What Does Maternity Leave in a DAO Look Like?

When people ask me, “You work for a DAO? What does that even mean?” I usually answer, “DAOs are just a bunch of humans contributing to a project or organization without the red tape of a traditional corporation/legal business entity.”

DAO’s are inherently risky as a participant/contributor. Most of the safety nets that exist in traditional companies like medical leave, a Human Resources department, a company legal team, , ADA compliance, worker’s compensation, or traditional job security don’t necessarily exist within a DAO. There are also no real holidays, formal vacation time, and things are running 24/7, so any time of day you can jump into the community forums or chats and find someone working. This can be a bit of an adjustment to say the least when moving from a traditional company to a DAO. There are, however, a myriad of ways to be a DAO “employee,” and each path can provide more safety nets than others depending on your risk tolerance and level of creativity.

While that can sound super scary to the potential contributor who has a family to feed or someone with a special health condition to consider (you know, very normal human experiences), don’t run away too quickly. DAOs are new and experimental, and if managed correctly by their contributors, they can offer a better experience than the “safety” of a traditional company. But as with most things in cryptocurrency, the work environment can evolve quickly and has a more decentralized influence, so you must be proactive and take initiative.

I’d like to share my current experience (and past experience) and how it has shaped my recommendations for the ShapeShift DAO to manage maternity leave.

In January, I found out I was pregnant with my second child! Meanwhile, I had just started our first proposal as a support team with the ShapeShift DAO. It was a clunky transition from centralized to decentralized, but doable. There were so many new things to learn, and it was almost like we launched a completely new culture along with a new way of managing our product.

When I was a few months pregnant, it was clear to me I needed to find a way to still manage my team, who I adore, and keep us on pace to perform, while also managing my home life and pregnancy. I quickly started drawing up a part-time leadership role that allowed me to do both—something you’d probably never see a traditional company consider. I’d like to think it was due to my reputation, credentials, and passion for the project that the community obliged and passed my part-time role with our second proposal May 1st, 2022.

I’m now eight months pregnant. A bear market is upon both the crypto and traditional finance worlds. The economic aftershocks of the pandemic are in full effect. While I’m a pretty risk-tolerant person (I have worked in alternative currency for almost 10 years), this is even too much to conceive at times! It has also made it challenging to strategize on how to manage the human experience within the DAO, while balancing the financial stability of it all. Here we are building this new type of “office culture” that has never existed before, in an economic downturn, and I’m one of the first guinea pigs of my kind. Protections that standard organizations afford people are what people seek during times of uncertainty, and while DAOs can not and should not be expected to be without risk, I believe it’s possible that the organizational structure can do better than its traditional counterparts. DAOs are designed to be human empowering, human led, so we should greatly consider the humans that run them.

The human experience as a contributor in a DAO needs to be talked about more. More support from leaders, more public communication, more experts, more creativity is required as we’re literally swimming into unchartered territories. I scoff at the privileged suggestions of “if you can’t handle the instability, maybe this isn’t for you”—instead, we can make the experience and work environment more welcoming to the human experience, thus opening the door wider to more impressive talent. 100 FOX says it’ll actually make people more productive and committed too!

As with most operations in the DAO, we are building as we go (while also still taking part in useful business practices that are agnostic to the type of organization you run; i.e., leaders, payroll systems, protection mechanisms for information). Community members at ShapeShift seemed genuinely eager to chat about it and start piecing together ways to remain competitive as an employer while recognizing that the world is watching—meaning, how we handle the human experience within the DAO could speak volume to the public, while also influencing the path of other DAOs/potential DAOs. While we build a platform to offer the DeFi that enthusiasts can drool over, we can also influence the path for other companies to take this leap into a freer way of doing business.

At the end of the day, the ShapeShift DAO doesn’t have an extended leave policy, but we are working on building a recommendation for work streams to follow or build upon as they see fit for their teams. In my workstream, I am the leader, I am also part time. I’m also pregnant. It’s clear to me there’s a bias, but I wouldn’t call it a conflict of interest. It’s just life!

