In September of 2019 I had one child and another on the way. At the same time, I was working as a software engineer, a career often notable for late nights and weekend work. In addition, my focus in supporting infrastructure usually requires a rotating on-call, where I might need to troubleshoot an outage outside of normal working hours.
Needless to say, balancing this line of work with the needs of childcare can be challenging. And beyond succeeding at the everyday work, I also wanted to grow my career. In my previous experience in the tech industry, I faced the constant dilemma of whether I was putting in enough effort at work and at home.
Upon joining DoorDash, I found the company’s culture contained the elements, policies, and programs necessary to achieve a good work-life blend and advance my career. For me, work-life blend means I don’t have to choose between my home and work responsibilities. My career growth and personal time can coexist in relative harmony. At DoorDash, being able to work flexible hours lets me take care of my child while working. In addition, managers and teammates have been exhibiting support and understanding, which is important, especially when I need to prioritize my family’s needs.
Mothers in tech face considerable challenges. However, finding a company with these three elements: supportive culture, growth opportunities, and an empowering environment, enables my career growth and a work-life blend. DoorDash supports these three elements through its culture, policies, and programs. In this article I will use my experiences at DoorDash to illustrate what these elements look like in action and how they help me at work and at home.
The challenges of being a mother in tech
While tech can be a challenging, fast-paced environment, being a mother makes that doubly so. Mothers must attend to family responsibilities, and often face limited career mobility, less time to focus on career objectives, and reduced personal flexibility to pursue opportunities. These challenges can be summarized as the following:
- Mothers often take on extra responsibilities: Children need care, attention, and transportation that often can’t be delegated to a caregiver. According to Women in the Workplace 2020, a study published by Lean In and McKinsey and Company, mothers are more likely than fathers, by a ratio of more than three to one, to take care of housework and caregiving. Having these responsibilities can necessitate taking time off work or not being able to put as much dedication to their careers as peers with fewer outside responsibilities.
- Limited opportunities for mobility: Most life choices require parents to think about their families’ needs, not just their own. Family needs can contradict the mother’s career goals. This can limit career choices because mothers might have to pass on opportunities that might disrupt their family. For example, career decisions like moving across the country for a new job or quitting a steady job to join a promising startup would all disrupt someone’s family, entailing putting the kids in a new school or risking economic security.
- Fewer opportunities to network and pursue career growth outside of work: Mothers most often have child care responsibilities that make their schedules less flexible, making it difficult or inconvenient to attend networking events or trainings outside of working hours. To put this in perspective, the Women in the Workplace study shows that mothers are much more likely than fathers to spend three or more hours after work on chores and childcare, the equivalent of an additional part time job. Passing up career opportunities can put mothers at a disadvantage when establishing relationships within and across teams.
A company’s culture and policies can enable a work-life blend
From my experience as a mother in tech, a company’s culture, policies, and programs play a key role in ensuring the team is working in a supportive environment, has growth opportunities, and feels empowered. After starting at DoorDash I experienced all three of these crucial elements of an enabling work culture through my work interactions and utilization of the company's policies and programs.
How companies can cultivate a supportive work environment
Companies build supportive environments by understanding that employees have responsibilities and interests outside of work and creating policies to support them. At DoorDash, many managers recognize this important element and ensure that their team members have a life outside of work and provide accommodations by offering flexible work schedules, encouraging team empathy, and building safe spaces.
A flexible work schedule is key to creating a supportive environment
A flexible work schedule creates a supportive environment because it gives mothers the flexibility they need to manage their kids with their work schedule. On my team, we are allowed to set our own work hours and team members are very flexible with scheduling meetings. For example, I have been able to ensure that I never have meetings outside of my scheduled working hours. This flexible work schedule allows me to take care of my kids and attend to my projects when it’s most convenient.
Team empathy enables a supportive environment
While flexible hours are helpful, team empathy also enables a work-life blend because it ensures family obligations are understood, accepted, and accounted for. For example, at DoorDash we have been working from home since the shelter-in-place order in March 2020, which means I now have to take care of my kids during the day (I can’t send them to daycare anymore). This has altered my working hours a lot because I have to set aside time during the day to feed, wash, and play with my kids.
