How To Plan For A Baby When You Have A Demanding Career (Plus, How Companies Can Help Once You Do)

If you're anything like me, you suspect you want to have kids, someday... later. You have a vague idea that you'd like to have a partner, a successful career, and would prefer to be under 40 by the time you start trying to conceive. Yup, I'm 27, and that's certainly where I'm at: a good job, no plans for kids anytime soon, and single. So how am I supposed to be planning for my reproductive future, short of freezing my eggs?

Luckily, Judith Bitterli, Chief Marketing Officer at AVG Technologies, a leading online security company, has some very practical advice for women who want kids — and the companies they work for. Bitterli herself has had an incredibly successful career as a woman in tech — and a long and happy marriage — but ended up being unable to have a baby when she waited until she was 40 to try to conceive. 

Of course, it is by no means impossible to get pregnant at 40 (my mom did with me!), but your chances are dramatically lower: a healthy, fertile woman in her 20s has a 45 percent chance of getting pregnant per cycle, while a 30-year-old woman has a 20 percent chance, and a woman who's 40 has a chance of less than 5 percent per cycle.  

Yikes. So what's a woman who wants kids someday (BUT NOT NOW DEAR GOD PLEASE) to do? Before her talk on the topic of balancing desires for the baby and the boardroom at South By Southwest, Bitterli talked to Bustle about her top suggestions for women in tech (or really, any high-pressure industry) looking to experience both a successful career and motherhood. 

What Women Can Do To Prepare

1. Have A Plan (Or At Least Start Thinking About One)

Most women I mentor spend more time planning their wedding — which is a one-day event — than they do their career. Set goals — 1, 3, 5, even 20 years — out in the future. ... If you do want children, make sure you're trying at a time when your body is ready and able. [In my case], I waited until I was 40 and missed the boat. 
You can download my suggested checklist and tips for thinking about your baby timeline [here].

2. Buid Your Personal Brand Now

If you know you're going to want kids in a few years, start working on your personal brand. Start blogging, begin joining organizations with memberships, and when you have the child, figure out — between the diapers — how you're going to stay connected and in touch.
Build up your credentials so that people can Google you, look up your LinkedIn. You have to go out on a strong note [before you take time off to have a baby]. I think having women mentors [who can] guide you and help you navigate those things, and also women at senior management levels who know you is key, so that when you come back they support you and help with your the reentry.

3. Consider The Country You Want To Have A Baby In

I have one employee who just had a baby, and because of maternity laws in the U.S., she's out for three months. I have another employee in the Czech Republic, who because of laws there, will be out for two years. And I have a woman in London who will take nine months. 
So I'd say [if it's appealing to you], and you work in a large company with different locations, consider getting a transfer to a country that actually respects motherhood and has some decent laws around it.

4. Know That There Will Be Tradeoffs If You Stay At A High-Pressure Job

Besides the hormones, there may be a lot of guilt. It is tough for moms to leave the baby and come back to work — I see it all the time. 
One woman I work with, she has four daughters, very stoic, very professional — her husband is a stay-at-home dad. One day, we were on a business trip, and she got a phone call and broke down crying. I'd never seen her cry. I said "What's wrong?" She said, "My daughter just had her period and my husband had to go get tampons and explain it to her." You have to figure out [or at least think about] how you're going to handle the emotional element.

5. Vote With Your Pocketbook

As women, we spend money. So why should we spend money on companies that don't have women at a CEO level, or on the board of directors, or who don't have great benefits for women?
And when given the choice between companies to work at, choose to work for people who respect motherhood. It might not pay as much, or it may pay the same, but in the long run, it will help other women if there is competition for companies that support working mothers.

What Companies Can Do To Support Working Mothers

1. Don't Schedule Meetings After 4 p.m.

Don't have a meeting after 4 p.m., because women might need to pick up their kids then. Don't schedule a 7:30 a.m. meeting, because that's when they're getting the kids ready for school. Don't revolve all social activities at the workplace around going out at night drinking, because working moms [often] can't do that.

2. Encourage Flex Time

I worked for a business where the only mandatory office hours were 10 to 2. You could come in other times, but all meetings were held between those hours. The rest was flex time and working from home. And it worked great. 
Having employees that are motivated builds a positive work culture. Forcing people to coexist for [nine hours at a time] doesn't achieve that culture. I do think its important there are core hours companies have, but I don't think it needs to be nine hours in a row. Let's use the technology we've created — Skype, FaceTime — if you want to see someone's face, it's pretty easy to do.

3. Educate Male Employees And Leaders

I think we have responsibility to educate [as women]. It's easy to sit down with someone and say, Look: you're a guy, so you haven't gone through this. But if you have a wife in the workplace, look at the challenges she has. If you have a daughter, would you want her to face those same challenges? And if you're getting great work, does it really matter where they're working from, or is the end product what matters?

4. Enforce Regular, Unplugged Vacations

One of the women that works for me is on holiday for two weeks and I got emails from her and responded, "No. You're on holiday." It's just about being a conscientious manager and knowing people are taking some long weekends, getting some family time, getting a chance to recharge. It's a balancing act.

5. Care About The People Who Work For You

Be sensitive and caring enough about the people that work for you that you understand their lifecycle. Don't impose work on them during those sensitive times.

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