When we talk about parental leave, often the conversation is limited to how many weeks a parent can take off. But Simmone Taitt, CEO of Poppy Seed Health sees family leave policies – including pregnancy loss and IVF – as an opportunity to inspire trust and safety in the workplace. Taitt talks with Katelin Holloway about how Poppy Seed enabled half the workplace to take family leave last year and why lived experiences are a competitive advantage at Poppy Seed.
Katelin: Hey, listeners. Katelin here. Just a heads up, this episode shares personal stories of pregnancy loss in the workplace. If you’re not in a headspace where you can hear those stories, but you’re still interested in the super important topic family leave policies, head to lattice [dot] com [slash] all hands where we have the full transcript of this episode… and every episode actually.
All right, onto the show.
Welcome to All Hands, a podcast brought to you by Lattice, where people success is business success. I’m your host Katelin Holloway.
As People Leaders, we have all heard the statistics around parents & caregivers in the workplace…
3.5 million mothers left the workforce since 2020 to shoulder the responsibility of childcare during the pandemic… Only 23 percent of workers in the United States had access to paid family leave last year… 25 percent of employees return to work just two week after having their baby… so they can continue getting a pay check to support their family.
But in this episode… We are sitting down with a company that is putting families first. At Poppy Seed Health, half of employees took parental or family leave in the past year.
“We want to be rewarding our team for the things that we see as impactful to the business and gives us a really great competitive advantage. It’s a competitive advantage for us that on our team, a quarter of the team have gone through IVF in the last year.”
Simmone Taitt is the CEO of Poppy Seed Health… a telehealth app that gives on-demand access to a network of doulas, midwives, and nurses – for pregnancy, postpartum, and pregnancy loss support. Simmone created this app after her own experiences with miscarriage and mental health.
Simmone, welcome to All Hands.
Simmone: Thanks for having me Katelin, I am so excited to be here.
Katelin: You and I have a very special story. You and Poppy Seed both hold a very, very special place in my heart and in my portfolios. And there’s a cute story there. Would you like to share with our audience, as you call our meet, cute story.
Simmone: I love our meet cute story. So I was looking for my next adventure in my career. I somehow got my hands on this invitation to this pretty intimate event. like 300 people there with very fancy and delicious hors d’oeuvres and open bar And I’m by myself. And I show up to this event thinking that it was for salespeople and sales leaders while I’m introducing myself to folks everyone that I met was, oh, I’m the chief people officer here, the VP of people here.
And I picked up very quickly that it was not an event that I was supposed to be at, but actually totally because of the universe supposed to be there, because that’s the night that we met. And so there was this panel and you were on this panel and you were very pregnant with your first.
Katelin: I wondered if you remembered that part.
Simmone: Of course. I was lucky enough to ask the last question in the audience and I directed it toward you. and right after the panel was over, you and your baby bump bee lined it over to me. And you said to me something like, “Hi, I’m Katelin, what’s your name? I think you’re a woman that I need to know.” And that was the beginning.
Katelin: It’s so true. I remember that evening very vividly. That’s exactly how I remember it too. And I’m a big, big believer in all things that are kismet. That’s the beginning to a very, very beautiful relationship that we built and nurtured cross country. And so flash forward and I remember I was on another work trip Simmone had texted and said like, “Hey, I want to run something by you.”
And uh I remember getting into San Francisco Airport being on the phone, standing in front of TSA. And what you wanted to run by me was this idea for Poppy Seed Health. And at that point it was such a young little baby, dare I say, a little Poppy seed-
Simmone: It was.
Katelin: … size idea.
Simmone: That’s right.
Katelin: And you had asked me, you said, “What do you think about this? What do you think about having access to doulas, nurses, midwives any time of day in your pocket, in your phone?”
And I nearly lost myself. Just the pit in my stomach remembering the experience that I had pre-birth was one of sheer panic I have two children 90% of those questions during pregnancy are deeply personal. And so the idea of having access to someone who actually was an expert, not just doctor Google, was fascinating to me.
And so I stood on the other side of the TSA line to the point where I almost missed my flight, because we just kept talking and talking and talking.
