Now that's a perk: Seattle tech startup offers new parents the miracle of sleep

Parental perks designed to attract a more diverse workforce

Ping-pong tables and happy hours are one way to lure new hires, but Outreach is taking a different approach. The sales analytics startup is boosting the parental perks it offers employees as it strives to build a diverse workforce in the competitive Seattle market.

The tech startup’s most noteworthy new perks are designed to help parents make the transition back to work after a baby’s arrival. Most precious is the gift of sleep: Outreach will pay for a night nurse, Monday through Friday, for eight weeks following a parent’s return to work. It also will pick up the tab for dinner delivery, two nights per week for eight weeks. And during the eight-week, back-to-work transition time, new parents can split their time between working in the office and working at home.

“We want to empower people to do their best work. We’re going to surround them with benefits that are actually very practical,” says CEO Manny Medina. He’s one of the cofounders of Outreach, which has grown from six employees in 2014 to roughly 120 today and is expected to double in size in the coming year.

One of the challenges the company faces as it grows is the stereotype that a startup environment is inhospitable to people who want to expand their families as they build their careers. Small companies often don’t offer the same benefits that larger, more established companies can offer, and that can deter people from making the leap to a startup.

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Medina, whose first two children were born before Outreach launched (he’s a veteran of Microsoft and Amazon), says becoming a father for the third time made him realize, “we can really break the mold” by making it easier for people to join a fast-growth startup “without having to sacrifice the security and the peace of mind that you get when you work at a larger company where maternity leave policies and parental policies are explicit.”

Outreach wants new parents to have flexibility as they come back to work. What it doesn’t want is to create an environment that relegates women, in particular, to less ambitious career paths and fewer opportunities for advancement. “There’s never confusion that this is a different track,” Medina says. “You work really hard, you care about your craft, you put in the time. But that is not to the detriment of starting a family and doing your own thing. It doesn’t mean you’re going to work any less. You just need flexibility and you need a support system to really get your best work done.”

By making startup life more inviting to a wider range of people, Outreach is in a better position to recruit the diverse workforce the company’s founders want.

“You cannot have a fruitful, challenging and intellectually provocative conversation until you have many points of view represented at the table,” Medina says. “I’m an immigrant, I’m Hispanic, and my point of view is shaped by my life experiences, which are completely different from my cofounders’ [experiences] and from [the experiences of] the people we hire.”

“The whole white-dude, frat-house mentality at a startup is not going to help you grow.”

Medina cites a recent study from venture firm First Round Capital, which just published its second annual State of Startups survey. When asked about the male-to-female ratio at work, 11 percent of respondents said their teams are all male and another 50 percent said their teams are mostly male. The lack of gender diversity is even more extreme at the board level: 61 percent said their boards are all male, and 23 percent said mostly male. Among the 700 founders surveyed by First Round Capital, just 14 percent said their company has formal plans or policies to promote diversity and inclusion.

“The view around diversity is dire. It’s not getting any better. It’s getting worse,” Medina says. “Unless those of us who are fortunate to go from startup to growth company take a stand on it, it’s never going to change.”

Competing for talent

In the midst of a challenging hiring environment that favors job seekers, it makes sense for companies to improve on-the-job perks to keep existing employees from looking elsewhere. Outreach’s parental perks are generous, “but very close to what we’re seeing in how companies are coming up with creative ways to stay competitive in the war for talent,” says Jason Hayman, market research manager at IT staffing and services provider TEKsystems.

IT pros are more willing to consider a job change than they might have been a few years ago, and when they start exploring their options, it’s not uncommon for candidates with hot skills – in security, networking or development, for instance – to wind up weighing multiple offers. (See related story: 37 percent of IT pros to look for new jobs in 2017)

“With over 80 percent of IT workers willing to listen to other offers while currently employed, companies who find a way to separate themselves from the pack by offering unique benefits can stay competitive against companies who only offer ‘industry-standard’ benefits,” Hayman says. “With unemployment at 2.8 percent in the IT industry, professionals with in-demand skill sets have the ability to be more selective when choosing an employer, forcing employers to meet them on their terms, instead of the other way around.”

Looking ahead to the coming year, TEKsystems expects to see more companies work to distinguish themselves from the hiring competition.

“Salaries aren’t increasing the way we’ve seen in the last couple of years, and although hiring is still robust there is some wage stagnation,” Hayman says. “We expect more companies will try and find creative ways to differentiate themselves. Whether it be through their culture, diversity of project work, opportunities for career development and professional growth—or any combination of these—companies need to focus on developing well-rounded employee value propositions that showcase the benefits of working at their organization.”

This story, "Now that's a perk: Seattle tech startup offers new parents the miracle of sleep " was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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