By having empathy and making an effort to understand my situation, my team has been able to accommodate my work schedule. This empathy is especially helpful when there are family-related emergencies, since there is no pressure to put work before family obligations. I also feel like my manager makes decisions that are in the best interests of the team members, taking my parental responsibilities into account. Team empathy creates a supportive environment because I can confidently be a parent and a team member without worrying about neglecting either one. By not having competing priorities it's easier to blend work and family responsibilities.
Creating safe spaces and professionalism ensures everyone has a seat at the table. Safe spaces are an environment where everyone is encouraged to voice their opinions and there is no fear of judgement based on what is said. At DoorDash, I have experienced a supportive environment where everyone gives everyone else the opportunity to be heard. In my engineering team I am consistently encouraged by my manager to speak my mind and share ideas in meetings. Whenever I voice my opinion I feel accepted and my input welcomed by the team, which makes me feel more confident and invested in the process.
DoorDash also cultivates a supportive environment through weekly Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions and Employee Resource Groups (ERG), such as Parents@. Many underrepresented groups meet regularly to discuss specific issues at DoorDash. I belong to the Parents@ group, an organized safe space where we discuss the issues mothers and fathers face at work. These groups partner with the company’s executive team to help resolve problems at the company. As part of this group, I get to attend many talks from various speakers, with topics such as “Balancing Work and Parenting” and “The Art of Choosing Blend.” These talks have given me tips on how to better blend work and parenting responsibilities.
Along with talks, this group also organizes virtual meetups. Recently, we had a meetup where parents were given the opportunity to discuss challenges they faced during this pandemic. Members of the executive team joined this discussion and took part in the effort to brainstorm ideas on how to ease or help parents handle these new challenges. Parents in the group shared what has been working for them and the executive team was receptive to ideas that were suggested to ease parents’ problems. Group sessions like this have been instrumental in helping parents feel supported.
Growth opportunities are important for mothers in tech
Companies that encourage their employees to take advantage of growth opportunities are especially beneficial to mothers who may not have that much time to seek career advancement outside of work. This element is key because companies that support continuous learning allow employees to recognise areas of improvement and help them to get better every day. At DoorDash, I have always experienced this emphasis on growth along with a blameless culture. This emphasis on growth gives me the environment to try new things and learn from my mistakes rather than worry about potential failure. In this way, I experienced how DoorDash invests time and money in providing these kinds of growth opportunities.
A company culture enables personal and professional growth
Learning and acquiring new skills is of the utmost importance in a fast-paced environment like tech, especially when there are so many new technologies being developed and released everyday. It's important to remain current and equipped with the latest and greatest. DoorDash believes in getting 1% better everyday.
Upon joining the company I found many opportunities to learn and progress my career. For example, the Engineering team hosts weekly Lunch and Learn sessions where team members give technical presentations. There are also many dedicated Slack channels for each tech domain where everyone can share their findings and ask for technical help. Lastly, the company supports taking online courses to acquire new skills, including free Udemy courses. These kinds of growth opportunities give parents the resources they need to grow their careers while also balancing family responsibilities.
Mentorship programs for support and guidance
Mentors help build skills, keep growth on track, and provide feedback. DoorDash offers many mentorship programs, especially for communities underrepresented in tech. One program which stood out when I joined was FemBuddy, which was created for women joining the engineering organization. On day one at DoorDash I was assigned a female buddy who helped me get my bearings and understand the organization’s policies and routines. My FemBuddy also helped me adapt to the new office and introduced me to people in the engineering organization.
DoorDash also runs formal mentorship programs to help grow leadership, professional, and technical skills. One such program is the Engineering Leadership Mentorship Program. Based on the participant’s desired goals, a mentor is assigned who helps the participant build their skills. Mentors help with guidance, support, and leveraging resources. These kinds of activities can help mothers like me grow their careers while not impeding their home responsibilities. As part of this program, my mentor helped teach me how to improve my engineering leadership skills. One important skill that resonated with me is to always be looking for ways to unblock the team from any situation. I have been able to incorporate these skills into day-to-day activities at DoorDash and help my team be successful.
