Laura Dornheim: Striving for gender balance in leadership roles is an ongoing challenge

Laura Dornheim: Striving for gender balance in leadership roles is an ongoing challenge

Life@eyeo, Women in tech, Kathrin Jennewein, 12. March 2021

No longer a perk, flexible hours are essential for working parents

I had never planned to be a full time mom. When I was 5 months pregnant with my first child, I signed my contract with eyeo. Our board member Tim Schumacher had approached me for the position, and after we had negotiated the details of the contracts, I informed my soon-to-be employer about my “side project” as I casually called it. It is a luxury that definitely not all expecting parents have, but I didn’t want to start working somewhere where my family situation would be seen as an obstacle or annoyance. Luckily, eyeo proved to be a role model, in their immediate response but also in the years to come. Within 30 minutes I got a message from our People Operations Manager congratulating me and emphasizing their support: “If you think it will work, we will make it work!”

I happily started my new job and returned just 3 months after giving birth, soon thereafter being promoted to a leadership role. Most days I worked from our Berlin office, but there were weeks where I travelled to conferences all over Europe and others where I worked from home and finished early to spend time with my family. While eyeo’s extremely flexible working hours and home office policy were definitely big advantages for me, these were more of amenities than necessities.

Fast forward to March 2020 when most everything suddenly changed. No more traveling, no more coffee in the office. eyeo went fully remote in mid-March and since then only a limited number of people are allowed to work from the offices (and only upon request).

Not only were offices shut down, but so were most childcare places and schools. Flexible working hours suddenly became essential for working parents to stay working. Just as working from home wasn’t just a “nice option” but a daily prerequisite to somehow try to manage both, work and child care. But it is impossible to squeeze the care and educational work previously taken on by other professionals into the same 24 hour day. I am very proud and grateful that eyeo understood this and early on issued a new policy called “Corona Family Care”. Everyone can log hours or days as off-work to take care of kids or family without the need for approval and, most importantly, without a cut on pay or vacation time.

All the statistics show that it is still predominantly women who take over care-work, with the pandemic increasing this imbalance between genders even more. This means that “Corona Family Care”, while available to all, benefits my fellow working mothers more than most.

Striving for gender balance in leadership roles is an ongoing challenge, especially in the tech industry. At eyeo, we know that this requires continuous efforts that start long before someone is hired or promoted into a leadership position. By designing and providing a work environment where everyone, and especially women, are enabled and encouraged to shape their own work-life-balance, we lay the groundwork for attracting, hiring, as well as retaining more talented women.

While I strongly believe that this should be the new normal for every workplace, I am well aware that eyeo’s approach is exceptional and so do all of my colleagues. In return, eyeo gets exceptional commitment and loyalty, not only, but especially, from working mothers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, three of my female colleagues have had babies and have returned to work, full- or part-time. All of them in equally or more responsible roles than before their maternity leave.

Just like eyeo congratulated me on my pregnancy before they hired me, I want to congratulate eyeo for being a role model employer for working moms!