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About the Author
Amy Nelson is the founder and CEO of The Riveter, a modern union for working women. A graduate of Emory University and the NYU School of Law, Amy practiced corporate litigation with a focus on high-profile First Amendment matters for over a decade in New York City and Seattle. She also served on President Obama's National Finance Committee where she co-chaired Gen44, the under 40 fundraising arm of the campaign. Additionally, Amy previously worked with President Carter's The Carter Center. In 2017, Amy launched The Riveter while pregnant with her third daughter in three years and she welcomed daughter number four in June 2019. The Riveter's growth has outpaced even WeWork's first years, and to-date they’ve raised over $20 million in venture capital. Amy is a contributor for Inc., has written for Forbes, and has been published broadly including in/on outlets including The TODAY Show, Refinery29, Buzzfeed, The Washington Post and The Seattle Times. She has spoken across the world on many stages, including Forbes Under 30, United State of Women, Cannes Lions, and SXSW.

Growing a Company While Growing Humans: Why Is This Not The Norm?

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Amy Nelson is the CEO and founder of The Riveter, a modern union for working women providing community, content, tools, and coworking spaces to thousands of people across the country.

 

I am the founder and CEO of a two-year-old startup, The Riveter, and I have four daughters ages five and under. My company has opened ten locations in seven cities and raised more than 20 million in venture capital funding in fewer than three years. This success is due in large part to the workplace we’ve created: one that celebrates motherhood. Providing a positive environment for working parents is good for building company morale and fostering innovation. Here are some lessons on how to do that, based on my experience as both a working parent and business owner who is constantly adapting to build a welcoming environment.

 

Becoming a mother lights the fuse for a new career

 

Before I became a mom, I was a corporate litigator. At this stage of life, I had control over my work life and could devote long hours without needing much flexibility. The birth of my first daughter was the biggest moment of my life. Suddenly, logistics became very complicated, and they complicated even further with the birth of my second daughter. That said, rearranging my work life to prioritize my children predicated the biggest shift of my career. I felt strongly that if I was going to spend time away from my children, I needed to be doing something meaningful. I needed a change and the clearest way to to achieve a workplace culture that worked for me was to create it myself. When founded The Riveter in 2017, my daughters were one and two years old and I had just learned I was pregnant with my third daughter, so motherhood became a very big part of my work. Instead of seeing parenthood as a burden to be juggled, be open to what it can reveal to your employees. It’s healthy to have expectations and make plans, but children can derail even the most thought-out schedule. Consider these derailments as opportunities to recognize your employees’ strengths and priorities. Where will this detour take them?

 

Embracing the village

 

It should go without saying that I couldn’t do what I do without an enormous amount of support. That support comes in the form of my family, amazing nannies, a strong team of Riveters, and caring friends. Lately, I’ve been bringing my newborn into the office with me – something I can do because of the environment we’ve cultivated at The Riveter. Companies all over the country have been exploring support systems for their working parents, such as allowing new moms to bring their infant to work or offering discounts for childcare - and we still need more! We can run companies and households, but we can’t do it alone, and we weren’t meant to.

 

Organizing the day

 

One of the biggest hurdles for parents in the workforce is being able to provide undivided attention to their careers and likewise to their children. I hear time and time again about moms who feel guilty because they’re missing out on their children while they’re at work and then missing opportunities at work because they’re with their children.

Succeeding in both worlds often means letting go of idealized schedules. Instead of trying to be present for both morning and evening routines, which meant I was either hurrying to get out the door at home or rushing home from work, I now organize my day so I can spend either one three-hour block of time with my kids in the morning, or one three-hour block of time in the evening. That means I am up and out of the house by 7 a.m. so I can be home for dinner and bedtime, or I wait until 9 – 9:30 a.m. to head into work so I can spend the morning with the girls. It works for me! And other parents should have the opportunity to figure out what works for them.

 

Parents face complex schedules no matter what age their children are – whether that means dropping children off at daycare or school, dealing with after-school care, or extracurricular activities, parents need to work when they can. Sometimes even parents who work from home need a professional space to hold meetings but don’t need to utilize that space all day.

The Riveter provides a space for parents who might need a space outside of their home, whether all day, a few hours a week, or anything in between. Making your work environment available by letting go of the typical cubicle-bound 9 – 5 workday will encourage productivity and let parents find their own rhythm – succeeding not in spite of their parenthood, but because of it.

 

Finding time to recharge the batteries

 

There’s a third sphere of our lives that any business leader understands as essential to a productive workforce, a successful career, and a happy parent: personal time. Encourage your employees to set aside time for activities that allow them to recharge their batteries and divert their attention from work and home life for a little while.

 

For example, I love to exercise. Staying in shape is good, but for me, exercise is more important as a way to force myself to stop thinking about work or home. I’m a big believer in doing what you have to do to make things work. For example, my husband and I converted our garage into an exercise studio so we no longer need to make the trip to a gym. At The Riveter, our members can drop in to variety of onsite wellbeing activities, from mindfulness meditation to yoga.

 

Like exercise, reading is a way for me to lose myself in something completely unrelated to work or home life. I’m always in the middle of a fiction novel – I just finished The Farm, by Joanne Ramos. Work can actually serve as a sanctuary for these kind of personal activities. Lead by example and encourage your employees to take time to stroll or bury their noses in a book during lunch instead of eating at their desks. It may be the only time of their day they get to do so without a child tugging at their sleeve.

 

Taking leave and transitioning back to the workforce

 

As generous as my maternity leave was for my first child, re-entering the workday after 16 weeks away brought challenges. Like many new moms, I did a ramp-up, starting at an 80 percent workweek to give myself time to adjust. And like many new moms, I discovered I was just back to working full-time, just at 80 percent pay. To their credit, my company recognized this and gave me back pay for the hours I worked, but it certainly served as a lesson.

 

First, I cannot stress the importance of parental leave. We offer 16 weeks of paid parental leave at The Riveter for all parents welcoming new children.. I would like to see mandatory parental leave in the United States. Research shows that the best outcomes for women in leadership are in countries that have mandatory maternity AND paternity leave. In these countries, leave for both parents isn’t seen as a perk, it’s understood as the expectation. Second, if your employees decide to re-enter the workforce at reduced hours, make sure they are sticking to their defined hours and getting paid for every hour they work. Remember that parental leave is not a vacation. Your employees have been working harder than they ever have in their lives in those weeks and they will experience a range of emotions upon their return to the office. Showing empathy and understanding during this time will benefit your company in the long run as employee loyalty and company reputation improve.

 

Rewriting the narrative on working moms

From the moment I told my colleagues I was pregnant, I was struck by how I was immediately treated differently. I was asked whether I still wanted to work on certain cases or present to large groups and perform several other functions of the job  , the implication being that I would not be able or willing to because I was pregnant. I had few role models at similar points in their career that I could look up to. When I decided to go  out on my own, it was partly because I felt the system wasn’t buying into me anymore...so why would I buy into the system?

 

At The Riveter, we listen to our members’ suggestions, like finding member discounts for offsite childcare and family-friendly activities and work to put them in place. We invite speakers from a variety of fields to discuss how they balance working and parenting. We build the resources that we hear and understand are necessary. Providing a parent-friendly workplace doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Encourage peer mentorship and guidance from fellow parents in the office. Embrace flexibility. Solicit and then implement recommendations from working parents. Offer programming that emphasizes a healthy work-life balance. And don’t assume working parents aren’t going to be as committed or capable as they were before they had kids – instead, see how motherhood and fatherhood can inspire their creativity at work.