And you asked me, you said, “Would you be interested in angel investing?” I was like, “This is it. This is going to be my first angel check.”
Poppy Seed was my very first angel investment. And more importantly, it was my first angel investment with my mother. And this was an investment that was very important for us to make together.
Then flash forward, we start 776, the venture firm that I am a founding partner at now. And it was my first institutional check.
Simmone: I love this. And by the way, I’m so proud every single time I explain to folks how intentional I was about putting together our investors be on this journey with us in the cap table. And I lead with, we have a mother daughter team on my cap table, and that is so important. Goodness, generational parents, generational moms like that, that’s very important for us.
Katelin: And that’s a great segue actually into not only who you are as a founder and a leader, but really there are so many decisions that I’ve watched you make over the years.
And so whether it’s decision making through fundraising or decision making through policy and how you are building your company culture, that’s the stuff I’d love to get into and talk about a little bit more with you today. Are you ready? Are you down?
Simmone: I’m so down for this. And I definitely want to start with the people part, because you have been so close to Poppy since day one, but Poppy is really made up of people. And I’ve always said that we’re very much leveraging the power of technology to bring people together.
I can talk about my own personal experience that led me to Poppy Seed Health, which is deeply personal and starts with me at the center of it. But it is also a topic that’s really tough for people to discuss, and that is pregnancy loss. So trigger warning.
But the real story behind Poppy is that I, after experiencing my first pregnancy loss in 2016. It was the first appointment in, 8:30 in the morning. And I walked in happy and pregnant, and I walked out after a 20 minute, very isolating interaction with one of the top OB-GYNs in New York city. I walked out of that appointment with no medical, emotional or mental health support.
I walked out of that appointment into the streets of New York, with three things on my mind. The first thing, and I’m not ashamed to say this now, but I was for a very long time, was considering whether or not to go into the office.
The second thing was, I think the doctor is wrong because I literally got no information.
And then the third thing was, where can I find information to help me? What is my body going to be doing? Where can I figure out what is going to either get me through the workday, or if I need to call in sick and that I’m doing the calculations in my head about the sick days that I have left.
So fast forward from 2016 into actually starting Poppy Seed Health, I knew that there were two very big things that were missing in maternal healthcare. One was just accessibility to emotion and mental health support providers.
And even beyond providers our doctors and our midwives, our medical providers, it’s the other side that’s supplemental that doesn’t exist.
The doulas, midwives and nurses that we have at Poppy Seed Health they are all over the country. And these are people who have been trained in emotional support. The point of my story was that every single possible thing with Poppy Seed Health was very, and has been very clear through my own lens. And I am one of many, many millions. And so from the operating team at Poppy Seed Health, which is so important in building into the DNA of Poppy, both lived experiences with a amazing team of builders who are also themselves parents.
Have experienced loss, or going through IVF, trying to afford IVF, trying to figure out healthcare, trying to figure out who, and if a partner, who and if they want a partner to procreate with, right?
Understands what access actually means. Lived experiences are a part of who we are at work. They’re a part of who we are at home. They’re a part of who we are when we’re riding the bus, we are who we are. And I think that’s so important to the DNA of Poppy Leveraging technology would close these enormous gaps in maternal healthcare for everyone, not just for the one percent. And so um that is very core to Poppy Seed Health and people make it all happen.
Katelin: And I’m nodding along here as you’re telling your tales. And I just want to highlight the fact that an important stat is one in four women will experience loss in pregnancy on their journeys.
And I know that you and I, we bonded over this several times in many different ways, experiencing loss, especially at the height of your career or in those early building days of your career can be very devastating.
I myself, I’ve talked very openly about my pregnancy loss over the years. And I mean, I said it earlier, I have two little kids. So spoiler alert, it worked out okay for me, but not after a lot of heartache and a lot of challenges.
And similar to you, I took my experience and knowing, unfortunately after you experience trauma and you go through something. And as you start, if you can ever find the courage to share with anyone around you, especially in the workplace, telling a manager that you were pregnant and now you’re not.
