Parental Leave for Tech CEOs: a 21st Century Necessity or Opulence?

Do female tech CEOs ever take parental leave? And how many companies have it in their policies? What would it look like especially for start-up female CEOs to take parental leave?

Table of Contents

  1. Parental Leave for Tech CEOs: a 21st Century Necessity or Opulence?
  2. Stats on Female Leaders
  3. Parental Leave Stats – Japan and Europe
  4. CEOs in Europe Who Have Taken Parental Leave
  5. The Way Forward – How Tech Companies Can Implement Parental Leave
  6. The Case for Parental Leave
  7. In Conclusion

Parental Leave for Tech CEOs: a 21st Century Necessity or Opulence?

March 8th was International Women’s Day (IWD). People and companies went out of their way to ensure that the women in their lives and teams felt appreciated.

The most unique thing, however, was the Gender Pay Gap Twitter Bot which retweeted a company’s gender pay gap wherever a company tweeted about IWD. At the time of writing, the app had over 241K followers. And the bot is still on, doing its work efficiently.Gender Pay Gap Bot

The bot received a lot of support. Major publications like the New York Times and even ABC picked up the story, telling of the ‘lowly’ bot that exposed companies’ double standards.

This was quite intriguing. I continued following the conversation. Companies were forced to delete their IWD tweets, and even some tried to delete the IWD hashtag. The bot was quite smart though, and it remained undeterred, smoking companies out.

In all honesty, I remember sitting back and being absolutely blank about what to post that day.Women in Tech Image Source

I had a chance to deeply reflect on Women in Tech a while back, though, and truly, there are challenges to being a Woman in Tech.

I do have a unique perspective, mainly being the only female member of my team here at Dzemo for a while. I have an amazing team and I thoroughly enjoy working with them.

One of the thoughts that came to mind as I continued thinking about Women in Tech was, do Female tech CEOs ever take parental leave? And how many companies have it in their policies? What would it look like especially for start-up female CEOs to take parental leave?

As I did my research, it became apparent that this was a concept that hadn’t been given enough attention.

So, I started looking for female CEOs that might have taken parental leave. I also quickly came to the realization that this was not just a female issue. Andreas Kitzing’s piece on taking parental leave as a startup CEO was a stupendous eye-opener.

As I continued to do further research, I realized that this was going to become a sticky piece to navigate.

Think about it. We now have pronouns to think about, and family types that are not ‘traditional’ in the sense of having a mom and dad or a mom/ dad as a single parent (watch the movie Invisible Thread on Netflix to better understand what I am referring to here)

I also started to see that the assumption has been that there is only one primary caregiver by default. How about partners who want to be more involved with raising their children? And even if we went with the idea of a primary caregiver in a conventional sense, who would be the primary caregiver in a gay or lesbian relationship for example?

And are parents who adopt a child entitled to parental leave?

And yes, I do agree with Andreas, that fathers taking parental leave will help female leaders!Andreas

As you can see, parental leave can quickly become slippery ground, and there’s a need to tread carefully.

Stats on Female Leaders

According to the Grant Thorton Women in Business 2021 report 31% of senior managers are female, globally. This translates to

  • 9 out of 10 businesses having at least one female on the leadership team,
  • and 26% of Managing Directors and CEOs being women.

Grant Thornton Women in Business Image Source

The above image shows the distribution of females in leadership per region, with 30% being the tipping point for there to be ‘catalytic’ change. Tipping point refers to the point at which women in leadership can influence decisions, for example, board recruitment and succession.

Why Does Female Representation Matter?

When the leadership is diverse, there is improved financial performance, increased innovation, and even products become customer-centric.

Moreover, companies with more than 30% females in the leadership were likely to perform better than those with only 10 to 30% of their leadership being female. And the latter were likely to perform better than those with fewer women leaders or none, to the tune of 48%.

This is progress in the right direction. And this is why we need to start putting in structures to support females who are taking up leadership roles.

In this article, we delve into one specific issue: parental leave for startup CEOs (both male and female)

Parental Leave Stats – Japan and Europe

Over 120 countries in the world provide paid maternity leave by law, according to the ILO (International Labor Organization)parental leave japan and europe Image Source

And according to the above image, the top 3 countries with the longest parental leaves are Lithuania, Sweden, and Estonia.

Lithuania has a 30-day paid paternity leave, with an additional 36 months of shared parental leave which can be taken intermittently or continually.

Estonia has 2 weeks of paid paternity leave and an additional 435 days of shared parental leave.

However, the top 3 countries with the longest paternity leaves are Japan, Iceland, and Lithuania.

Japan has around 52 weeks of paid paternity leave, followed by Iceland with 6 months – with one optional additional month that can be transferred from the other partner. Lithuania comes in third with 30 days.


In Germany, there is a parental allowance Elterngeld which is meant to compensate for income lost when parents look after a newborn child. This means that you can comfortably take time off and focus on raising your child.

Parents can take up to 14 months off work, split between parents. There are also options to work part-time, or even to extend the compensation.

