Talking to a fellow working parent is what really sold Tiffany Harris on software company Folsom Labs.
Tiffany is the Head of People Operations at the company, whose tools to more efficiently design and sell solar arrays are helping to build a future of clean energy. She joined two years ago, moving her family to the Bay Area from Santa Cruz for the role.
She was nervous about the move. Moving away from the community, extended family, and school system her family knew and loved was a risk. (Not to mention Tiffany's roller derby league—more on that later.) But then Tiffany talked to Folsom Labs' Director of Sales and Marketing, Evan Sarkisian.
"One of the main points that he hit on was how family-oriented Folsom Labs was, and how supported he felt as a parent," says Tiffany. "They've definitely lived up to what Evan sold to me in my interview."
We sat down with Tiffany to talk more about her journey to Folsom Labs, including how the start-up has made wellness more than just a talking point, and what advice she has for others looking to prioritize their mental health and work-life balance.
Taking a chance on startup life
A few years ago, when her sons had gotten a bit older and they needed her less, Tiffany realized something big: she wasn't sure who she was when she wasn't being their mom. Or even what possibilities were out there for her.
"In a late night Google, I came upon the Santa Cruz Derby Girls. I decided right then that I was going to become a Santa Cruz Derby Girl," says Tiffany.
She joined, she adopted a derby name—Sin D. Savage, for the curious among you—and she got inspired. "It was an eye-opening experience. I saw so many women doing amazing things with their lives, many of them mothers," remembers Tiffany. She branched out from being a mom and a derby player and started working on the league's board; this led her to a role in HR and office management at a medical office, and from there, she found her way to Folsom Labs.
"It really seemed like a place I wanted to be, a place where I could not only benefit from being around great people, but where I could learn, contribute to that team, and use my skills to really drive what they were already doing," she says.
Fostering balance and inclusion at Folsom—for herself and others
Tiffany's role as Head of People Operations includes HR, diversity and inclusion initiatives, company morale, and, in the times of COVID-19, company engagement during a pandemic.
"A couple months into the pandemic, we began seeing signs of fatigue in employees," says Tiffany. "We had such a strong company culture in the office and really wanted that to transition to our remote team, but it was clear that everyone really needed time to recharge."
One of the limited available responses to stressed-out employees during a world-disrupting global pandemic is, of course, taking time off. But Tiffany noticed that Folsom Labs' employees weren't doing that. Neither was she.
"You're at home, so you have this false sense of being on vacation, but people weren't taking breaks. I found myself having my laptop in front of me most of the day," says Tiffany. She and the company's leadership team started telling everybody to take a day off during the month, whatever day worked for them.
They didn't, though.
It's a problem other companies, including those with "unlimited vacation," know well: despite the fact that vacation is allowed and even encouraged, employees don't feel comfortable taking it. Maybe they're worried about falling behind, or looking like they're not committed to the mission. But being a tech company familiar with the power of experimentation, the Folsom Labs team didn't stop with "maybes."
"We needed to rethink our approach and adjust," explains Tiffany, "so we decided to make the third Friday of every month a company-observed wellness holiday."
And it worked. "The first one people weren't so sure about, but now they're definitely expected," says Tiffany, who personally enjoys having the third Friday of every month off because it gives her some dedicated time to focus on her kids, her family, and her own wellbeing. "It's helped a lot of employees to take time for themselves, to breathe—they can schedule a hike on that day, or do whatever they might need to reset and recharge."
Folsom Labs' focus on taking care of their employees has included, in addition to extra days off, flexible schedules, low-stakes group discussions to talk about stressful topics in the news or in people's personal lives, and what Tiffany describes as "a culture of understanding, wellbeing, and empathy."
That empathy is reflected in the company's approach to DEI, too. Tiffany and her coworkers plan themes for each month that address different aspects of identity and social justice, from intersectionality to unconscious bias. Folsom Labs' employees read a relevant book, meet in small groups to discuss, and do team building exercises. In between themed months, they do a month focused on wellness "to give people a break and a time to reset and digest what they've learned."