I will be taking roughly two months of paid leave, approved in our latest proposal. Do I need more than two months to recover and connect with the brand new human I just birthed? Of course! However, I am part time and as the first woman to be pioneering maternity leave in this DAO, I wanted to be cautious of setting the appropriate precedent for a new company. Building out from a modest place is easier, then trying to stuff the toothpaste back in the tube later. Also, coming from a centralized, full-time position to a decentralized, part-time position, I’m aware that even after my leave is up, I’ll still have plenty of flexibility in my schedule to gradually reintroduce myself to my responsibilities.

My personal view on maternity leave from my past experience is that most U.S. companies follow the bare minimum guidelines pushed forth by law: the employer must hold the job and their benefits for a full-time employee for 12 weeks, but no pay is required. Thankfully, when I had my first child, I was not subject to the bare minimum, because centralized ShapeShift offered 12 weeks of paid leave. Relatively speaking, a great benefit.

My maternity leave recommendation at this time is: 4 months paid and job title held to the contributor if they have been with the DAO for at least 8 months.

My paternity/non-birthing partner leave recommendation at this time is: 1.5 months paid and job title held to the contributor, if they have been with the DAO for at least 8 months.

I believe most families need more time than that, but there is a delicate balance between sustainable business practices at such a vulnerable period of an organization’s growth and the unique, incredibly significant humans we are supporting. Because of that, I believe as the ShapeShift DAO hits a level of maturity and momentum, this recommendation should change to an even more attractive package for potential talent; i.e., six months paid for maternity leave and two+ months for paternity leave.

While I’m away on this leave I will not be participating in the DAO at all. No emails will be responded to and all messages will go unread. I’ve appointed two co-captains of my workstream @mogie and @ssdonna — two supportive and passionate team members of Customer Support. I, personally, run my payroll through Opolis and access health benefits from their organization (which is a fabulous organization by the way), so while I’m away there are a few processes I have to set up in advance to make sure my benefits keep rolling. Being decentralized means you have to do a lot of this “HR stuff” yourself.

Here are some drawbacks I’ve thought about when it comes to maternity leave at the DAO and how to manage it (other forms of leave also deserve a discussion):

  • Most contributors are anonymous or pseudo-anonymous. What’s to keep a bad actor from getting hired and falsely claiming a pregnancy? My team uses video when we talk so they’ve all seen my enormous belly :smiley: but how do you ask a dad or mom to prove their upcoming baby is in fact on the way?
  • Also, if we don’t have a uniform “policy” there could be a battle of “fairness” among work streams that could cause a strain on workplace relationships.
  • A bit of an elephant in the room: there aren’t a lot of women here…paid contributors…maybe 10? Not a judgment, but a fact, so this discussion is subject to the judgment and voting of people who cannot relate or understand the needs of the situation as clearly. I’m also not discounting the experience of those that are parents; they will obviously be crucial in providing empathy and perspective in times where maybe the majority might not understand.
  • DAO workstreams also run on proposals that are limited in time. The common proposal with ShapeShift at this time is 6 months. If a contributor’s maternity goes past the proposal period an addendum to the proposal or early renewal of the proposal may be required/considered.

There are still a lot of rocks to uncover and I’m sure we haven’t thought about all of the unique scenarios that will turn up in the coming months and years, but approaching them with empathy, a responsible amount of scrutiny and massive amounts of discourse will surely lead the organization and other organizations like us in a positive, ever-evolving direction. One day, when the dear bull returns, we’ll be able to assemble teams to help think about these things day in and day out, in order to protect, attract, nurture, and celebrate all of the unique human experiences that make up the ShapeShift DAO.

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Thanks for posting this @ssmegan! This is something I can definitely relate to and have thought about too.

I support your recommendations for maternity/paternity leave, however, I don’t think four months is nowhere near enough. In a previous company, I worked with colleagues from U.S. and this is something I was always surprised about, how the guidelines set out by law are so inconsiderate.

