholly supported in both of them.