How Can Technology Help Women Prepare to Have a Family?

Yasmin Mattox headshot

Yasmin J Mattox discusses the struggles of family-planning while working and how she hopes to give working women more control. Provided photo.

While women have made major gains in the public sphere, working to minimize the wage gap and be seen as equal co-workers, there still remain major biological differences that can present hurdles.

Namely, pregnancy.

According to Yasmin J. Mattox, the CEO and Founder of Arkatecht, the financial and emotional costs of raising a family is what prompted her to realize this problem, which certainly isn’t new, could perhaps be improved by technology that is. Her goal: use an interface that allows women to better understand the implications of decisions related to their jobs, pregnancy and raising of family. It seeks to take out some of the guess work in how much a particular experience with children or pregnancy individually impacts the user.

At Arkatecht, we know that women’s desire to create life and build families as well as their desire to create value through their work, and through their careers, both deserve integrated, proactive, and simultaneous support,” states Arkatecht’s website. 

Originally from Manhattan, New York, Mattox was raised in Harlem before she attended school in the Finger Lakes Region at Alfred University. She then moved to Rochester and has been here since with her two toddler daughters and husband, whom she met in college.

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She got into this work purely by chance, she said, after a recent hiccup in life changed her entire life flow and made her look at things anew. OM got the chance to speak with Mattox, who is fresh off the heels of presenting at a conference, to discuss this issue, her technological fix and her personal stake in the whole thing.

Open Mic: You stated the transition to motherhood for women can cause them to miss out on more than 20-30% of lifetime income- how does this happen exactly? 

Yasmin J. Mattox: Yes, it can, and it’s partly from missing out on work, but there’s more to the story. It’s a totality of value that many women lose out on. We’re talking about wages, but also benefits, inclusive of health care and accrued time off, in addition to things like contributions to different forms of retirement accounts, whether publicly-mandated, such as Social Security, or privately held, such as a 401 K or Roth account.  These losses are often exacerbated by employment gaps, however seemingly short-term, when caring for children in their early years, but they have not only immediate, but also lasting consequences.

OM: You said you created a tool to help mediate this. How does it work?

YJM: The tool is being developed. That said, to better visualize it, as humans, we all make tons of decisions each day. It’s well-established that some are more important or consequential than others; some are pretty much the result of habit and are essentially automatic, and then there are others for which we have to give much more thought, often in a time or energy consuming and draining way, e.g., ‘What’s the cost of going to work and having to pay childcare versus staying home and losing income from not working?’ ‘How will my career trajectory be affected by doing x, y, or z?’ Those types of questions, for instance, involve a lot of factors and data to consider to which many people may not be privy. This is especially the case for women during pregnancy since there are additional considerations and decisions to be made and a lot of moving parts, so to speak. So, knowing that, and knowing that we can, in fact, make the decision-making process more effective with assistance, we’re developing a tool that allows women to be in the pilot’s rather than the passenger’s seat with respect to not only their bodies, but also their careers during this personally and professionally critical period. On the backend, the tool helps shoulder the immense analytical load pregnant women face to make the decision-making process more manageable.

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It considers selective, personal user data and a combination of relevant statistical data to help the user with augmenting her decision-making capacity during pregnancy and the postpartum period, specifically in the context of the workplace and her career advancement. So, ultimately, we’re talking about a tool that helps to maximize decision-making in a way that integrates personal and career realities and considerations. This is designed to reduce the unintended consequences associated with trying to randomly process information regarding one area of life without also thinking about and knowing its likely impact on the other.

OM: How and when can people utilize your software? Does it cost?

YJM: The product is projected to launch in early 2018, and it is expected to cost nothing to women, since the costs are anticipated to be incurred by employers.

OM: How does this software also help employers?

YJM: It also helps employers by introducing a tool for engaging employees throughout a personal-professional transition during which they are more likely than other times in their careers to strongly consider not only prematurely leaving the workplace, but also the workforce, compared to how long their careers typically would be if they did not have children.

Though the problem this product is working to address directly impacts professional women, for the reasons highlighted, it’s a problem that is also incredibly costly for employers. The turnover rate for professional women due to motherhood is approximately 30-43% and that figure is believed to be low when you look at particular fields. Consequently, unless a particular position is phased out by an employer, which in most cases is unlikely, the employer must expend significant financial and organizational resources to re-recruit, re-hire, and retrain new talent, annually costing millions of dollars in the aggregate for these companies. It bears mentioning that these outright costs don’t address the fact that women who leave the workforce, because of the often-cited perception of being unable to juggle the demands of their new family realities and careers, unintentionally take with them invaluable organizational wisdom that they’ve accumulated while in their jobs, leading to additional organizational losses since that wisdom must be regained, or attempted to be regained, and then communicated throughout organizations to be useful. Research has found that a proactive way of avoiding much of these employer-experienced losses is through more targeted engagement to strengthen employee-employer connections when they can be especially vulnerable to fraying.

OM: Besides money, are there any other benefits women get from using this software?

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YJM: Absolutely, yes. While loss of income and income potential are both legitimate pains on their own, underlying that material pain is also the legitimate psychological pain for users who have a feeling of helplessness, lack of direction, loss of autonomy and self-sufficiency, pretty much because although many women, particularly first-time mothers, have a sense of what likely will lie ahead with pregnancy and motherhood in the professional context, it’s all abstract, without much of anything to assist in really seeing what it all can likely entail in a concrete way for each individual’s particular set of circumstances. As a result, for users, the major driving force of the tool is not so much preservation of income or ability to stay on track to earning a certain amount in one’s position or career. Instead, it’s a feeling of empowerment, and going into what everyone knows can be such a difficult yet rewarding phase of life with more practical and therefore helpful knowledge and counsel to make the best decisions for yourself and your family in those critical initial months and year(s).

