A few weeks ago I was interviewing a candidate for a lead engineering position at my startup, Colabo. I was glad that finally one of the candidates I met with was a woman.
Two minutes into the interview, though, she asked if this could be a “mom position." Based on many such conversations like this in the past, I unfortunately knew what she was referring to. But instead of my usual response (a long and somewhat reprimanding monologue), I played dumb. "What would a mom position be?" I asked.
The candidate replied like this: "You know, I could maybe stay one day a week late, but other days I would have a hard stop at 4 p.m. so I can pick up my daughter from preschool."
At that point it was time for my monologue.
I usually start by asking if the candidate is a single parent.
If she's not, I ask whether her partner or husband asked this same question when interviewing for a new job. Then I inquire why she isn't asking if this could be a parent position instead of a mom position?
Why would a supercompetent software engineer talk to me first about her work hours?
I've heard every excuse.
"Well, you guys may be different but you wouldn't believe how many companies measure gross work hours and not net productivity," I'll often hear.
And then there's my all-time favorite: "My husband is great: He helps at least once a week with the kids, but his company really needs him, and he has an important position."
I guess his "greatness" isn't measured by how much he contributes at home. (I have actually heard some men refer to their occasional home duties as "babysitting" their kids.)
But, dear job applicant, the last thing managers at a startup want to hear is that a candidate won't prioritize her new work position. If my company is hiring you, we need you fully on board!
Office hours are important and often I find that the work-from-home dynamic results in an engineer's missing out on important group connections and conversations. Yet as long as that employee spends the core part of her workday in the office with others, many tasks can be done later -- at home -- as long as she remains connected and engages in tasks as needed. It's a matter of self-perception that the engineer sees herself as office presence and team player.
To be clear: My company doesn't require employees to work through the night -- only to be available for questions or problems that may arise. For example, my company's R&D office is in Israel, which is 10 hours ahead of the time at the California headquarters. So an engineer might need to respond to certain questions in the evening or at various points during the night. She (or he) then would have the flexibility to take the time desired to be there for a kid in the afternoon or early evening.
My advice for candidates such as the one I recently met with: Take advantage of all the great tech solutions available today. Stay on top of what's happening at the startup and be an integral part of the team.
I understand the need for work-life balance. But it's impossible to have it all. To be part of a growing startup, it's not feasible to only work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and remain totally disconnected until the next morning at 9 a.m. And that's the case for all engineers, male or female.
Both mothers and fathers should share a responsibility for raising their children. I'm certain that since my husband knows how to manage his business, he is also capable of coordinating playdates and scheduling birthday outings and the like. I find that it's often the women themselves who have more traditional expectations and are less flexible about sharing parenting responsibilities. So, I ask my fellow mothers: Stop setting up email groups, WhatsApp groups and other communities for things related to raising children that include only moms.
If women continue to do that, they will never allow men the joy of figuring out who bit whom at preschool and picking out the perfect birthday party gift. Women should change the conversation and not accept anything else. Don't apologize for being a mom. Don't apologize for being pregnant. Instead, be an integral part of the organization.
The conversation at an interview should not be about who's in the office at what times but rather about what the new startup is creating and how great it's going to be. That's what working at a startup is all about. It's tough, but it's amazing. And it's only for those hungry enough to do it all!