Tech exec moms juggling employees, family

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Amy Molk and her son, Teddy

Beanstalk

Amy Molk launched her kids entertainment start-up, Beanstalk, in January, after noticing a severe shortage in educational video content for Teddy, her four-year-old son.

That was pre-coronavirus.

Four months later, Molk is stuck at home in Denver, and Teddy is by her side, watching the shows her company is producing and providing feedback as he builds volcanoes and makes slime. Meanwhile, Molk is pitching investors and creating new programs, all while handling home chores like cooking, cleaning and helping Teddy keep up with his preschool friends.

“Every day I make a volcano now,” said Molk, 36, whose company offers live classes via Zoom and videos on demand. “It’s one of the highlights of my day.”

Sunday is Mother’s Day, and the honorary celebration this year is like none before it. For almost two months, Molk and working moms like her across the country have been on full-time parenting duty ⁠— and, according to research and news reports, they’re shouldering more of the load than men.

In the tech industry, which continues to move a mile a minute despite broad disruptions to the overall economy, moms who double as C-suite tech execs tell CNBC that they’re in survival mode every day and trying to embrace the weirdness of the moment.

Whether it’s dressing up in costumes, pitching a tent in the backyard for a camping night, or letting the kids entertain colleagues and customers on Zoom calls, the current crisis is forcing mothers to forget about a home-workplace separation and allow their two worlds to collide in sometimes uncomfortable ways.

Molk says that when Teddy isn’t testing out Beanstalk videos and helping her come up with ideas, he likes to pretend that he runs his own company — a typing business.

“We’ll be having dinner and he’ll say he needs to step away for a really important investor call,” Molk said. “There’s definitely a silver lining to all this.”

PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada said the crisis has presented a whole new level of stress management. While her 15-year old daughter is taking freshman classes by video, Tejada is managing 650 employees remotely, helping struggling colleagues cope with the current isolation and powering through back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings.

PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada with her daughter, husband and dog

PagerDuty

But there are bright spots. 

Tejada’s daughter, Sam, has been a well-known figure at PagerDuty since her mom joined the cloud software company in 2016. But Sam never really had a sense of how hard her mom worked because during her trips to the office, they’d mostly walk around and chat with people.  

“What she thought I did is say hi to people and go to the kitchen and eat M&Ms all day,” Tejada, 49, said in an interview. Now she sees the effort level required to make the business run. “A few weeks ago, she said, ‘god why do you work so much?'”

There’s also quality family time that in the past had been lacking. Neither Tejada nor her husband, who also runs a company and normally splits his time between the U.S. and Australia, have been able to travel for work during the pandemic. Each family member cooks dinner twice a week and they order in on the seventh night. One Friday evening in April, they pitched a tent in the backyard and camped by a homemade fire pit. 

A poop bomb could go off in our house, and as long as they could maneuver around it and get to Netflix and the refrigerator, they’d be fine with it.

Jennifer Tejada

CEO, PagerDuty

Still, the constant clutter sometimes puts Tejada over the edge. In the absence of a weekly cleaning person, Tejada said her husband has taken to cleaning the shower and toilet for the first time in years. But she’s the only one in the family who is bothered enough by the mess to tidy up with any regularity.

“A poop bomb could go off in our house, and as long as they could maneuver around it and get to Netflix and the refrigerator, they’d be fine with it,” she said.

Lunchtime and costumes

In Lexi Reese’s almost five years as chief operating officer of Gusto, the provider of cloud payroll software has gone from a small start-up to an 1,100-person company valued by investors at close to $4 billion. 

Reese’s two daughters, ages 10 and 7, had a vague idea of what she did all day, but they were more aware of the fact that she didn’t pick them up from school. Reese said it’s always been a struggle, knowing that she’s missing out on school meetups but also wanting to convey to her daughters, who are in fifth and second grade, the importance of her work helping small businesses, and the significance of acting as a role model for other women in the workplace.

Since the stay-at-home order went into effect in California, Reese, 45, says her kids are getting a clearer picture of their mom’s job. They’ve learned that some of the businesses they know and love use Gusto’s payroll software, including Kepler’s Books & Magazines in Menlo Park, California, and a business that’s owned by the father of a friend. They also learned that the company is helping businesses get access to critical financing from the government.

Gusto COO Lexi Reese with her daughters

Gusto

Reese let them join her on a Zoom call on Thursday with CNBC to talk about what they’ve learned.

“I can hear and see what she’s doing,” her older daughter said. “Now I know how she helps small businesses and helps pay small businesses.”

Costumes are another addition to the workday in Reese’s household. The girls sometimes join her video calls dressed as characters from Harry Potter.

Colleen Valentine, the head of information security governance and compliance at Nasdaq, can relate.

“My 2 1/2-year-old likes to play policeman when he thinks I’ve been on phone calls for too long,” said Valentine, who also has a four-year-old daughter.

Valentine, 32, typically has both of her kids in daycare, since she and her husband work full-time. Now, the two parents are dividing up the day, so one can work mostly uninterrupted while the other watches the kids. Other changes include planning for eight days worth of meals at a time and trying to get to kids to share in the cleaning, though “I was vacuuming at 9 o’clock last night,” Valentine said.

Colleen Valentine, head of information security governance and compliance at Nasdaq, with her daughter

Nasdaq

While she doesn’t miss the three-hour round-trip commute to Manhattan from her home in Westchester, New York, that time is filled with home duties, remotely fixing technical issues and communicating closely with her team of close to 10 people spread across the globe.

“We all have our own problems. We all have issues we’re dealing with,” Valentine said. Some are “dealing with severe isolation” and “I have other people who are dealing with elderly parents and trying to care for them 3,000 miles away.”

Don’t try to be perfect

At McAfee, a major part of Chatelle Lynch’s job as the head of human resources is to monitor the health and safety of the security software company’s 7,000 employees. At the same time, she has four kids at home — 11-year-old and 12-year-old boys and twin daughters who are 5. 

She describes her strategy at home with her husband as “divide and conquer..” One night this week, Lynch said there was so much going on that she wasn’t able to start school work with the kids until 7 p.m.

“It was one of those days that they didn’t get out of their pajamas,” Lynch, 43, said from her home near Dallas. “And I don’ t feel bad about it.”

One of her main priorities at work is to make sure employees understand that it’s OK if they don’t to complete their to-do list every day, even if that means bailing on an evening team video call. She sees how challenging it is to stick to routines and give her kids the time they need, and said she doesn’t want staff members to feel more burdened than they already are by the circumstances.

“I’ve been really forgiving if things are not perfect,” she said, referring both to home and work.

Chatelle Lynch, HR head at McAfee, with her family

McAfee

Lynch admits she’s looking forward to Mother’s Day this weekend. On most years, she would sit outside in the sun and her kids would wait on her throughout the day. This year, she thinks there may be a tennis theme because she’s been trying to take up the sport but complaining about using a broken kid’s racket. She’s also looking forward to watching the latest episodes of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” on Sunday with her husband and oldest son, who’s a big basketball fan.

Beyond that, she just hopes her kids get creative.

“I think they’re surprising me,” she said. “They love writing and making homemade cards, and I like that better than anything else.”

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