At the age of two months, Viasat business operations analyst Luiza Andersen’s long-awaited first son underwent surgery to help the bones in his forehead fuse correctly. Andersen and her husband Doug’s families both live far from their Denver home, but the couple did not feel alone.
“My work family were the people who gave me the most support; they were the people I felt closest to,” Andersen said. “I felt overwhelmed having a baby, and then the surgery. But to have people from work calling, checking on us, asking if we needed anything – that was really helpful.”
Andersen is a member of Families Helping Families (FHF), a new Viasat employee resource group dedicated to supporting employees who are raising children.
Launched in Denver, chapters are now forming at Viasat’s Carlsbad, CA headquarters and the Duluth, GA offices.
Viasat’s Suzanne Marchi, who started the Women in Tech employee resource group in 2013, saw a need for a family support group after her daughter lost a baby. Several coworkers shared with her their own stories of loss, and Marchi realized employees with families had a unique need for connection and support.
That connection is especially critical for new parents.
“If there’s ever a time you’d leave a job – even one you like – it would be when you have a baby,” said Marchi, director of technical operations and service quality. “There’s a tug to be both places – at work and at home with your baby – at the same time. And it’s hard because your whole world is upside down with lack of sleep and the needs of a new baby, but you’re still working. We want to keep these talented men and women. Knowing they have support at work from other people who’ve been there is important.”
She added: “Being invested in your job is one thing. But being invested in a community takes it to a whole other level.”
FHF helps ensure parents understand the Viasat resources and benefits available to them, and has also advocated for convenient, fully equipped nursing rooms. In October 2019, the Denver group held a candlelight ceremony to honor the memories of babies lost to miscarriage or stillbirth. Marchi helped set up a private Slack room for people working with fertility programs, many of whom had to suspend treatments during the coronavirus crisis.
She expects the group will continue to evolve further as employees reveal more issues common to working parents.
Carlsbad chapter set to launch
As the Denver group took its first steps, two Viasat employees in California noticed the same needs among employees there.
Executive assistant Gina Christie and Jordyn Case, a learning and development specialist, had their two firstborn sons a few months apart. Case, whose son is older, shared with Christie her experiences as a new mother and the resources she had used.
When Christie returned from maternity leave, the two women began talking about forming an employee resource group for families. And not just new parents, but parents of all kinds.
“There are so many different seasons of parenthood,” Christie said. “We believe there will be offshoots with this ERG – how to transition into parenthood, how to parent teens, how to co-parent when parents aren’t together, fostering and adopting, the struggle of empty-nesting.”
The Carlsbad ERG was planned for a 2020 launch, but has been delayed by the coronavirus. Case and Christie are now planning a virtual launch. Meanwhile, the two women have been reaching out to other parents online about the challenges of parenting while working from home.
“We’re all trying to figure this out day-by-day,” Case said. “We can do it in community with one another, even though we’re social distancing. We can still support one another.”
That support and understanding is important, Case said, not only for coworkers but for supervisors and other non-parents who work with them.
“I’m hoping this expands beyond parents so we can start to build some empathy,” she said. “I’ve had to bail on meetings because child care got screwed up. Sometimes we might have kids screaming while we’re trying to work or on a call. We’re all living it and trying to make it work.”
Work is also under way in Duluth to launch a Families Helping Families ERG there.
‘You’re not alone’
In Denver, customer care innovation supervisor Trent Gary is among several FHF dads. The father of 4-year-old and 9-month-old sons, Gray and his wife also suffered two miscarriages. He came to his first meeting to share that story with the hope of helping others in the group who’d had similar experiences.
“I ended up really enjoying the meeting,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of friends who have kids. So it’s nice to hear and talk about our experiences and just vent with each other sometimes. It helps to know somebody else is struggling, too, and it makes you realize you’re not failing and you’re not alone.”
The Denver group has shared timely advice – how to explain COVID-19 hugging restrictions to a 2-year-old, when and if to resume child care, finding ways to play when neighborhood playgrounds are closed. Members with older children have donated clothing to those with younger children. And repeatedly, they’ve shared words of encouragement.
For Andersen, that support from her coworkers sealed her decision to continue working.
“Before I even got pregnant, I thought about staying at home fulltime,” she said. “But for me, I still wanted to have Luiza time, and I want to keep growing. Viasat not only gave me the opportunity to be flexible, but to be able to talk to other working parents about what they did has been wonderful. It helps knowing other people have had the same experience I am right now.”