By Jen Fumuso, AIA and senior associate at OZ Architecture

Fumuso_JenniferI was first forewarned that a degree and career in architecture had demanding hours when I told my college advisor that architecture was my choice of major. I was reminded of this again when I took my first job and countless times throughout both my first and second pregnancies. I was warned that moms would have no time at home with kids, would miss all the bedtimes and would have to choose between career and home life. When friends were reading books to prepare for parenting I was reading Lean In to prepare for my return to work, and I considered how to handle it when faced with the seemingly inevitable choice between my career and my family.

When my first child was born, I took three months off for maternity leave and came back ready for all the ‘having it all’ struggles to begin. Instead, what I found upon returning to work was that if I was proactive about speaking up for what flexibility I hoped for in my career, I had a workplace that was willing to have those conversations with me.

I am proud to say that I have had a lot of involvement working with the leadership at OZ to discuss our parental policies and ensure we are providing support for people during this transitional time. The leadership at OZ has a large percentage of women/moms who have been paving the way and led by example with five-month-long maternity leaves and flex time upon return to work—even 20 years ago—and now we are building upon their experience to ensure that our family-friendly culture remains progressive in terms of how we support staff.

As I have done research on the topic and begun to craft proposals for our parental policies, I have broken it down into looking at support from three sides:

  1. during pregnancy
  2. during a scheduled leave
  3. and after returning to work

During Pregnancy

Fumuso with her daughters.

Fumuso with her daughters.

As with most things in life, I feel that communication and easy access to information set the right tone from the start – so I have helped put together a New Parents Handbook that is a one-stop shop for all questions regarding OZ policies.  Included is a timeline of all things to know when preparing for a newborn: when to sign up for short term disability, when various forms need to go to insurance companies, and when to schedule meetings with your team and HR to ensure that your work is allocated during your absence.  All of this is meant to relieve some of the mental hardship associated with starting/growing a family. It should also set the tone that the company supports the staff and can have open communication about both work and personal life needs.

During Scheduled Leave

While on leave, employees have access to short term disability to help cover a portion of their paycheck, and our company allows employees to roll over some vacation days from one year to the next in an effort to help bank time for longer leave periods. We have also started making teams aware that during parental leave the employee is not expected to be working – no emails, tasks or conference calls unless the new mom/dad requests to be involved. The goal is to support families who need time to adjust to their newborn without work interrupting their time at home. While paid parental leave is not currently a benefit at our office, some firms are moving in this direction. I believe, through small steps, this benefit will eventually become commonplace—If even just for a few weeks to cover what short term disability and vacation time does not.

After Returning to Work

When it’s time to come back to the office, many companies offer a flex time policy beyond the 12 weeks of FMLA, and we have adopted this as well. There are many ways new parents choose to implement this. When my daughter was born I continued to work full time but put in more hours Monday through Thursday. This provided me with enough flexibility so that Friday could be a half day at home, which allowed me to work either while my daughter napped or in the evening after my husband came home from work.  Some people have adjusted to four 10-hour days to remain full time, while others have chosen to work 32 hours a week, or 36 hours with half day Fridays, or every other Friday off.  The key is once again to communicate your needs and see what works between you and your team.

In the end, I have found that ‘having it all’ is a state of mind, that each family needs to do what is best for them, and that clear communication with the firm about how you hope to structure that balance is key. Our system is not perfect, and we are still analyzing what other ways we can help support parents while maintaining a level of fairness to those in the office who chose/choose not to have children. But I am proud to be at a firm that historically has valued family life and is willing to have these conversations. And I’ happy to be carrying the torch lit by those before me to enhance a culture that is supportive of working families.