Silicon Valley: Perks for Some Workers, Struggles for Parents

Silicon Valley: Perks for Some Workers, Struggles for Parents

Tech companies shower their employees with perks like dry cleaning, massages and haircuts. But there is one group for whom working at a tech company can be much more difficult than working elsewhere: parents.

Facebook hosts all-night hackathons. Google has weekend laser tag retreats. Many start-ups have no parental leave policy at all, so the first employee to have a baby has to ask the company to create one.

Then there are the subtler messages. Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa Mayer, was vocal about returning to work two weeks after she gave birth. Later, Yahoo told employees they could no longer work from home. Workers with children say they are often the only such employees on teams of 20-somethings.

The strains around these issues have burst into public view in recent weeks. In a gender discrimination trial against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a top venture capital firm, two former partners were declined board seats because they were pregnant or going on maternity leave, according to testimony. In a lawsuit against Facebook, a former technology partner said her boss admonished her for volunteering at her child’s school one day a month, which she said was allowed by company policy. Microsoft mandated sick leave among its contractors after complaints that some were not given such benefits.

“The culture is not necessarily friendly to families, and I think that’s not really realized,” said Bret Taylor, former chief technology officer at Facebook and co-founder of a start-up called Quip.

That Silicon Valley — known for being on the forefront not just of technology but also of workplace policy — creates so many difficulties for working parents highlights a vexing problem for the American economy. The United States is arguably struggling to adjust to the realities of modern family life more than any other affluent country.

The American workplace has always prized people who prioritize work over family, and European countries have long had more generous policies for working parents. But in the last two decades, that gap has widened significantly. Other developed countries have expanded benefits like paid parental leave and child care, while the United States has not.

The absence of such policies here creates obvious advantages for companies, reducing costs and increasing production. But for workers — most of whom have children, aging parents or both, and many of whom are single parents — the downsides can be enormous, whether they work in high finance or hourly labor. Many workers today — blue-collar and white-collar alike — believe they must choose between career and family.