“That’s Mommy’s rocket ship!”
Mommy Goes to Work is thrilled to have Relativity Space as our first corporate partner! Our partners are at the forefront of family benefits, and we’re pleased to integrate our book into the suite of benefits that they offer to improve the experience of working mothers.
Relativity Space is a cutting-edge aerospace company that’s focused on building humanity’s multiplanetary future. The company is revolutionizing the traditional approach to designing, building, and flying rockets, through the use of software-defined manufacturing (or 3D printing), artificial intelligence, and autonomous robotics. In fact, they are launching the world’s first entirely 3D printed rocket–Terran 1–this year.
What’s more, with Relativity Space’s long-term vision to build humanity’s industrial base on Mars, they believe that evolving into a multiplanetary species will fundamentally expand possibilities for the human experience.
As a company, Relativity Space has scaled dramatically over the last few years. In the last year alone, they’ve gone from 200 employees to nearly 800. Currently, they have almost 140 female employees (representing 17-18 percent of all staff), and about 20 working moms.
Karin Kuo is a critical driving force behind this rapid–and exciting!–growth at Relativity Space. As the VP of People, she oversees all of the human resources functions, with an overall mandate to ensure the company’s growing employee base is engaged and set-up for success. Karin is also a mom to 2-year-old daughter and a newborn son.
As we launch our partnership with Relativity Space, we sat down with Karin to discuss her experience as a working mom and her efforts to support and elevate working mothers and parents–through her work as an HR leader.
As the VP of People at Relativity Space, you spend a lot of time focused on the company’s employees and culture. How would you describe Relativity Space’s culture generally? And what are you doing specifically to elevate your workplace culture in order to attract, support, and retain working moms?
Because what we’re doing is so unique and we’re moving so fast, there’s a really good sense of innovation and also a sense of humble pride. Our team is really excited about doing something completely different in terms of how we want to design and manufacture rockets through our 3D printed technology. We also have a highly engaged population, who cares about the company and what we’re doing, while supporting each other. But for us, it’s not just about caring, it’s also about getting stuff done. We actually have a hiring criteria that reflects this, “Give a Shit and Get Shit Done.”
For all employees, including working parents, we’re very intentional about the benefits and perks that we design, and we make sure to talk about these with our candidates and our employees as a talent attraction and retention tool. Especially in aerospace and technology, where women are underrepresented, you need to go the extra mile to create inclusion and diversify your talent pool. Several employees, who were expecting parents at the time of their interviews, cited that our parental leave policy, which is applicable day one of hire, influenced their decision to join Relativity.
At Relativity Space, we offer up to 12 weeks of disability leave, as well as any other state benefits that might be available to a new mom giving birth. In addition, Relativity offers 100% pay for eight weeks of baby bonding leave for any new parent. This means you’re looking at up to four or five months of leave as a new mom, which is pretty good for a pre-revenue company, and this has been well received by our employees.
We also have a return to work plan for new parents, where we ask our employees to work a minimum of thirty hours–for 100% pay–during their initial four weeks back. During this transitional period, it is up to employees and their managers to decide which days they’re working and for how long, and whether they’re in the office, remote, or hybrid.
We understand that a new parent goes through so much change after such a big life event, and that there’s a lot of anxiety about how your baby is doing when you’re back at work. So, we wanted to normalize a reduced work schedule while ensuring financial security for parents transitioning back to give them time to ramp up and engage in a very honest dialogue with their managers.
As the first official corporate sponsor of Mommy Goes to Work, it is clear that Relativity Space values working moms and is striving to support them throughout all stages of their career, especially during the challenging return to work period. What initially attracted you to Mommy Goes To Work, and how do you plan to use the book to support and excite working moms on staff?
There are so many working parents, but I noticed as I’ve been reading books to my daughter, that they often portray very heteronormative couples and roles. I love that through this book, you can have a dialogue with your children about being a working mom and show them that it is not only okay, but completely normal and should be celebrated. And the data backs this up, when you have working parents, the economy is stronger and our children are stronger.
As a company, we plan to provide copies of Mommy Goes to Work to any new moms who are giving birth at Relativity Space. We’re also hoping to explore giving the books to our dads going out on leave, whose partners are working moms.
Can you tell us about your return to work experience? If you could travel back in time, what would you do differently, or what advice would you give yourself to make the experience better?
My return to work was a little bit different, because of unique circumstances. I was at a prior company at the time, and shortly after my daughter was born, the company publicly announced its acquisition by a larger technology services company. Being in an HR leadership position, I returned sooner than I had originally anticipated. In retrospect, and if I could do it over again, I’d probably work with my leadership team to strike a balance between supporting the critical post-acquisition period, with the time I needed for myself and my daughter.
Overall, I felt a bit of guilt, but also a sense of pride. A sense of guilt over the fact that I was leaving my newborn with somebody else at daycare, and also because–and I’ve spoken to many parents about this–in many ways working can be easier than taking care of a child. With a new baby, it’s beautiful, but it’s also something you can’t control, whereas with work, you often can control the parameters to a certain extent.
Because I had my daughter a little bit later in life, a lot of my identity was associated with work. When I went back to work and reconnected with this working professional identity, I felt proud and also a sense of, “Okay, I can do this,” with navigating both working and being a parent.
Of course, there were doubts around whether I was still valued after being away, or whether the people covering for me did a better job, or whether I’m too distracted as a new mom. There were also so many moments where I felt productive, and again, proud of the fact that I’m able to be a working mom, while also providing for my child.
On the transition back to work, it’s really important to be kind to yourself and also to share your experience with people. In general, I’d suggest giving yourself time. Start in the middle of the week, so you have two or three days at work, followed by the weekend to decompress with your family. Allow more than enough time on your first day to manage both the childcare routine and your return to work routine.
How do you think becoming a mom has made you a better professional? And on the flipside, how do you think remaining at work has made you a better mom?
I think that being a mom allows me to have more empathy for my team, and to be more open and honest around personal conversations or issues that could include childcare, caring for a parent or the loss of a pet. I think having this style of empathetic leadership has really gone a long way.
Being a working mother also challenges me to see how I can be more productive and effective with less time. This same concept extends to time with my daughter. Because my work and life are for the most part separate from one another, it allows me to compartmentalize better. So, when I’m with my daughter, I am more present and it’s very quality time.
Now that you’ve explained your work to us in detail, how does your explanation of what you do for your daughter differ? What approach or strategy do you take to help her understand and appreciate your work?
Early on in the pandemic when she was home and I was fully remote, she was very curious about video conferencing, and loved joining Zoom calls to wave to people and smile. Now that I’m going into the office a few days a week, she understands that I go to the office to work.
I haven’t explained too much yet, because I think she is still a little young to understand the full concept of work. She does know what rocket ships and astronauts are, though, so when I am ready to explain working motherhood to her I’m excited to tell her that mommy’s team 3D prints rocket ships! The other day I was dialed in to my company’s all hands meeting, and when pictures of Terran 1 showed up on the screen, she shouted, “That’s Mommy’s rocket ship!”