OM: You presented it at a conference in NYC can you tell me about that experience?

YJM: I did, and I sure can! I had the great privilege to speak at an event called Alterconf, which is a traveling conference series that “provides safe opportunities for marginalized people and those who support them in the tech and gaming industries… The conferences go beyond the limited definitions and basic discussions of diversity to create a deeper, more nuanced conversation. Each conference features a wide range of speakers delivering critical analyses of tech and gaming culture and presenting their vision for what our community can be.” I presented primarily on the extent of the problem and its implications for women and society and how technological innovation shouldn’t be limited to just commercially significant products, but that it should also be a means of addressing entrenched, pressing societal issues. There was someone who took issue with the focus of my presentation and, at least in the beginning of it, thought it was exclusionary because the implicit and, at times, explicit focus was on the physical and mental realities of pregnancy and the postpartum period for women in the context of the workplace, among related issues. The individual, who is a transgender woman, felt that it wasn’t inclusive of her experiences, as I understood her grievance, because there were a couple of instances when I used binary terms to make comparisons, so men and women rather than perhaps sex assigned at birth and gender identification in more direct ways. And you know what? I could and still do appreciate that grievance. I had actually revised my script several times leading up to the presentation to take out binary language as much as I could identify it to be as inclusive as possible, but there were still traces of such language because I am still learning. By the end of all of the presentations, however, the attendee commented that she had learned a lot from each one, so even though I didn’t speak with her afterward, my sense, or at least hope, is that she took away lessons regarding my particular lived experience, just as I have been increasingly able to do regarding her own.                                         

“I had my first child in 2013, which caused a few hiccups professionally for me, mainly dealing with time management in terms of being able to advance my business all while caring for a newborn.”

OM: Have you had personal experiences with the challenges posed by being a working mother? Can you tell us about them? How does this software help with that?

YJM: Yes. So, the idea for the product resulted from my own experiences though admittedly as a business owner and not an employee at first. However, also having been back in the workforce with children, I have experienced the issue from both sides and I intimately understand the constant decision-making processes a working mother goes through, sometimes on no sleep, lots of coffee, and plenty of stress, with the hope that she is making the best decisions based on a number of rational and intuitive factors. And while I am a big proponent of hope, I also very much appreciate having something a bit more proactive. In that vein, the product is aimed at providing just that type of assistance through a medium that, because it’s not artificial, doesn’t experience daily fatigue in the ways humans do; in ways which can often lead to less than desired outcomes, especially in the areas of life where you really want to maximize outcomes as much as possible and are strapped for the restorative rest that typically yields better decision making.

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OM: Where did you get the idea from?

YJM: I founded and ran a social science research and consulting business with steady growth from 2012 until mid-2015. I shuttered the business in late 2016, but most operations had already ceased by January of 2016.

During that four year period, I had my first child in 2013, which caused a few hiccups professionally for me, mainly dealing with time management in terms of being able to advance my business all while caring for a newborn. While I knew this was something that could happen, it was still something for which I was unacceptably and uncomfortably, in my opinion, under-prepared. Fast forward to 2015, when I had my second child, and almost immediately I was effectively incapacitated with severe Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. This was to the point that it affected me not only personally, but also professionally, mainly because I ran my own business. While I had independent contractors to whom I could sub-contract certain tasks or jobs, I was pretty much on the hook for everything, and when I couldn’t keep up professionally, I lost a couple of major clients. Fortunately, those losses were on respectable and mutual terms, because I had always had a reputation with them of doing great work, but at a certain point, something had to give and that was these couple of major accounts, which was a financial hit to my business and therefore to me personally too. In less than 3 months, I had lost more than 60% of my business’s previous year’s revenue due to my postpartum struggles. I had exhausted savings and for the most part, all of this was happening and I didn’t have the mental capacity to advocate for myself and let my family know until it blew up in my face in a couple of ways. As I mentioned, I ultimately shuttered my business, not so much because of the lost accounts, because I did get new ones, though not as lucrative, but because I mentally needed a break from working for myself, especially since the train had run off the rails because of my very much delayed PPD diagnosis. Through some great connections, a great opportunity, and good fortune, I returned to the workforce in early 2016.

But, going back, while I was “in the thick of it,” I could sense that what I had experienced was not how things should be. I can’t tell you why I felt that way, I just figured that, damn, we have probes in the outer reaches of galaxies, self-driving cars, and yet, there was nothing really available to help me avert my crises? No tool that could’ve helped me personally or professionally in this way? I couldn’t be the only one who’d ever gone through what I was dealing with, right? Of course not. And so, I became frustrated and then angry at the realization that for a number of women who become mothers, whether as employees or business owners, the transition from pregnancy to postpartum is a lot more complicated than it has to be and as a result, we, and our families, are vulnerable to some pretty rough unintended consequences stemming from not having a better concrete understanding and handle of what likely lies ahead of us and how we can best prepare for it. I knew that things for women could be and therefore should be a lot smoother, especially when it comes to preserving the gains we’ve worked so hard for in our careers before children come along, and it should be much smoother in terms of having a better understanding of what we can do to be better architects of our destinies. Once I got over my frustration and anger, I got focused, I got excited about the possibilities for possible solutions, and ultimately, I got to work on addressing something that I consider a very personal issue.

 

Learn more about Mattox and her work, by visiting Arkatecht’s website. 

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