Parenthood & Venture Capital
I have children on my mind.
The subject of having children has come up several times in the last few months in both my companies, the Venture Capital fund I co-founded, Ada Ventures and the non-profit, Diversity VC. At Ada Ventures we recently spent time with a company who are focused on helping people to understand their fertility, and we recently started making plans to support one of our portfolio founders who is pregnant.
At Diversity VC, we just published a Parental Leave Guide for VCs to help funds navigate designing a parental leave plan for their employees and portfolio companies.
Children are also on my mind personally.
It’s hardly surprising; I’m a 31 year-old woman, I’ve recently become an aunt to an adorable niece, I am surrounded by friends considering having children, having children or struggling to have children. I’m also bombarded by news stories, targeted ads, well-meaning advice from parents, family friends, business associates and even random strangers about children. The messages range from the difficulties of juggling kids and a career, the sacrifices that must be made, advice not to wait too long, advice that being a mother is incompatible with leading a company and much more. It’s overwhelming.
As the co-founder of an 18 month old business, Ada Ventures, it’s also scary. I keep coming back to the same question. If my husband and I do want to have children, and we are lucky enough to get pregnant, how can I find a way to have children whilst not negatively impacting my business and ensuring I’m a good parent to my future child?
This first question leads to more questions:
- When is a good time to have children — balancing out the risks of waiting, with the risks to my career?
- How will I communicate with my investors, portfolio companies and team about trying to have children?
- What if my husband and I experience challenges in getting pregnant involving miscarriages, IVF and other complications — how do I communicate this? What if this affects my ability to do my job?
- How much parental leave will I be able to take? How much will my husband be able to take?
- Will I be seen differently by potential future investors if I’m fundraising or investing whilst pregnant or going through IVF?
- Do I have time to be a good mother and successfully co-lead Ada Ventures?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions — but as I have been wrestling with them actively over the last six months and probably in the periphery of my mind for several years, I’m aware that many other founders, particularly women, will be struggling with the same questions.
I am incredibly aware of the privilege I have in terms of the fact that I’m in a position financially that I am not questioning whether I’m able to afford to have a child. I’m also aware of my privilege as a white, heterosexual woman. If I do get pregnant I am less likely to suffer complications than women of colour, particularly black women. So many others facing these decisions would have a much longer list of questions than I do. For that I feel extremely fortunate.
I am also privileged in two other key ways.
The first is that my husband Paddy is very supportive and hands on. We also have family close by which is likely to be very helpful in childcare and wider support.
The second is my partner in Ada Ventures, Matt Penneycard. Matt and I had a conversation about six years ago about the different career trajectory and experiences of men and women as a result of women’s fertility timelines. I explained to Matt then that I was on an accelerated timeline — I felt (rightly or wrongly) that I had to be a partner in a VC fund by the age of 30 if I wanted to give myself the best chance of being able to have a successful career and a family. Matt had never considered this before, but was empathetic to this and has encouraged me and reassured me that having children is completely achievable alongside a career in VC. Years later, when we took the decision to go into partnership together in Ada Ventures, he continued to be extremely supportive and encouraging. His view is that my becoming a parent will contribute to the fund’s success.
We also have a shared view that we have an opportunity with Ada Ventures to set an example about how a company can embrace parenthood and actively encourage and support parents in our team, portfolio and wider community. This really thrills us. We’d love to see examples of leadership in this area and any best practices we can learn from.
I’ve had numerous conversations with generous men and women in the last six months about their experiences and in some cases struggles in trying to conceive and becoming parents whilst leading their businesses. These conversations have been extremely valuable and I’m grateful to each one of them.
Why am I sharing this?
I am writing this fairly personal blog because, to the extent that I have a profile, or a voice that people might listen to, I want to draw attention to the challenges that founders of early stage companies may face when thinking about having children. I also want to open up a more honest discussion about the realities of making these decisions. For too long, we’ve glossed over the details of having children and left (mainly) women to simply ‘figure it out’.
This is particularly important in the Venture Capital industry where women are very underrepresented at Partner level (just 13% in the UK, just 4.9% in the US with just 2.4% being founding partners of their own firms).
We know there’s a retention issue for female partners. I suspect that this is in part a result of female partners not being supported to have children whilst maintaining a successful career.
So what would I like to see happen?
- For there to no longer be a taboo, about discussing plans to have children — for LPs (investors in funds) and VC investors to signal their openness to this subject, including sharing examples and case studies of when fund managers, or CEOs in their portfolios have done this, when it’s gone well, how they have navigated challenges that have arisen.
- For there to be more empathy in recognising the challenges that business owners/ CEOs in particular face when considering starting families — particularly in acknowledgement that things will not always go smoothly and to address that possibility ahead of time. Particularly for those groups that face bigger challenges, such as women of colour, parents going through IVF or miscarriage, LGBT+ women, men and women in same-sex relationships, parents adopting children.
- To live in a world in which fewer assumptions and judgements are made about fertility, parenting, running a business and being a parent and an acceptance that there are many, many different paths and many different outcomes. There is not one ‘right way’.
- For there to be more practical support offered to parents by businesses and investors — from equal parental leave for both parents, flexible working to enable attending appointments, to support for people having fertility issues, to those adopting, to those that have miscarried, to emergency and back-up childcare provision by employers. I’m really proud that our fund 0 portfolio company Papier have announced a week of paid miscarriage leave. Companies like Monzo have followed suit. I’m also really proud to be an investor through Ada Ventures in Bubble which is helping companies support working parents.
This is not an exhaustive list. I’m only at the start of this journey and I’m sure there will be a lot more that I’ll learn along the way, whatever the outcome. I will endeavour to share these experiences and lessons openly, as I have done here, in the hope that it helps others.
If you are a VC or a founder in a similar position, struggling with similar questions, I’d love to hear from you. Hopefully we can normalise this conversation and share challenges, what works and what doesn’t. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can DM me.
- Pregnancy is not a PR crisis — an amazing thread by Claire Díaz-Ortiz about supporting a solo female founder who is pregnant — https://twitter.com/Claire/status/1390001812338626562
- Reshma Sohoni — Is it Possible to Balance VC and Motherhood?
- Amy Lewin — What Happens When a VC Partner has a Baby
- Diversity VC Parental Leave Guide
- Samantha Wong, Partner at Blackbird — What to expect when you’re expecting, the VC edition!