Tiffany recently led an activity about intersectionality where team members talked about how they feel they're perceived and how they want to be perceived. "Getting to know people on that deeper level, you can gain a different level of respect for them—you can respect who they truly are," reflects Tiffany.
4 ways to find balance in your life
Tiffany considers herself to be energized by her work supporting others, but sometimes she has to remember to apply that same focus to herself. "Being a caregiver, you have to take that step back and realize that you need to focus on your personal mental health and wellbeing too," she says. She does that by:
- Staying positive. "It's easy to start focusing on negatives. The things you didn't get done, especially being at home. The things that you had planned pre-covid or things that you're missing out on. I try not to let those thighs take over my thoughts," she says. "My goal is to take things day by day, do things with intention, and pick a couple of things that I'm really thankful for."
- Give yourself five. "Taking a five minute break to sit in a quiet room to meditate or stretch. Making a commitment to be present in that moment—to not think about work, or the stuff going on outside the room has been a huge help for me," she says.
- Share your goals with someone else. "I find it helps when I vocalize my goals—no matter how small. Sharing goals with friends and co-workers gives me the extra push to hold myself accountable. It's also nice to have people around you to celebrate when you achieve those goals!"
- Celebrate your wins. "Even if they're tiny!" says Tiffany, who likes sharing updates in the Folsom Labs Slack channel for wellness. "Here, we definitely have people encouraging you on little wins, which is so nice."
One last one to keep in mind: pinpoint what's going wrong. That's something Tiffany has learned from running Folsom Labs' quarterly wellness survey. Instead of blindly diagnosing imagined issues, operating with a real data set helps Tiffany and her team really understand what's wrong and work to solve it. "We try to focus on the passion points of our team. This gives us a clear sense of direction to set attainable goals," she says. That seems like good advice for all of us to follow for ourselves, doesn't it?
Supporting Parents and Employees During a Pandemic: A Conversation with Smartsheet’s Victoria Azzaline
Back in June, Victoria Azzaline hit the limit on her patience.
Her house was in disarray, her partner was traveling for work and she was solo parenting their five-year-old and two-year-old, who were acting out, and she was in the middle of taking back-to-back meetings from her makeshift home office.
"I was angry. I felt as though in that moment, they knew better and knew I needed to work," says Victoria. "But after giving it thought, I was able to recognize that they just needed my attention. They just needed time and I couldn't give it in that moment." That was an opportunity, she now realizes, to recognize her own boundaries and figure out how she could show up for and balance two key roles—being a Senior HR Business Partner at SaaS company Smartsheet and being a mom.
We talked to Victoria about parenting during a pandemic, the role HR can play in supporting employees in times of crisis, and tips to help parents and non-parents alike adapt to extended blurred boundaries between work and home.
Adapting work during times of change
As a Senior HR Business Partner, Victoria occasionally worked from home in pre-pandemic times but was otherwise working from Smartsheet's Bellevue, WA, headquarters. Her job was to support the organization's Worldwide Field Operations teams across their people needs, from career growth and performance management to strategic planning.
That's still her job, but it looks a little different nowadays.
"We've come a long way in trying to navigate our way through it. Early on we were in a state of being reactive versus proactive, which is a different way for us to function," she says of her team's approach.
"We're doing everything we can to make sure employees know about resources available to them"—including Smartsheet's options for flexible schedules and home office equipment resources —"and focusing on a 'people first' mentality, which is very much part of our culture anyway, but now more than ever we're seeing that come through," says Victoria.
She's also making herself available to employees who need to vent or commiserate. Her number of one-on-ones has gone way up.
"We want people to know that we will figure out the right solution [for them]. It's not a matter of making their situation fit into outdated models, but instead it's meeting them with their needs and being supportive during this time," she says.
