Focus on Father’s Day

Michael Wu, Deputy General Counsel at Carta, talks about the lasting impact parental and family leave can have, building benefits and supportive policies at a growing company, and the importance of taking time to focus on family.

Team Cocoon
Team Cocoon
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Focus on Father’s Day

Making an impact

I was at a large law firm for four years, and we were the busiest I’d ever been when my father was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer.

I was trying to keep work at my firm going while desperately hoping things would get better, traveling back and forth between SF and LA every weekend for months.

Until one Thursday night I just had to go home. I couldn’t imagine not being there, but I was worried about what it would mean to take time away while so many deals were closing.

Every single person on my team told me to drop everything; that they’d take care of it.

I was on leave for two months and was able to spend the time with my dad and family when I needed it most.

That experience forever sold me on the importance of giving people time for their personal lives; whether that was for their own health or taking care of others.

Go take care of your family.

Designing the first family leave policy at Carta

Our focus at Carta has always been employee first. Right from the start, everyone at the company felt that it was important for parents to take time to bond with their children.

Our CEO had a young son shortly before I joined, so he was a new father when I started. Soon after, my own baby was born.

It’s such a life changing moment- especially at a startup where many of us are new parents. The last thing you want to do is fill out forms or worry about work.

There wasn’t really any question that we needed to have a generous leave policy right off the bat.

Building benefits

When you bring on a benefit, it’s got to be something that your people will actually use. There are so many different benefits and perks out there, and you have to custom tailor it to your employees.

Part of that is thinking about benefits that will matter to your employees at the time when they’ll really need them.

It may not be intuitive, but it’s much more impactful to really be there for infrequent but life changing events rather than smaller ongoing benefits that have a low utilization rate.

When an employee has a child, parental leave is a critical benefit. When you’re covering that, you’re really doing things that add a ton of value.

Advice for parents-to-be

My own experience for my first born was crazy — my daughter was born six weeks premature, and she was only 2.5 lbs. and my wife had some complications from the pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia. Her emergent birth — and the handling of all of the possible issues that arose from my daughter’s circumstances — meant I went out on leave a lot earlier than expected. I had very little time to concentrate on anything beyond my daughter’s and wife’s well-being.

It’s incredibly important to carve out time to spend with your kids. A lot of that is setting boundaries with work; I personally don’t take meetings on Friday afternoons, and that’s something I’ve had to work on.

It’s so easy to get caught up in work, especially with COVID and working remotely. I can look back on the past year, and I won’t miss the time I didn’t work in the morning and instead spent with the kids.

The other thing: parenting is hard. People will say it, but you never get it until you do it. You’ll never be perfect, and it really does take a village.

You have to give yourself a break; it’s hard, and exhausting, and you have to seriously think about how you’re proactively thinking about taking care of your mental health.

Growing a startup while growing a family

In some ways, I think that working in this startup environment has actually helped me in my family life. There’s a lot of similarities around being able to take things in stride and keep calm.

I love trying new things and knowing that not everything is going to work; you have to adjust quickly and things move fast. As your kids are growing up all sorts of things are constantly different and have to be adjusted.

Not everything — especially your kids — will always cooperate the way you want! There’s always different things you can do and solutions you can find.

It’s easy to get burnt out or frazzled if you don’t have that mindset.

Being a good manager

It can be really hard for people who don’t have kids to understand what a life-changing experience it is, and how much of a mental and physical burden it can be for parents. As a company — as a manager — you have to make sure your employees are as well supported as possible.

It’s incredibly important to make sure that when someone goes out to leave, they can truly clear their plate. But it takes time to get there- balls need to be passed, tasks have to be managed, and you definitely need to make sure a transition plan is in place.

You don’t want to do this last minute, or otherwise you’ll end up contacting the person on leave. Leave should be leave, where someone has complete peace of mind and isn’t worrying.

One of my reports was planning on taking leave, and I had a reminder early on from Cocoon. That was so helpful. Those are the kinds of things that make a difference- don’t wait until the last minute to start thinking about and planning for your leave.

Cocoon and Carta

Early on we decided that if Carta was to be described in one word, we want that word to be helpful.

Our team is really lean and efficient- everything we take on is a little bit zero sum. Being able to rely on Cocoon takes a huge pressure off of us, and reduces bandwidth constraints. It allows us to focus more on serving our employees.

If we can spend more of our time thinking about our compensation philosophy and improving our promotion process, that’s huge for us. I’d much rather spend time doing those things than think about how we can become experts in filling out parental leave paperwork.

With Cocoon, we get to be just that much more helpful.

It's time to enter the next generation of employee leave