Career vs Maybe Baby
July 4, 2012 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Woman navigating career and family planning - stay comfortable in a good job or take the risk in a startup? Apologies, a bit long and ranty inside:

I have been offered a job in a small startup. I truly believe in the product, I think it has loads of potential, it's in an industry that I'm personally interested in, and the team itself seems great. The position itself is pretty senior (relative to the size of it) and I will be personally involved in driving the direction. However, their current offer only is slightly more than my current salary with none of the benefits. They are also offering equity options but as far as I'm concerned that's a nice possible bonus, it doesn't help me now.

As it doesn't have any of the benefits that my current company has, as an early thirties married woman I am most concerned about maternity leave support. If I stay, I can get 6 months with an option to extend to a year (this is in the UK). I am not pregnant, but we want to be in the near future and the increase in pay at the startup is not enough for me to save towards any sort of comparable leave and I don't even know if taking 6 months off at a startup is possible - I think that could suck for everyone.

I like my job now but I don't see a long-term future with it. My boss would basically have to leave for me to get promoted and I don't really want their job anyway. I would be staying in it for the benefits, and let's face it, a baby may not even happen. The startup is exactly the sort of place that I want to be in the next stage of my career.

So, the question:
I'm not sure how to bring this up to the startup in terms of offer negotiations without freaking them out. I also need guidance on how to convince my husband on how we could make it work. He really wants one of us to be able to stay at home with this hypothetical baby for 6 months. If it matters, he makes about the same as I do at a more established startup. Financially we are currently comfortable but we couldn't afford for only one of us to work without maternity cover. We'd be happy if he could be the one to stay at home for 6 months but that's just not a reality.

Personally I am also struggling with the unfairness of it all, as it seems my career ambitions are being dictated and possibly thwarted by my ovaries. If a baby was not in the picture at all, this is a no brainer, I would go. But we do want a family eventually and I'm starting to hear the stupid clock ticking. So if it turns out that I don't take this job because it "doesn't make sense", how do I not become resentful over it?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You say that in your current job, I can get 6 months with an option to extend to a year (this is in the UK). What you are describing is Statutory Maternity Leave. Unless your employer has full salary benefits, you'd get the same benefit from either employer: 90% of your salary for six weeks, and £135.45 for all the weeks after. You will also get £20 a week in child benefit. You do need to wait six months in the new job to qualify for this, but otherwise "is taking six months off at a startup possible?" isn't really relevant because as far as I know, there is no small firl expemtion to the law.

Am I missing something?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:49 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

small firl expemtion = small firm exemption. Sorry!
posted by DarlingBri at 9:17 AM on July 4, 2012

Consider the culture/background of the other startup employees. Startup companies (at least in the US) very often (but not always) work very long hours and expect all their employees to log those long hours. At what point in their careers are the other employees? If they are all significantly younger than you, or male, they may all assume without question that they will be working long hours.

You may not want to, or be able to, do that, if you're trying to get pregnant. You owe it to both yourself and your potential co-workers to be honest about your expectations for work-life balance.
posted by dfriedman at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with dfriedman -- if you pursue the startup job, make sure you knock out the details of work-life balance well before getting pregnant. I made the decision to leave an awesome startup job after my son was born because it turned out my boss thought we'd made a different arrangement for my postpartum period than I thought we had. The conversation with your employer doesn't have to be specifically about a baby, but you should (privately) consider what you would like your life to look like with a child, and see whether that's feasible at this startup. Look at the other people involved. I've got two friends at a startup whose founders both have small children at home. Both founders leave at 5 p.m., every day, and they work minimally on the weekends; as a result, their employees tend to work that schedule. They're also pretty understanding with employees who need to leave early for a sick child, or whatever.

Six months is a long time in startup land. At the last one I worked at, in one six month period, we received major funding, a huge sale, and tripled our employee numbers. All of these are things that impacted my job directly. Yes, legally, your employer may not be able to say anything about it, but I don't think it's unreasonable to consider the impact of six months' leave on your experience of your job.
posted by linettasky at 9:42 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and a mom, addresses this in her "Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders" TED talk. Towards the end, there's a section on "don't leave before you leave" - meaning: take the opportunities available to you now. You have no idea how long it will take you to get pregnant, or how much you'll be able to work when pregnant, or what the company will be like in a few years from now when you need to take time off, etc. You don't need to negotiate this with the startup now. Any person they hire for this role - single or married, gay or straight, man or woman, could make the choice to have a child in the next few years. It's a reality of hiring. Take the job. Be amazing. And then be an amazing mom. You'll figure it out.
posted by judith at 10:14 AM on July 4, 2012 [22 favorites]

Yes to Sheryl Sandberg. Her message has been criticized because of course she is very privileged, and has options and safety nets most women don't. She's also been criticized for perpetuating the notion that women need to change, not workplaces. But I think there's lots of merit in her message anyway.