Sometimes this means helping employees meet their needs in a very tangible way. "With the continuing impacts of COVID-19, Smartsheet recognized that their employees needed to balance work and life in a new way. To help alleviate some of these challenges, in September all global employees were provided a premium Care.com membership so they can search for and post jobs to find child caregivers, adult caregivers, special needs caregivers, tutors, pet sitters, housekeepers, and more," explains Victoria.
On navigating dissolved boundaries between work and home
Victoria used to commute at least an hour each way to and from work every day. "That was a transition time to switch on or off from workplace to home life," she says. "Now, I'll log off from a meeting and walk out of my office and suddenly I'm a mom. And there's zero opportunity to transition or to clear your head."
Now that the line between work and home is basically nonexistent, she's had to remind herself to treat herself with grace—and she encourages other working parents to do the same.
"If you need to take a minute after your last meeting to decompress before you shift into the other mode, give yourself that space to do so. Give yourself permission," she says. "Just allow yourself to be how you are right now, without the expectation of who you used to be—forget the idea of this is 'me' at work, this is 'me' at home. Because those lines are so blurry, we need to just be present as we are now, rather than trying to fulfill our previous idea of what that should've looked like."
On parenting through a pandemic
Dividing her time between her children and her work has been hard on both Victoria and her kids, particularly when her husband has had to travel for his work. "They don't know me as an HR business partner at Smartsheet. They know me as their mother. So when I'm not able to fully lean into that role for them, it's challenging. I can see it on their faces and their body language, just how it impacts them. That part's been especially difficult to balance," she says.
Having as much of a schedule as possible has helped mitigate the struggle of balancing parenting and work, says Victoria. This fall presented a new layer of complexity with many school districts in Washington state adopting a remote-only structure. "Carving out dedicated time for specific activities has always been important, but now with adding in the day-to-day management of classes and curriculum needs, we're incredibly dependent on having a clearly defined schedule of events for the week." she says. "Prior to school starting back up, I liked to map out a game plan in advance, even if it evaporated throughout the day. At least knowing I had an understanding of where my opportunities were to connect with my kids was helpful in allowing me to be able to shift in the moment if I needed to."
It hasn't all been hard; Victoria has enjoyed getting closer to her kids' everyday experiences and spending extra time with them during the day. "I'm getting a firsthand look at exactly where they're at in life, from what's troubling them to where they're showing new and stronger areas of interest. And getting to have lunch together or go on a midday bike ride are experiences and memories we'll be able to look back on from this time," she says.
As she continues to figure out how to balance her different roles, Victoria's remembering to support other parents. "I think we all need to continue to hold each other up and not be critical of one another," she says.
While extra time with her kids has been invaluable, says Victoria, she's excited to connect with coworkers in person, once it's safe to do so. "I'm looking forward to fully engaging in my work again. To be in that mindset without having in the back of my mind, 'What's happening in the playroom? What are my kids doing right now? Is my house torn apart?'"
She hopes to take some of the learnings she's come to about balancing work and family with her. "We're all going through this and have this opportunity to take inventory of the areas that we were not feeling great about before," she says. "We can see where we'd like to make permanent adjustments or carry things forward into the future as things kind of shift back into work and home separation. What types of behaviors and boundaries do we want to continue to hold for ourselves and to establish?"
If you're interested in learning more about Smartsheet, including their open roles, head here. And if you have questions or comments for Victoria, leave those in the comments!
Balancing two full-time jobs — as a mom and Director of Revenue Operations — has never been easy. Add to that the stress of the holiday season and a global pandemic, and your brain may well feel ready to explode.
If you're feeling overwhelmed these days, you're not alone. Hear how Ping Del Giudice, Director of Revenue Operations at Chainalysis and mother of two, has been coping amidst the chaos. (Spoiler alert: she's perfected her multitasking skills.)
What are your best work-life integration tips during this challenging time? Let us know in the comments.
Learn more about Chainalysis' culture here!
