One Woman Is Revolutionizing Things For New Moms In The Start-Up World

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While the stereotype of the geeky male engineer hunkered behind a glowing screen is alive and well, an influx of powerful women in the tech industry are changing the conversation. One of those trailblazers is Michelle Lam of True & Co. In a few short years, Lam transitioned from her role as an investor and operator in the venture capital world to the founder of the forward-thinking online lingerie retailer. Using data provided by real shoppers, her two-year-old company provides bra options that work for some 6,000 unique body types.
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Now, Lam is applying that same entrepreneurial spirit to an issue that's often swept under the rug: work and family balance. Her program, Runway, allows new moms to integrate back into the workforce seamlessly by setting them up with flexible work options, as well as a smooth transition into maternity leave and back. We caught up with her to talk about the initiative and what other companies can do to improve things for their employees.
Tell us about Runway. What's the mission behind it?
"Runway is a workforce re-entrance and career-development program designed specifically for women at True&Co. who've taken time off from work for family, while also preparing current expectant employees for a smooth transition into maternity leave. It's designed to serve both our new moms-to-be who have taken on senior roles within the company, as well as talented, driven women who have chosen to exit the workforce to focus on family. Through Runway, True&Co. aims to build a world where successful, motivated women can find balance."
What was the driving force behind WHY you wanted to create this program for women?
"The majority of the people I employ are women, and many of them are in a place where they are going to be or soon could be starting families. I remember my mom having to give up her career to raise twins. We're a female-oriented startup; I want my employees to have options. Currently, True&Co.'s Director of Inventory and Assortment Management and Director of Marketing are getting ready to go on maternity leave. I saw Runway as a great opportunity to find a better way to help fill their roles, while helping other mothers, like my own mother, get back into the workforce — hence the name Runway. We've already received many resumes and are close to hiring for both of these positions, which is a testament of how much this program resonates with women."
Twenty percent of the staff at True&Co. is male — is there a reason the program isn't offered to them?
"True&Co. does have programs in place for male employees during the pregnancy process, such as paternity leave. In the case of Runway, we designed this program specifically to help women face the unique challenges and physical changes they experience after giving birth that do not necessarily apply to men. We are entertaining the thought of expanding Runway to include men in the future, but at this time Runway is geared towards helping women."
What do you think the biggest obstacle is for women transitioning back from mat leave? Particularly in the start-up world?
"The demanding and dynamic nature of a start-up (always being on) can be at odds with the demands of a family. A start-up is often a small team with very little redundancy and things change quickly; hence why they are often all-consuming. It can be tough on both moms and dads to strike a balance between a work life that is going a thousand miles per hour, as well as a new family life with added responsibilities."
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How do you think more companies can adopt better policies/move forward with this?
"Start-ups and start-up culture as a whole needs to support the idea of work-life balance for employees with systems and policies that are consistent with the messages we preach. At True&Co, we preach the saying, 'It's a marathon, not a sprint.' We believe in a sane work week where we accomplish a lot, but we also have enough time for our families and life outside of work.
"As a venture capitalist, I noted it takes eight to 10 years to build a great company — and it's very tough on the ones we love. It’s easy to get consumed in your work, especially when working for a start-up. Work will come and go, but at the end of the day, who is there through it all? Friends and family. It's so important to never lose sight of that, and it’s time to get behind smarter work that supports family life."
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