In the U.K. I received 9 months of paid leave with both of my boys and 3 months unpaid, after 12 months you must return to work. In my country–Lithuania we get 3 years of total leave, 1 year paid, 2nd year 50% and third year 20% but the employer must hold your place for 3 years :smiley: This is just for comparison and I seriously don’t know how anybody can return to a full time role with a newborn, especially if you have more than one child too.

I do understand though that 4 months is already above the bare minimum and would be a great starting point. Like you said, this is a DAO but we must be in touch with the normal human experiences in order to preserve and attract great talent.

I am happy to see such posts coming forward and hope that the ShapeShift DAO can become the best decentralized organization with clear guidelines for its contributors, good culture fit, good work-life balance and growth opportunities while also staying innovative.

In my opinion and experience, the most successful companies are those that take good care of their employees, while we’re not a company anymore, the same should apply as we are dealing with humans, a healthy culture is just as important as a healthy balance sheet.

In full support!

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Thanks for posting this! After reading Arina’s comment, I want to move to Lithuania lol. The USA notoriously has crappy maternity/paternity compared to other countries. I think we should consider maternity leave up to 6 months and be able keep their jobs (and agreed at least 8 months as a contributor). 4 months paid, 2 months optional as unpaid/partial pay, but your position waits for you as long as the workstream is still in good standing (something like that). I’d also like to consider a stronger support for paternity. Give up to 2 months - but they can split it up if needed. Would love to hear some additional perspective from others on this!

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@Arina - thank you for participating in the discussion and for your experience. I cut out of the original post of my citing of european models and do find the stark difference of Europe compared to the States sad, but also intriguing.

I do see the 4 month recommendation as merely a starting point to a recommendation and discussion. I think if we were under a different market climate, I’d be more comfortable recommending a more idyllic scenario, which to me is the 9 month range plus whatever additional time a family might need based on special circumstances.

Mainly when businesses are built from scratch (and one can argue ShapeShift is returning to a more rudimentary place as a business since the transition, although our branding and recognition is still widely popular, attractive benefits packages just can’t be afforded. In the past month, I even cut back on health benefits for my team leaders, which is considered an added benefit to their salary.

As marketing conditions improve and ShapeShift’ product market fit is more clearly defined and pursued, I believe we will have so much more latitude to continue amping up this VERY important benefit (as well as other benefits) for our contributors.

a healthy culture is just as important as a healthy balance sheet.

LOVE this mindset. I hope we can influence at least at this stage, offering better benefits than traditional companies, even with the restrictions of the balance sheet. It’s possible and will pay back dividends in happy teams, committed teams, and word of mouth praise from the crypto world.

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Just dropping in to indicate my absolute support for a proper, humane option for maternity/paternity leave. I would support a schedule that aligns with the rest of the world’s averages, even in a bear market.

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I am in full support of this. Thanks for bringing this to discussion @ssmegan

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I forgot to respond to this! I also had a “floating” idea in my original post but wanted to keep it simple to start the convo so I’m glad you brought this up. I think having to split the available paternity leave time would be crucial to most families and a great overall benefit.

Thanks for participating in this discussion. While i’ll be out for the next couple months, I hope people’s wheels keep spinning on the topic and we come up with a great recommendation.

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I hope this conversation stays alive and continues to evolve over the next several weeks. I think it’d be a great goal to have a solid recommendation prepared to start the new year if not before. When I’m back from leave, I’ll happily check in on this conversation. Thanks for the contributions to this conversation so far!

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I would love to see a formal recommendation or proposal go up related to Maternity/paternity leave for contributors that defines specific qualifications, and that sort of thing. I think that we can/should define that formally via governance so that there is no conflict/question regarding something that is as ethically important as this topic.

If someone wants to take the reigns on that, I’d love to see it happen. Otherwise, I’ll help when I am back from my leave :slight_smile:

Thanks for the feedback @hunt

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