Tips from an Independent Mom
In a world where success is narrowly defined by linear "milestones" like getting married, having kids, buying a house, and getting a promotion, it's easy to become fixated on climbing the ladder… be it in the corporate world or elsewhere.
But if you're a parent – especially a single (a.k.a independent) parent – climbing the ladder isn't as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.
You have serious responsibilities to juggle, and the idea that you need to make constant forward progress – in your career and at home – can be overwhelming.
That's why we invited Aja Y. Martinez, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Syracuse University, to give working parents – particularly independent moms – some advice on navigating the corporate jungle gym in this Chat & Learn.
Aja's research and work as a teacher-scholar aim to increase access, retention, and participation of diverse groups in higher education.
As an independent mother herself, Aja has navigated the competitive world of academia and career-climbing while raising her daughter. She's seen first-hand how academia and the corporate world fail to support working parents, often portraying parenthood and career success as mutually exclusive.
Navigating work and parenting is hard but not impossible. While support for parents in the workplace isn't abundant, it's safe to say children most definitely are not career killers.
Although there are systemic shifts that need to happen in order for working, independent parents to get the support they need, Aja suggests three things you can start doing now to successfully climb the ladder – at work and at home.
1. Be Wise When Revealing Your Independent Parent Status
Being an Independent Parent is not something that can be hidden or swept under the carpet. It's a way of life. When it comes to the interview process, many independent mothers hesitate to reveal their status as it can be very precarious and sometimes borderline dangerous to share.
Why dangerous? Because across the board, there is an assumption that you aren't capable of doing great work because you're burdened with caring for a child on your own.
So what's the protocol in interviews?
Research and protect your yourself.
"If the company or the program is outward and open about parental inclusion during the interview process, then you can assume it's safe to talk about it. But if you haven't discovered any information online or through the company's testimonials about parental inclusion, you can safely assume that the company is not so supportive. Default to that until you know better."
2. Don't Hold Yourself To Impossible Standards
There is an impossible standard that Independent Mothers are being asked to live up to in our society, and especially in the workplace.
How can you meet the expectation of delivering 110% of yourself to your 1st job, motherhood, and 110% of yourself to your work? How are you supposed to give more than 200% of yourself day in and day out?
"It's impossible. We have to start thinking about where these impossible standards come from and who made them up? Was it women? Did women make this up for ourselves? Because I think any person who mothers knows it's a balancing act all the time and you're not always going to do it perfectly.
I recommend reading, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience by Adrian Rich. She talks about the guilt, where it comes from, and who and how we should link it; not to ourselves in our bodies, but to the structure that forms it and enforces it in a lot of ways - which she says is patriarchal. "
How do you recommend dealing with feelings of guilt about making sacrifices in one area in order to excel in another?
"Unfortunately, the guilt is normal. Know that you are not alone and begin asking where that guilt comes from. But for some that's good to hear because it's just like, it's not just you, you're not alone in this. I don't think I've met a parent yet, especially, someone who identifies as a mother who doesn't have intense guilt and self doubt and questioning of, did I do the right thing? Is this a good thing for my family, for my parents, for my children or my household?"
3. Embrace Your Independent Status By Building Your Community
If institutions aren't advocating for you to thrive as an independent parent, find resource groups or mentors that will support your growth. Invisibility in the workforce can lead to a lack of structural support for independent moms, especially when it comes to things like parental leave. Connecting with people who have similar lifestyles and experiences is one way to be loud enough and visible enough so that the institution can't ignore you.
How would you recommend working or independent networks go about building support networks?
"Since we're usually so isolated, opening a working parents network helps us to stabilize. It takes time and effort, but this kind of a shared understanding of background will work in your favor. Having people over for food and fellowship means you'll get to know each other's families. Later, when it comes time for institutional advocacy, you'll go to bat for each other. And then of course, it's our job to lift up our hands and make it easier for the independent mothers who are waiting in line."
Looking for a company that understands the kind of support parents need? Here are some of our partner companies that are transparent about their childcare benefits.