The first woman of our “Mums in tech” series is a Janina Fagerlund, who studied at EIT Digital until 2014. She works as “Head of product” at Reaktor in Helsinki, Finland and has a one year old little girl Naomi currently staying at home with her dad.
“The parenthood force you to get to know yourself”
Janina just has gone back to work after 12 months on parental leave and has reflected on what the parental leave (or maybe pause?) has done to her perspective on life. In finnish it is called parental holiday (But is it a holiday though?). She tells me her perspective on both herself and her career has changed. It gave her distance and cleared her thoughts and it got ever clearer that the family at home is most important. So, after going back to work, she is braver and has more distance to it and she now prioritizes tasks better and focuses on doing stuff she is good at and enjoys. This should indeed benefit and be seen as an asset to the company. “You shouldn’t feel like a parental leave is something negative, but as an opportunity for you to reflect and find perspective. You mature, prioritize better and get a kick in the career”. Finally, it was great to hear that having a kid did not change her view on taking on more responsibility and a higher position.
“It is less than one year of your life, take a step back, enjoy it, bring you up to speed with what is going on in the world and get back into business”.
Furthermore, one can wonder how many companies there are in Finland and Europe that never had a man take parental leave (!). “In men-dominated fields, it could be cultural suicide to take parental leave”. However, someone has to be the first – so please all men out there, take the step and lead the way. The men should not be shamed or given less career possibilities because they take some months off. It is the same as for women. Janina tells me “It’s a way of talking”, in Finland they would ask directly “How does it feel now when Naomi is at Kindergarten” while in for example Sweden, it would not be assumed she was in day-care but could be home with her dad. “Sweden has come very far regarding equality and encourages dads to take leave (by legislation).” – Janina says.
“You get better leadership skills due to parenthood”
Finally, some tips for both companies and women who want to have a career and start a family:
Tips for Companies:
- Companies should have their process about parental leave AND pregnancy publicly available and detailed (e.g. can i keep my phone). It is important also to have information during the pregnancy available about the company process. Especially since there is a big part of the pregnancy when no one knows about it and when you need the info.
- The company’s process should be kept constantly up to date with the latest regulations and processes.
- In order to make the process better and keep it up to date, everyone who goes on parental leave can give feedback to the process to make it better.
- All parental leave should be treated equally but as it is the women, who have to be pregnant, give birth and milk – it automatically gives women different circumstances. Therefore, it could be argued that women should have more support.
- When a person goes on leave, do not give the feeling that a person is going to quit the company by making her/him turn in keys, etc. Make sure that they feel like they are only on a pause and then warmly welcome back.
- It is also important, especially in man-dominated fields to support the women also during the pregnancy as some women have a really hard time. Provide someone for her to talk to that isn’t just the colleagues.
- The boss should be inviting men to also take parental leave. E.g. if a man says “My wife is pregnant”, the boss should inform and invite the man to take parental leave.
- Support the person coming back from parental leave. Many might dream of doing something different when coming back. A good idea is to check with your employee when coming back to back to make sure the expectations on both ends match.
Tips to a woman who want a career and a family
- Think about the whole picture. The time when the child is really small is very short. It does you good to take a pause in your career. You can use the time to read about the future, your field, new technologies and programs. Open your eyes for new information that is hard to take in when you are in the middle of your work. Take the course “Elements of AI” for example.
- Talk to colleagues who have been through it before.
- Check with friends and acquaintances in the same field (outside the company) about how it works in their company with parental leave.
- If work is very important to you, you need support and a partner that understands that work is important for you. Your partner has to believe in equality and do their part in the home. It can be hard if the partner isn’t on the same level as you. “As in any project, you have to talk and agree with your team members”. If you don’t have a partner, talk to your family and friends and make a plan before on how the help can look like so it doesn’t come as a chock.
- When coming back to work, you would want to make a career change. Talk about it with your colleagues to see if there are any openings.
Author: Camilla Wikström