One path to career growth involves acquiring leadership skills and taking on opportunities to lead and learn. I participate in DoorDash’s Women’s Leadership Forum (WOLF), sponsored by our Women in Eng group, which includes six monthly meetings focused on giving women the opportunity to learn leadership skills and progress their careers. The monthly sessions cover topics such as how to network, how to influence without authority, how to speak confidently in public, and how to improve visibility. The public speaking session gave me tips and tricks to help me not get nervous before any presentation or speech. Programs like WOLF help mothers be more confident and teach important skills that might be hard to aquire outside of work.
Encourage diversity (and diversity of opinion)
Diversity in experience brings a whole different perspective to the table. DoorDash encourages diversity by having OKRs to hire traditionally underrepresented talent (URT) in tech. Groups such as Women in Eng also provide opportunities to discuss and brainstorm ideas on how to improve URT in the company. Part of this group’s effort to improve diversity was to conduct a survey to identify issues facing women at DoorDash. We then had a member from the management team join us to discuss the results of this survey. Some of these issues were then addressed by the executive team or taken on as actionable items. We will follow up on these issues in future sessions to ensure they are acted upon to the fullest extent.
Fostering an empowering environment
Mothers also need the element of an empowering environment so they can get ahead at work without impinging on their other responsibilities. Encouraging employees to take on new challenges, make decisions, learn from mistakes, and work in a blameless culture is essential for mothers in tech because we feel empowered to achieve more and go beyond our day-to-day responsibilities.
Empowering environments can be beneficial for parents
As a mother, it's hard for me to find spare time to pursue career-strengthening projects outside of work. Fortunately for me, DoorDash provides opportunities to work on innovative projects that enable on-the-job career growth. When I joined DoorDash, I was given the opportunity to work on a high-impact project, which led me to learn new technologies and add to my skillset. Companies that provide non-trivial projects help mothers get ahead because they may not have time for career advancement outside of work.
Mothers need a meritocracy to help them grow their careers because they may not be able to devote themselves to networking. Given that mothers have important responsibilities outside work, it’s hard to find dedicated time slots for networking and building relationships.
DoorDash provides opportunities to take on new projects, allowing engineers to try on different hats and move in that direction if they excel. At DoorDash I have been encouraged to stretch outside of my comfort zone and lead projects that I haven’t had the opportunity to do so in the past. I am also recognized and appreciated for the work I do. This kind of system, which offers merit-based awards and promotions, is ideal for mothers, who generally don’t have the time to cultivate the right relationships to get ahead.
Still plenty of room to grow at DoorDash
While DoorDash’s policies and culture stood out to me as the elements I believe a mother in tech needs to grow her career and attain a work-life blend, I know that companies can always do more. While I feel that the company’s vision and policies are moving in the right direction, I recognize that I am especially fortunate to have a manager, team, and peers that have made this vision a reality for me. While part of my intentions for writing this article are to help other mothers in tech find a similar working environment with the same three elements I highlighted, I also see this article as a call to action for others at DoorDash to ensure that my experience is the standard.
Mothers in tech face many challenges that can be partially solved by finding the right place to work. As a mother of two I wanted to share my experience and why DoorDash embracing the elements I defined makes it a good place for mothers to grow professionally while maintaining a work-life blend. I joined DoorDash while being six months pregnant, and from day one I felt welcomed. Experiencing the company’s culture and benefiting from its various policies and programs made me feel like it embodies the kind of supportive environment, growth opportunities, and empowering environment that mothers need to succeed in their careers.
My sincere thanks to all my team members and my manager Rohini Harendra, for creating a positive work environment. I would also like to thank our Engineering Branding team, specifically Ezra Berger, Wayne Cunningham and Holly Jin for their guidance and help publishing this article.