Basically, you need to decide how important your career is. If it's really important, than all the other factors need to bend a little to accommodate its importance. In that event, you would want a next job that's more challenging than your current environment, but also not completely unaccommodating (not a macho coding environment with all-nighters, beer binges, and zero tolerance for work-life balance), because you wouldn't want to flail/derail if you in fact had a baby. You would need your husband to accept that your career matters, and that means it cannot be the family's lowest priority. Maybe he should split the leave with you, particularly since his start-up is more established than yours. Maybe he needs to be okay with a lower standard-of-living during the baby's first years. Maybe he would just need to accept it'll be a little hectic and crappy for a while, and that's okay because the family is investing in your professional future. (It worries me, by the way, that you say "he" wants someone to stay home with the baby for six months. What do you want?)

To directly answer your question: if it were me, I think that I would not talk with the start-up about a potential baby. I think it would freak them out, and I think a baby is a normal thing that it shouldn't require special negotiation. (I also think you and your husband probably want to do some more talking about a baby, before actually trying to have one.) If I were you, I'd observe the culture carefully, and draw your own conclusions about whether it's likely to offer you some minimal level of work-life balance, in the event you need it. I wouldn't bring it up.

Good luck! I totally feel your pain :-)
posted by Susan PG at 10:31 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The new job is offering you almost the same money with no benefits. Price all those benefits are going to cost you to obtain privately, the difference in maternity benefits, the difference in what you will earn perhour at your current 8 hour day versus the 12 hour days at the new job and add to your current salary. Now you can see what you really earn now in comparison with what they are offering. Go back with a figure at least 20% over that (I would actually expect closer to 30-40% bump). If they aren't willing to pay now for your skills I would not accept future promises of raises, promotions or equity. There wil be another job that is a better fit for you.
posted by saucysault at 11:06 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

here's a section on "don't leave before you leave" - meaning: take the opportunities available to you now. You have no idea how long it will take you to get pregnant, or how much you'll be able to work when pregnant, or what the company will be like in a few years from now when you need to take time off, etc.

Yes, echoing this.

You are not currently pregnant. Do whatever you would do if there was no baby in the picture because for right now, there isn't a baby. If you start making planning your life around a baby that you haven't even conceived yet, you will have made yourself completely bats by the time you actually start trying - which will make your life so much harder than it needs to be. Getting pregnant is stressful enough - don't make it worse by making the rest of your life hinge on it as well.

Take the career opportunities that you want and when you actually need to leave, look at what the options actually are.
posted by sonika at 11:28 AM on July 4, 2012

Also echoing the advice to not take yourself out of the game before you need to. If you're passionate about the startup and think that it will be a good career move, make it!

You can and should also negotiate salary and benefits. They don't expect you to take the first offer. If you need more salary to feel comfortable making the leap, to make up for benefits, and to improve your ability to save, you owe it to yourself to ask for more salary.

I made a similar move recently under very similar circumstances and I don't regret it for a minute. I've learned enough in six months to make it worth the change and I think that I'm much better-positioned now to get pregnant and still have an exciting career if I want it. Good luck, this sounds really exciting!
posted by ch1x0r at 12:29 PM on July 4, 2012

This is the only chance you'll have to take a chance on getting your foot in the door of a startup. I say do it. Even if it doesn't work out, you will have experience working in a startup in a very senior leadership role This is invaluable.

But you have nebulous plans right now to have a child. If they were concrete, I'd say stay. They're not right now, so I say if it's something you'd normally have done if you were taking the child having out of the equation, then do it.
posted by inturnaround at 12:43 PM on July 4, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you all for your responses! Some updates:

I looked into it and my current company is actually only 3 months full pay maternity, statutory after that.

Regardless - I had a good talk with my husband. We both want kids in our future. I'm sorry if my original post made it sound possibly more one-sided. We are very much in agreement about this. But we came to a couple of good conclusions. We're better off than a lot of other people who have had kids before us and after us and a lot of those kids turn out just fine. Secondly, regardless of 1 month maternity cover at 90% or 6 months full cover, a baby can't take care of itself after 6 months. So it doesn't matter where I go, this will still be something we have to plan for together. Thirdly, if the situation were reversed, we would be popping open the champagne for him.

In light of all that and everyone's encouragements about not stopping living life over hypothetical babies, I'm going to go forward with continuing with salary negotiations the way anyone should when considering a new job (with NO mention about maternity - what was I thinking?!)

I'm really excited about what the future may bring, thanks everyone.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:02 PM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thanks for the update and hooray for you and your new job!!! Best of luck with this and any babies that may happen in the future :)
posted by sonika at 4:03 PM on July 4, 2012

That's great, congratulations!

Here's an idea: see if you can, over the next year, save half your salary. This is a huge stretch but would essentially self-fund your six month maternity leave (and get your household used to living on less money, like you will need to once you are paying for childcare.) If you get to use it, fantastic. If you don't - congratulations, you can pay for Round 1 of IVF without re-mortgaging your house. It's 100% win as a strategy.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:12 PM on July 8, 2012

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