Telling a manager that you’re thinking about expanding your family one day, and you want to do IVF. Those things are petrifying, especially as a female in the workplace. And so something that I appreciate so very much about you and something I’ve tried to do in my life and in the organizations that I work with is to create safety around that, create the space that will allow for people to guess what? Have a life, live a life, dream, think about their future set and future state in a way, in a space where even on the failure of one bad manager or a bad actor in your workplace, that there is a minimum of policy as a back net to say, we’ve got you.
Simmone: That’s right.
Katelin: Creating a safe work environment, emotionally, psychologically, and practically giving space for people to take care of the things that they need to take care of. It’s critical.
I want to bust a myth. So there is a misnomer out there that small young companies early in their life cycles cannot successfully have a parental leave program. Because you are small, there is a few people, literally every minute, every set of hands counts towards either success or a company folding.
And so, so many young companies will come to me and say, “I would love to do the things that you talk about around parental inclusion, including a parental leave policy. We’re too small. We can’t afford it.”
And we are here. I’m linking arms with you virtually here. We are here to say, that’s BS.
Simmone: Total BS.
Katelin: Over half your staff, or at least half your staff have taken paid family leaves this past year. So first of all, congratulations, that is a massive achievement. And then thank you. Talk to me about this.
Simmone: So I’ve always said I have one good idea and that good idea is Poppy Seed Health. The fact that I have, I went from back of the napkin in my brain idea. And we are where we are now with a fully launched telehealth and tech company with three products on the market, with, I would say with strong bias, one of the fastest growing emotional and mental health support destinations for all birthing people.
One of the things that I knew was that this was my blank slate moment to do all of the things I wish that I had. And in addition to that, to everyone who’s at Poppy right now on the operating team, what they wish they had. And it was not easy work. There were some things out, that I could tell you that we did not want, like a pony keg. Nobody wants a pony keg at a stage in our lives.
Katelin: No, hard pass.
Simmone: Hard pass. That was not important to us. But what we did discover and what I discovered by simply asking the question was this.
Workplace culture is built on penalties for the majority of people. Which means if you show up to work late, you’re penalized. If you’re away you from your desk for too long, you’re penalized. If you have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day with your kid, you’re penalized.
If you’re in a cranky mood, because you’re going through IVF, you’re penalized. And at Poppy Seed Health, we want to be rewarding people, right?
We want to be rewarding our team for the things that we see as impactful to the business and gives us a really great competitive advantage. It’s a competitive advantage for us that on our team, a quarter of the team have gone through IVF in the last year.
Most of us were very privileged to be able to even afford that. And some of us really had to figure out how to afford it, and we’re a small team, but the way that we showed up for each other and the way that Poppy Seed Health shows up is that you get your days to rest and recuperate from IVF, the same way that you get your days to rest and recuperate if you have a teething newborn, which we have on our team currently.
And I know the productivity level of that person is going to be really tough because, for everyone out there, if you’ve ever been through teething and sleep regression at the same time, you are a zombie walking around, that’s barely getting-
Katelin: I was going to use the same word.
Simmone: … any food, sleep, comfort, care, it doesn’t matter. It’s very hard to show up for yourself. And then to do that for an entire team is tough. But more specifically at Poppy Seed Health, I’m really proud of our parental leave. And what that actually means. We give a full three month fully paid parental leave at Poppy.
There is an option to also ramp back in on that fourth month, which means that in the fourth month, the thing that you’re doing is you’re deciding whether or not you want to come back 25% of the time, 50% of the time or 75% of the time, never a hundred percent of the time, because I know just like everyone else that trying to jump right in without a ramp period, doesn’t work for anyone ever.
In addition to that, if you want to take more time beyond the four months, you certainly can. Here’s an interesting stat I think is really important for folks to hear. And that is when, at our size, back filling is really important, right?
And so the thing that we’ve done is when someone gets pregnant and this, we are also very lucky because this is the culture that we’ve built. I’ve known all of the pregnancies on our team less than eight weeks pregnant.
Katelin: That’s amazing.
Simmone: That’s amazing.
Katelin: The doctor won’t even see you before eight weeks. To give you a test.