The United Kingdom

The UK has Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) Under the SPL and ShPP, parents can split 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay.

There are several options, for example, a couple of months of leave followed by a month of work, or parents can decide to take the entire leave incessantly.


Sweden is years ahead when it comes to winning the parental leave battle. It was the first country in the world to replace maternity leave with parental leave, in 1974.

Sweden is perhaps one of the few places in the world where it is easy to spot parents, male and female, taking care of their children in public – in cafes while sipping their coffee, in parks, or even in the streets, pushing prams.

These parents have come to be known as latte dads , “latte papas” and “latte moms” with the males gaining the world’s attention.

Swedish parents are entitled to 16 months’ leave (480 days) after the birth or adoption of a child. In the case of 2 parents, each is entitled to half of the parental leave, and the full 480 for a single parent.

After 2016, each parent has 90 days reserved exclusively which aren’t transferable to their partner.

CEOs in Europe Who Have Taken Parental Leave

The question, however, remains: is parental leave a priority despite the favorable conditions even in the above-discussed countries? (especially for startup CEOs)

Unfortunately, parental leave, and especially paternity leave is yet to become fully adopted, despite statutory requirements. In the UK, only 2% of males use their shared parental leave.

When it comes to startups, parental leave is tricky business. Founders do not want to leave their businesses unattended. There is also a lot of pressure to grow the business while keeping all the stakeholders happy and not allowing competition to beat you.

Moreover, societal norms tend to portray women as the primary caregivers, making it harder for men to take parental leave. As a result, many startups do not even have existing paternity leave policies.

In this section, we look at the early adopters. The CEOs taking the leap into unchartered waters and leading the way.

Former StitchFix CEO, Katrina Lake

Katrina Image Source

Katrina Lake, former StitchFix CEO has taken a 16-week parental leave twice, in her role as CEO. And she was completely off work, delegating her duties to the company’s COO and President.

As a result, she was able to rethink the company’s leave policy. Was it diverse enough? Was it built on typical gender roles where females are primary caregivers?

From Katrina’s standpoint, workplace policies need to be representative of current and future family structures and values as well. This means that both primary and secondary caregivers have the right to parental leave, despite family type or orientation.

In addition, leaders need to be the change they want to see. Both female and male leaders need to take parental leave. This way, even the teams working with them see the need to do so.

Jayne Ronayne, Former CEO, Talivest

ronayne Image Source

Talivest’s former CEO, Jayne Ronayne become a new mom at a time when her company was growing by leaps and bounds – during its most profitable year, with new funding rounds, and new clients.

When she learned that she was going to become a mom, she initially wanted to take a one-month leave. She however saw this as a wake-up call.

She acknowledged that it was daunting to think about being a new mom and running her startup on the side. Would she have the time she needed to do both?

She felt she didn’t have much control over all the aspects of being a mom, and she didn’t want to ever look back in retrospect and wish she had spent more time ‘mommying’.

Eventually, she stepped down and brought on another CEO to take the lead and scale the company, set to return to the company in a different role, funding and scaling the company too.

Andreas Kitzing, CEO and Founder, Sponsoo

andreas Image Source

Our third example gives us a unique perspective, as aforementioned. Andreas Kitzing, a male CEO took part-time parental leaveHe scaled down his work to about 30% of his usual working hours.

During his parental leave, he realized that it was “still relatively uncommon for startup founders to officially take some time off”. And understandably so

As a startup CEO, you need to steer your business and team in a direction that ensures growth and success.

And yes, like Andreas states, there’s always something that needs to get done – a project that needs to be managed, a strategic partner to bring on board, a new feature to be built or improved on, and even stakeholder and investor needs to be met.

It might be seemingly impractical to take parental leave in these circumstances.

However, as a parent, you need to be present in your child’s life, get to know them, take care of them, and form a bond with them.

And this is once in a lifetime opportunity. Andreas is glad not to have missed it.

Hampus Jakobsson, General Partner at Pale Blue Dot

hampus Image Source

Hampus took 6 months of paternity leave for his first child and 3 months after his twins were born

Taking parental leave helped him learn to let go – to learn to trust his colleagues more and not have to be involved in every decision unless it was crucial for the direction that the company, The Astonishing Tribe, would take.

Hampus writes that he learned to prioritize work-related issues in a way that allowed him to focus on the most important tasks for only a few hours a week.

After these invaluable lessons, Hampus was able to integrate parental leave into his later startup’s culture, Brisk.

Brisk’s VP of engineering took 3 months of paternity leave and the Head of Design worked part-time to be able to spend time with his newborn child.

Hampus was able to meet other parents, share their stories and strategies on parenting, as well as encourage each other to have grit. He also learned to make sourdough bread and invited people and made lunch.

Overall, he feels like he has a better connection and relationship with his son because of the initial time he invested in the early stages of his son’s life.

Interestingly, parental leave allowed Hampus to learn things that could be applied at his company – empowering his employees, improving their jobs, and even helping them become more efficient.

