Silicon Valley Companies are Getting Older

Parenting: The New Work-life Balance Challenge in Silicon Valley

Will you trade a well-paying job in Silicon Valley for a family?

Or worse, will a Silicon Valley company trade you for a 20-something millennial with no parental responsibilities?

Truth Exposed: The Number 1 Work-Life Balance Challenge in Silicon Valley Companies

I’d like to start off with this quote from Bret Taylor, co-founder of a start-up called Quip and former chief technology officer at Facebook:

“The [Silicon Valley] culture is not necessarily friendly to families, and I think that’s not really realized.”

Silicon Valley isn’t just known as the tech capital of the world. It’s also the forefront of workplace policies.

No surprise here as the region is dotted with start-ups who have no standard policies in place — which, unfortunately, create a problem for working parents.

And vexing the American economy as a whole.

Unlike it’s European counterparts, most American businesses, especially in the tech and information industry, don’t have generous policies for working parents.

And this gap has alarmingly widened over the past 20 years.

Here’s the truth: the United States lag far behind other developed countries when it comes to providing expanded benefits like paid child care and parental leave.

Now you’re probably wondering: Why are they doing this?

For obvious reasons like profits. Companies who don’t have such policies enjoy reduced costs and increased production.

However, what they are not seeing is this (in the words of Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana):

“My intellectual conclusion is that these companies are both destroying the personal lives of their employees and getting nothing in return.”

 Research shows that working beyond 40-50 hours every week causes the marginal returns from additional work done to decrease rapidly and become negative.

The Problem With Superhero Culture

Real superheroes don’t wear capes or use fancy shield or wield magical powers. In Silicon Valley companies, they are employees who work a whopping 20 hours a day to get a work done at all costs.

They are those who choose to miss important family gatherings like birthdays or weddings to finish a new project that will attract angel investors.

They are those who painstakingly juggle family and work responsibilities because they want to put food in the table and pay the bills.

They choose to miss important family gatherings like birthdays or weddings

Max Schireson is one of those superheroes. A former chief executive of MongoDB, a database software provider, Max stepped down so he can have more time to spend with his three children.

Here’s what he said about the so-called superhero culture:

“Frankly, what I’ve seen is just forgetting the human aspect of it.”

You Are Not Welcome Here

Although interviewers don’t necessarily have to ask potential candidates whether they have children or not, most Silicon Valley companies have come up with euphemisms to say,

“Hey, you are too old and you have kids. You are not welcome here.”

Some of these alibis are you cannot “align on our priorities” or you’ll find it hard to survive in a “fast paced work environment” or you don’t “fit in our company culture.”

In translation, if you want to be in this company, you have to be exactly like us.

This problem is pretty common is start-ups who can be very brutal to people who have kids or other priorities.

Things Are Changing — But Slowly

Are you one of those “too old, too female, too different or too much of a parent” Silicon Valley outcasts?

Well, there’s still hope. Although the progress is slow, things are changing as start-ups and established Silicon Valley companies address this work-life balance challenge.

Take for example Bret Taylor’s Quip.

“We always tell our interviewees that we he have children. We also made it a habit to leave at 5:30 PM so our employees don’t feel obligated to stay at work”

Companies like Quip are using the challenge as an opportunity to recruit talented individuals who were concerned about the superhero culture of companies like Amazon or even Facebook (which, at the time of writing, has an average work-life balance rating 3.8/5.)

Working in a Silicon Valley Company? Here are 4 Work-life Balance Tips from People Who’ve Worked There

1. Prioritize

The more (and sooner) you focus on important tasks, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

“For me, integrating work and life is about ruthlessly prioritizing and focusing only on the things that matter — both at work and at home.

At work it might mean meeting a deadline or scoring a lunch with a key contact. If I go on a business trip, I make sure it’s really important and necessary. At home it might mean making sure my kids’ homework gets done.

Making sure my kids eat dinner is a high priority, too, though their dinner might not always be homemade or on time. If you’re prioritizing the right way, you’re making sure none of these important things get dropped.”

–  Joanna Strober, CEO and co-founder of Kurbo Health

2. Outsource

It’s easy to get drowned with tasks. If you feel that a certain project is not fulfilling or you’re burned out, outsource. Turn to friends or professional freelancers who are more eager to do the job.

“You need to outsource the stuff you’re not good at. I love a clean house, but cleaning it is not my strength. Same with laundry and shopping for groceries. So I have my husband and nannies and other people help with that stuff.

When I have free time, I don’t want to be doing these things; I prefer to spend it creating meaningful moments with my kids. Even if those moments aren’t meaningful to my kids, they’re meaningful to me.”

Donna Levin, vice president and co-founder of Global Workplace Solutions

 3. Be Selfish 

Don’t let anybody rob you of your “me” time. Protect the time you devote to personal or family activities by planning around it.

“When you start a company, you can’t focus on anything else. Often, working by yourself in the room feels like you’re spitting into the wind. It can be overwhelming. Under these circumstances, it’s great to force yourself to do something else, to use a different part of your brain, to focus on something equally intense.

For me, playing the banjo and Krav Maga [a form of contact combat] are these things. When I’m doing them, I have to focus so much on the instrument or the sport, I don’t have the choice of thinking about anything else.

If I lose focus with the banjo, it sounds horrible. In Krav, if I lose focus, I get punched in the face.”

Dawn Nadeau, co-founder of I Am Elemental; CEO and founder of Vonk

4. Take Advantage of Technology

Scheduling, project management and collaborating can all be done easily with the proper use of technology.

 “I use time-tracking software [Toggl] to monitor how much time and energy I’m spending on everything I do. I have found I work better within time chunks.

Day to day it doesn’t impact my workflow, but month to month I know how much time I’m spending doing development, project management and a host of other activities over the any given day.

The data also tells me how much time I’m not spending doing other things, like taking care of myself. I know this approach isn’t for everyone, but the technology helps me manage better.” 

Guy Gunaratne, co-founder of Storygami

Last Words…

The aging Silicon Valley Companies are starting to shape up like Corporate America where 20-something entrepreneurs are becoming 30-something parents.

And with this inevitable change, new challenges will emerge. One of which is how to retain the youthful optimism of employees and proving that working in a rapidly growing company while taking care of cherished families is possible.


Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.