A healthy balance: managing family life in a start-up

Taking the leap into joining a start-up can be a difficult decision to make, whether you are coming from academia or wondering about how to manage a young family alongside a potentially risky and demanding job.

Tech companies can be notorious for a poor work-life balance, their competitive nature often fostering a culture of working late into the evenings and during weekends. This is incompatible for many of those with a family and is a particularly acute problem for women with primary care-giving responsibilities. In a recent report from Accenture and Girls Who Code, half of young women will leave their tech job by age 35, largely due to non-inclusive company culture. This is a major blow to enabling diversity in the industry.

Balancing family life with working in a start-up isn’t a topic that is addressed very often. Currently, a quarter of Riverlane’s staff have families. We spoke to them about the realities of working in a start-up and what to expect for those with young children.

Leonie Mueck is Chief Product Officer. As well as building an amazing product, managing a large team, and raising VC funds, she is mother to almost two-year-old Delilah. Leonie joined the team when her daughter was just eight months old. She comments:

“There’s no denying that it’s difficult to juggle family life with working in a start-up, but it is definitely possible.”

“As a new parent, one of the toughest challenges was the first few months at nursery, as Delilah was constantly sick. My practical tip is to save as many holidays for that period as possible so you can take time off without problems – you’ll need it. Also, having good and reliable childcare is everything, I’m so grateful to my daughter’s carers at nursery knowing that she is having fun and being taken care of so well.”

She continues, “I’d also say that working for a company that acknowledges the challenge of juggling family and start-up life is important. Both Steve (Riverlane’s CEO) and I have young kids, so that’s helped generate a culture where people are not expected to work all hours. We know the importance of getting home on time to see the kids and share parental responsibility with our partners.”

Senior Quantum Scientist Neil Gillespie is father to two young sons, Leo, aged three, and baby Finlay, just five months old. “This year has certainly had its ups and downs” he said. “Adjusting to life in a pandemic, the arrival of our second son, and moving from Bristol to Cambridge within a matter of months!” Neil was in the Riverlane office for just a week before lockdown in March, however, he notes that despite a long period of working from home, he feels productive and well-connected with colleagues. He said, “It has also worked well with a new-born; I’ve been home to hold the baby for a while so my wife can have a shower! These seemingly small things really help.”

For myself (Communications Assistant), as a mother to Evie, aged eight, and Maisie, aged two, I enjoyed having the option to work part-time. It’s important to balance time at home with my youngest before she starts school. Returning to work after maternity leave was difficult, I’d lost a bit of confidence and was very sleep deprived. I was thankful to be able to work at Riverlane for three days a week, which gave me the chance to find my feet again and figure out life in a fledgling company while managing school and nursery runs.

Joan Camps, Senior Quantum Scientist, has two young daughters, Melina and Danai, aged five and (almost) two. Joan makes an interesting point about choosing start-up life as a theoretical physicist and how positions in academia are not always well-matched with family life.

“There is a lot of instability in academia. When you finish your PhD there are generally only short contracts available, and the jobs are competitive and not very well paid.” Joan continues, “It takes time to prove yourself as a scientist and it’s an uncertain path. I think it’s perhaps easier for men to be able to push family life to one side while they try to continue working in such a risky and low-paid environment. Women might be less willing to put themselves through that, particularly if having a family is important to them. Moving from academia into industry [at Riverlane] has offered more security and flexibility, here I have always felt supported and understood. There are perhaps harder deadlines in industry, compared to academia, when you release a new product for example. But everyone pulls together and the pressure to put in the extra hours has only ever come from myself.”

At Riverlane, we are passionate about achieving our mission – to develop ground-breaking software to unleash the power of quantum computers. This is no easy task and we need to get the best we can out of our team, whatever their home situation. We think there is room to have a family and a successful career at a start-up business, by acknowledging the realities of life outside of work, and establishing an inclusive company culture.


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