Workplace flexibility is “the most significant way to prevent women from dropping out of the workforce after having their first child,” notes a recent article in Working Mother describing the findings of a University of Kent study about workplace flexibility for mothers. If you’re a working mom, this is hardly a shock.
My partner Rebecca Melsky and I founded Princess Awesome in 2013 to make girls’ clothes with colors and themes usually found only in the boys’ department (think dresses with STEM and adventure themes — and pockets!). In the early stages of launching our company we were determined not only to empower girls through our gender stereotype-defying clothes, but also to empower ourselves and the people we hire. We wanted to create a workplace that addressed the pain points we had previously experienced attempting to work while raising children.
Despite having double digit annual growth, we have not taken the stereotypical break-neck startup approach. With seven children between us, we consciously decided to create a work environment and routine that looks radically different from the standard of devoting every waking hour to a budding company. A big part of that is comes down to flexibility.
Flexibility is perhaps the employment buzzword of our time and it means a lot of different things to different companies. To us, it means a fundamental acceptance and understanding that everyone has a life outside of the business, and so we built the business woven in throughout our lives – accommodating our needs as parents as we designed when and how we would work. Here’s how we’re doing that:
Location. Princess Awesome employees work remotely. Remote working arrangements not only enhance flexibility for employees, they also eliminate commuting time and resources that would have been spent on office overhead. Multiple types of digital communications channels allow for everyone to stay connected – even across continents.
All hands on deck. We designed our job responsibilities so that multiple people are familiar with the core competencies of day-to-day operations. When one of us needs to address something outside of work, another person can step in for them on urgent matters.
Deadlines are placeable and moveable. Speaking of urgent matters – there really aren’t that many things that are truly urgent. Like in any business, there are a ton of moving parts in our day-to-day. We set deadlines and goals in the hopes of meeting them. However, like Eishenhower once said, “Planning is essential. Plans are useless.” We’ve set out to embrace the inevitability that things will go awry rather than constantly fight it. There have been many times when production gets delayed or literally all of our kids get sick the same week and we have to push back a product launch. We built our product release calendar in 2017 around our CEO’s maternity leave. Whatever happens, we accept that we have some control over where we place deadlines and that not all deadlines have to be hard and fast. Moving through our days knowing that we are all on board with that philosophy leaves everyone feeling much less stressed.
When work gets done. Our team sets their own hours, including changing the number of hours they work each week. Much of our daily work doesn’t need to be happen between 9 and 5. This gives all of us the opportunity to be with our kids on their time or to take care of all the things that happen outside of work. It also allows our employees to work during hours that are best suited to them – whether it’s 4am, 10am or 11pm. Of course, we must have days and times when we’re all available at the same time. It’s essential for us to set priorities and operate efficiently. But we know that in order to be most successful, we will disperse afterwards and complete our own tasks at the times most optimal for us.
Production. It’s important for us not only to reflect our values for our core operation, but also in other aspects of our business, including our supply chain. Our US production team in Chicago operates in a family-friendly fashion. Run by a mother-daughter team, many of the factory’s employees are women; to accommodate their needs, the shop opens early around 7 am and closes at 3 pm each day so the seamstresses can pick up their kids from school.
Sustainable Growth. We’ve found a rhythm and structure that makes sense to us as mothers but also equates to business success. Yes, we could push ourselves to grow faster by working more, but we want to make sure that our growth happens within the confines of what’s sustainable for our lives and those of our employees. We recently made the big decision to launch a boys’ line called Boy Wonder. Our new brand offers clothes for boys with themes and colors typically found in the girls’ department (think: cats, pink, unicorns, sparkles, rainbows, etc). Crucial in that decision-making process was whether it was sustainable for us to be running both brands and what kind of pace we should set. Customers had been asking us for more than four years to start a boys’ line, but it wasn’t until recently that we felt we had the bandwidth to create it without jeopardizing our overall pace of life.
We’re proof that you can have business success as a startup without sacrificing the your sanity or that of your employees. We’re proof that a flexible, parent-friendly work environment can and does exist. We can’t wait for more businesses to catch on.