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March 2, 2018

In Pursuit Of: Better Maternity Leave

Q: Which aspects of maternity leave do you think companies could do a better job addressing?
Katia: So far I feel like the majority of the conversation has been centered around the actual maternity leave, which is of course extremely important, but there's another critical component: the transition back to work afterward and making it worth it for women. I want to fight the bias that all of a sudden your career goals change when you decide to have a family. Your ambition does not exit your person because you have become a mother. In fact, the exact opposite can happen. This issue extends to all primary caregivers in the same waywhether that's a father on our team or parents who adopt.

Q: When did you first realize this?
Katia: During the formative years of Birchbox we gained a lot of perspective through the hiring process, and I learned early on that moms are a secret weapon in the workplace. My co-founder and I came to this conclusion years before I became a mom. We hired women who happened to be moms, and relatively new moms, who were looking for more balance. They wanted careers with a capital "C"that meant interesting, challenging work, and a trajectory to the top. But they needed more flexibility. We watched them flourish and have enormous impacts on our business, and our part in it was simply treating them with the respect and flexibility they needed. Through their effectiveness and endless ambition for themselves, their team, and the company, it helped me recognize that the experience they were having was not the norm elsewhere.

Q: What does Birchbox do as a company to support employees who are new moms?
Katia: Policy-wise, we start with an offboarding plan. We work to prepare new moms and their managers so that they have a strong coverage plan and can feel comfortable disconnecting and having time with their family. Then, we have a flexible "ramp-up" period for primary caregivers returning to the workplace. They can decide between working five half-days or three full days for the first two or four weeks back (depending on the length of her maternity leave). We also have a dedicated lactation room with a hospital-grade pump and an amazing support system that extends beyond our People and Culture (human resources) team. I have high hopes to take our maternity leave policy to the next level in 2018.

Mentality-wise, its even more unique because of how aware we are of the difficulty of making it work, especially when you're a first-time parent. We have deep empathy surrounding that time and make it a priority to discuss with managers how to balance the fact that women need and deserve more flexibility, but also that that does not compromise their ability to have high impact on an organization and a fast career trajectory. We focus on encouraging open dialogue. This is not simple, or addressable with one policy or conversation. It is nuanced and requires strong communication, including excellent listening on both sides. Additionally, we know that every circumstance is personal, and because of that we think it is most important to be ready for a variety of conversations and outcomes in a variety of timeframes.

I encourage new moms not to make massive career decisions in the first few months back to work until they give themselves some time to normalize and explore their needs and desires. I want new moms to challenge the biases women face when coming back from maternity leavethis is not a disability (despite terminology used in government leave programs), and it certainly doesnt require you to press restart on showcasing your value to a company.

Q: What have you learned through your personal experience with maternity leave?
Katia: I realized that the whole work-life balance thing makes it seem that work and life are at odds. Loving what you do makes it easier to classify work as an aspect of your life, and it isnt only the industry or type of work you do that creates that loveits an environment that feeds a dynamic you. That kind of work is worth coming back to. When your job contributes to your sense of self you stop obsessing over balance in a vacuum. My family gives me energy and new perspective for work. I know, three kids in, that I am a much better leader today because I am a mother.

I have the unique privilege to experience motherhood in an environment that I can co-create. I want more companies to understand the talent that is at risk if we dont reframe our thinking and recognize some of these tired biases toward women when they come back. And I want women who are experiencing or will experience this time in life to fight the tendencies we have to accommodate and wait our turn, only to then just decide "not worth it, I am out."

Join the conversation at @Birchbox or by reaching out to us at


Alexis Bridenbaugh