I often joke that Routific was my first baby. I co-founded the company with my husband, and in the early days, Routific was all we talked about, thought about, and dreamt about – day and night.
I remember when we started to get our first customers – some of whom were overseas in Europe. If they ran into any issues with the software, they would call our personal cell phones in the middle of the night. We would jolt awake, groggy but adrenaline-fueled, turn on a lamp, stumble to open our laptops and get to work. Indeed, Routific was our baby who needed our attention 24/7, even in the middle of the night sometimes.
Then, after many years of trying to get pregnant (and going through fertility treatments while building up the company in those early days – a story for another day!) we finally had a flesh-and-blood baby of our own. In 2018, I was the first mother at Routific, and so I used the opportunity to be a guinea pig for the company. I did a little research into what other companies were doing, and I designed a basic but generous maternity and parental leave program that suited our family’s needs. I knew this program would soon be used by other Moms and parents joining our growing team, and I hoped that I would set a good example for future Routicians that they would be well taken care of if they, too, wanted to start a family.
Fast forward to 2023. I’m now a Mom of two young children (ages 2 and 4). We have a healthy group of parents working at the company, including Sarah – our Director of People and Culture – who has just returned to work after a one-year maternity leave.
I thought it would be an excellent chance to talk to her about her recent experience, how Routific supported her through the process, and what we can do better for all working Moms out there.
Conversation with Sarah
Suzanne: Sarah, you’re our Director of People and Culture and HR specialist. When you joined our company, I was so excited to have a professional on the team who could take what we founders hacked together and bring us up a few levels.
Sarah: You guys did a great job before I came on board. But it’s definitely been an amazing opportunity for me to build upon the strong culture the founders created for the team. You know, in my previous roles, I’ve always felt like I was doing everything I could to support someone on their journey of going on leave as well as returning from it. But I will humbly admit now that I don’t think I was doing a great job! In my opinion, it is not possible to fully understand what it means to go on maternity leave until you actually go through it yourself. I wish I could go back and have supported more women that I worked with, including you, Suzanne. You’re the “pioneer mama” at Routific, and I feel you had to go through the maternity leave experience without much support.
Suzanne: Aw, that’s incredibly kind of you to say. I think it would’ve been nice to have more parents at Routific, especially during my first mat leave, so I could have a sort of support group. But honestly, I was also super excited to be charting new territory and designing a parental leave program from scratch. Completely agree with your statement that you don’t really know what it’s like to go on mat leave until you go through it yourself.
Sarah: Yea, I feel like I get it now. I see how so many women over the last few generations have struggled so much with their return to work in a male-dominated world. How could a male colleague really understand why you are not quite at your best that day because your baby is sick, your house is a mess, and you haven’t had enough sleep?Women don’t want to show their weakness in the workplace for fear of letting down their colleagues or appearing weak. Even though I am guilty of apologizing for my son being sick, I truly believe that if we are going to move the pendulum to increase working Moms in the workforce, we need to accept that Moms will do their very best when they can but that might not be every moment. And the moments they are fully present, you don’t have an average employee anymore but someone who is way more dedicated, committed, and efficient with their time. You’re basically getting a superhero.
Suzanne: A superhero! I love that. Tell me a bit about your recent mat leave. How did you feel prior to taking your mat leave at Routific? What expectations did you have? What questions were top of mind?
Sarah: Before taking my leave, I struggled with the unknown. I love my job so much that as silly as it sounds, I didn’t really understand how I would be able to not think about work. I was very particular about having everything organized for the team because I felt a form of guilt for leaving them hanging. I expected that I would love my time with my little one but I would still have lots of thoughts about work. I also expected that if the team really needed me, they would reach out.
Suzanne: During your mat leave, were you able to fully disconnect from work or did you keep tabs on what was happening? What was it like stepping away from work for such an extended period of time and being at home with a baby?
Sarah: To my surprise, I noticed a real difference in my ability to disconnect from work while on maternity leave. I found it a lot easier to compartmentalize areas of my life. Perhaps, this ability to separate different parts of my life, is a gift that motherhood has given me. It could also be down to pure exhaustion and not being able to hold too many thoughts at once. But I see it as a really great skill to carry with me now. I can focus on what I really need to do and get it done. There is no time for procrastination! I had such minimal time to think about any other tasks outside of taking care of my little guy, that when I had a moment to think about work, I really took advantage of them.
Suzanne: I remember reading a news story about an employer who loved hiring working Moms. He said something about Moms not having time for bullshit. With so little discretionary time, Moms understand that time is so precious and it is not to be wasted.
Suzanne: Let’s talk about the actual parental leave program at Routific. How specifically did it support you?
Sarah: It’s so flexible. It was really up to me what I wanted to do in regards to contact with the team and there was no pressure on me to do something I was uncomfortable with. At the start of my leave, the “unknown” left me anxious and I was ready for someone to just tell me what to do. Now I see it as a blessing in disguise. I also love how Routific, despite being a small company, provided a top-up. I felt more financially secure as it gave me that little bit extra to support our growing family.
Suzanne: You've been back for just 2 months now. How is it going? Any advice for yourself, and for other Mamas returning to work?
Sarah: I would say to take it slow. I am a very ambitious person with a million things on my to-do list at all times and I think being able to accept that you are not going to be at the same level you left – and that's ok!
Suzanne: Pacing yourself is super important. I started by working 4 days a week, with every Friday for myself to rest, recharge, go to the gym, and do some batch cooking. It was so lovely. I miss it sometimes now that I’m back to 5 days. Something that’s been really amazing for me, especially after my second mat leave, has been clarity in my role.I returned to work with a real understanding of my superpowers and I’ve been able to apply them to my work very deliberately. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been working for many years now or if it’s because I had the chance to step away and come back to work with a beginner’s mind – twice now. I feel being away has given me a clearer view of where I can best contribute at Routific.
Sarah: That is really great to hear, there is something to be said for taking a step away and then returning with purpose. I think it comes down to the “fear of the unknown” when you come back the first time. I had no idea what to expect! I imagine having more clarity and knowing what to expect the second time around would be a different experience. This goes back to my points about setting realistic expectations and trying to live with the unknown. Clearly, this is hard for me but I am getting better at it! Take the time to see how you can really focus on projects that will bring you a sense of accomplishment but also contribute to your team. You also can’t expect to just “know” what might be best when you have been out of the company for some time so seek feedback from your team. You are a superhero Mama, don’t forget it.
Suzanne Ma is a former journalist and published author turned co-founder at Routific, a route optimization platform. She loves to capture inspiring stories from small business entrepreneurs, and share their journeys of growth alongside Routific. As a Product Marketer, she ensures that the community stays up to date on the latest innovations at Routific.
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