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THE BLACK HOLE

Taking parental leave in biotech

A sustainable culture is built on living one’s values, and demonstration of that inevitably comes from the top.

By JONATHAN THON | MAY 30 2019

We deal with a lot of important topics in this column, but none is more important than making personal time for your family and for yourself.  This can take many forms, but often the most publicized (and polarizing) is parental leave for the birth of a new child. As colleagues, we’re typically very quick to recommend that a co-worker take all of the time they need, and as directors the best of us will support our employees doing just that, but it is significantly less common for leadership to exercise the same values, and that matters. In all aspects, leadership guides by example and while recommendations that employees take personal time are important, demonstration that their directors are living those values sets the tone for what people will or will not feel comfortable doing.

With the approaching birth of my second son (literally any day now!) I will be taking one-month paid parental leave (I could take more, but this was the right balance for my family). As the CEO and CSO of a biotech company, this is noteworthy- and our leadership have spent the last two weeks coordinating for my absence and re-allocating ownership of projects and responsibilities until my return. To our credit, a longstanding value of our company that we’ve worked very hard to build over these years has been to create a scalable organizational and operational structure that is self-sustaining, which means it can support the absence of any employee (including its CEO and senior executives). Our chief business/operations officer has tested this model three times since our company’s founding for every one of his daughters, so have senior team leads and multiple employees. Ironically, I am neither the rule nor the exception. My partner, a physician and professor at a neighboring university, will be taking seven months parental leave, which made it possible for me to take only one month. This was negotiated in a system where no one had historically ever asked for more than four months, and resulted in the majority of this time being unpaid. While not everyone is fortunate enough to have this flexibility or freedom, in the case of Platelet Biogenesis, we established these values from the ground up and have actively striven to support them, even early on when losing one employee to parental leave meant >25-50 percent of our workforce.

While there are no reservations that PBG will do fine without me now, that leadership take parental leave is important.  A sustainable culture is built on living one’s values, and demonstration of that inevitably comes from the top.

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ABOUT JONATHAN THON
Jonathan Thon
Dr. Thon is the CEO and chief scientific officer of Platelet BioGenesis, and a faculty member in the hematology division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
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