Leaders like Katrina, Ronayne, Hampus, and Andreas are just a few examples of how CEOs can handle parental leave.

The Way Forward – How Tech Companies Can Implement Parental Leave

road Image Source

We have explored parental leave in Europe and narrowed it down to specific examples of CEOs who have taken parental leave. We have seen the issues that they have grappled with as a result of this crucial decision, and how they have creatively handled the situation.

So, what are the takeaways, especially for Tech CEOs? What is the way forward? How can tech CEOs implement parental leave in their companies, while not making themselves the exception?

Examine the Current Parental Leave Status in Your Company

Depending on factors like the size of your company and the composition of its c-suite members (males vs females), you might not have any parental leave policies in place.

If all of you in your c-suite do not have children, for example, you might not need to have a parental leave policy in place.

However, if some of your members start to become moms or dads, you might soon realize the importance of having parental leave in place, even from the early stages of your startup.

However, you do not have to wait till it’s truly late to start thinking about parental leave policies. You can start to imagine what that could look like. This way, you will start to even talk to other stakeholders like your investors.

You might discuss the possibility of bringing in new members when one of you decides to take parental leave.

If you already have a parental leave policy in place, then it’s time to further evaluate it – does it include the c-suite? Does it define the primary giver as females (so that moms have extended maternity leaves, while barely any for dads), is it inclusive enough to take care of present-day family definitions? How about parents who adopt children?

Create a Culture of Parental Leave within the Company

As a CEO or leader in tech, you need to be the change you want to see. You need to take parental leave yourself in order to encourage your employees to do the same. Male tech CEOs and leaders also need to take parental leave.

In fact, encourage fathers to take parental leave. This way, parental leave will start to be seen less from an angle of the mother as the primary caregiver, and more as a joint role where both parents are involved.

Moreover, when fathers take parental leave, it helps females have shorter parental leave gaps in their CVs, which helps their careers. It makes it easier for employers to hire women as there will be shorter absences from work (as their spouses will share parental leave days).

In the case of a single parent, there might be longer parental leave days, though.

Find a Parental Leave Model That Works for You

Sometimes, a one-size-fits-all may not be the best approach to parental leave. You need to explore several options.

For example, Netflix’s parental leaveis on a ‘take as you need’ basis, at full pay, the year after a child is born or adopted. There is a discussion between HR and the employee in order to find a way that suits both the parent and Netflix’s needs.

However, you need to consider factors like employees failing to use their parental leave as it might show that they are indeed dispensable.

‘Universal leave’ is also an option – where all employees are entitled to the same number of parental leave days, irrespective of gender or family arrangement.Spotify offers 6 months for everyone.

Involve Your Team

Companies could borrow a leaf from Netflix’s needs basis parental leave model, even if you might not adopt that particular model.

You need to have a conversation with your team (or have someone else do so) regarding their view of parental leave.

Should team members be contacted during their parental leave? Would they be okay with being part of company social events? How long should parental leave be, in their view?

The downside of longer parental leave is that it may ‘disconnect’ employees from their company.

Be Aware of And Discourage Pregnancy Stigma and Bias

In a London South Bank University survey, 50% of women felt that taking maternity leave would hurt their careers. The women (including senior managers) talked of male colleagues treating them with contempt during their pregnancy, and even asking them to do some tasks for them, or sending them around.

Pregnant women were also not considered for promotions and pay raises due to factors like taking additional time off work for prenatal care, and general parenting duties. Upon returning to work they may also be less available to attend meetings or conferences.

You need to ensure that your company’s culture treats pregnant colleagues with the respect that they deserve, and find a way to support them, for example via getting them extra help when needed, and flexible or work-from-home options.

The Case for Parental Leave

road Image Source

As a Tech CEO, you might still be wondering what the implications of parental leave are for your company.

If you took a long parental leave from your business, or your core team did, what are the implications? What if you just cannot take your mind off work even if you took parental leave? Does it defeat the purpose of even being on leave?

From a financial perspective, what are the implications? If several people in the team took parental leave simultaneously, would it affect the company’s bottom lines? Or do the long-term benefits outweigh these short-term financial costs?

This McKinsey study focused on how paternity leave benefits the father, family, and even their employer.

For the individual and family,

  • the partner who took parental leave said that their relationship with their partner improved as a result. Studies have also shown that when partners participate in taking care of a newborn, mothers are least likely to suffer from Postpartum depression,
  • the partner who took parental leave said that shared parental care helped the mother’s career as she could back to work sooner and keep climbing the proverbial ladder, and
  • the partner who took parental leave said that they developed a strong bond with their child that would last a long time.

For the employer,

  • the partner who took parental leave said that they came back more rested and with a deeper appreciation of their employer. They were likely to stay at their organization longer and be more productive since they have a new appreciation of the importance of time.

In Conclusion

As we have seen, parental leave is a multi-faceted issue. As a tech leader, you however need to lead by example (when it’s your turn). In the meantime, create some time to create parental leave policies that work for you, your core team, all stakeholders, and even your company’s culture. You will be grateful for it.