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Grown-up Approach to Parenthood Requires Culture Change for Tech Firms

28/10/2015 15:47 GMT | Updated 27/10/2016 10:12 BST

There's a lot of activity around maternity policy in the tech sector recently.

The stars of Silicon Valley are seemingly falling over themselves recently to appear family-friendly.

The first rumbling was Facebook's slightly eerie offer to freeze their women's eggs. Soon after that came IBM's promise to ferry breast milk around for return-to-work mums. At the time, both policies appeared very bizarre and smacked of being invented by men (or maybe even bots) without much consideration of what women would really value.

That doesn't represent the fuller picture in the tech sector however where, if you look elsewhere, some really sensible, pragmatic practices are emerging.

The likes of Netflix, Microsoft and Adobe have all come forward this year to offer paid maternity leave which in some cases surpasses that now being offered by the likes of Google and Facebook.

Given that most of these companies are headquartered in the US this is quite a big shift as the US doesn't even have federal law which provides statutory maternity pay.

The fact that these firms are starting to recognise that the retention of female talent is a strategic choice requiring investment is to be applauded.

But what is more interesting is the extent to which this accommodation of working mums really will work in practice.

In a sector which is known for its free breakfasts, dinners, gyms and even sleep pods, the defining ethos is one of "live to work". The employee experience is one which is squarely designed to appeal to the spirited young, blurring work-life boundaries and making a strong statement about the importance of coming into work.

There are some women who, when they have children, continue to buy-in to this work-focused lifestyle. Marissa Meyer is one notable example and her decision to build a crèche in her office and her choice to have two weeks maternity leave is a very significant statement about her intention to not recognise that life has changed now she is a parent.

But it is not every women - or man - who either wants or is able to approach parenthood in this way. In fact, for many, it is impossible to manage the demands of having children without a separation of home and work.

So although in their acknowledgement of parenthood, tech companies are starting to 'grow up', it is more of a shift from infancy to adolescence than to a place where their approach to working parents is fully formed.

The outstanding challenge is in how they balance the youthful "live to work" culture with the need to live a life outside the office or "hub" bubble as an individual's life progresses.

But with the advent of maternity policies in the tech sector I think the genie is now out of the bottle. I expect - and hope - they will herald a wider rethink and bigger changes to culture than any of these firms had originally been betting on.