Simmone: Exactly right. That’s exactly right. So I’ve known for a few of our team members. I was their second or third call that they made after peeing on their pregnancy stick. And that is because we’ve created this very safe and trusted culture that we are celebrating and rewarding sharing early so that we can actually plan for the rest of the team and the time in which that person will be with us.
If every small team could even think about that has huge impact for your company, because you can plan. And if it’s the one thing that we need to do at this stage is plan, right?
So that’s a parental leave. That’s the transition back. And for each person that plans on going on parental leave, we always find someone who is actually not quite their level in experience, but someone that they would like to potentially work with when they come back.
So during that ramp period, they have this freelancer or contractor, I mean, spoiler alert, we’ve actually now brought on full time two of those people from going through that experience. And so you get this buddy system that’s also built in. I mean, spoiler alert, we’ve actually now brought on full time two of those people from going through that experience
And safety Katelin is so important. But so is trust. You need to trust that when you start a family, someone isn’t eyeing your position or you think you’re going to become less of a team member because of it.
So that’s the trust part, but the safety is that I can share something that’s deeply emotional and traumatic potentially, and that my employer actually has the things in place to help us.
And so one of the things that we did at Poppy very early on is we decided to create these guides for loss and grief support, so that employees could have these conversations with their employer so that they could actually provide some context and information to their employer. in New Zealand, right? It was very public that from a federal level, from a government level in New Zealand, companies would have to give loss leave, which means not just pregnancy loss, but infant loss and which is different than bereavement loss. It’s very, very different. Because when we surveyed, it was the number one thing we got back, which is, I don’t know how to have this conversation with my employer.
And the truth is all of us have been culturally trained to not be able to support someone going through loss and grief. It’s very awkward for people. They don’t know what say. 80% of all losses happen during that first trimester. So 12 weeks or before. And so you never knew that they were pregnant in the first place, and now they’re going through a loss and you don’t have things set up to be able to support them.
And so our doulas, midwives and nurses at Poppy, they are fully trained in loss and grief support and in holding that space, that what can be that really ugly space for people. And that’s really important for us at Poppy as an operating team, because I’ve actually gone through a couple more losses since I’ve started Poppy Seed Health and created Poppy Seed Health, really for myself as a safe and trusted space and destination to go to. And I know so many of us need that.
Katelin: There are so many things that I want to highlight and address in all that you just said, because I don’t want our listeners to gloss over any of it, that was riddled with actionable learnings that they can take to their organization, which is something that’s really important to us here on the All Hands podcast.
Let’s talk about loss and grief quickly. I want to address a few things that you talked about. First one is the loss of pregnancy, both on your platform, which knowing the stat that we know around pregnancy loss, especially before that 12 week mark, it is so critical for us to think about the entire fertility journey and expanding your family journey because most policies are set for the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one.
And those are the only two policies that exist in most employee handbooks. And that’s garbage. Because there’s so much life that happens not only in between those events, but before and after those events.
And yes, not every person in your organization is going to take advantage of either one of those policies, but you point out something that is so critical, which is not just having a policy in place, but understanding that that policy again, is there is a fact stop for when those conversations or those places of safety and trust maybe were not previously established.
I’m going to speak explicitly about, about a woman in an organization. A woman would not want to come to her manager to her boss to explain, by the way, I’m going to start trying to have a baby now, or by the way I started, I didn’t tell you and guess what, it’s not working.
That’s like, those alone, just the impact and implications to your career growth and trajectory, the inclusion that you may or may not have privilege or access to anymore after sharing those words, et cetera, et cetera.
I speak from a deeply personal place. Having been someone who lost a child, at work, physically at work, physically at work, the bleeding began to happen. And I was so lucky to have a boss that despite him being a single male, who didn’t have a family, was able to show up for me in the right way.
And so ever since then I took that experience and I translated that to a policy. And to take it a step further, once that policy is in place this is not just, and you said it best, loss of pregnancy leave is not the same as bereavement leave.
And one very important distinction there is that it’s not just emotional. It is physical. It is a hormonal gosh, darn nightmare, said for myself. It is one of the most intense physical experiences I think people will experience outside of dire illness, et cetera. But this is not just an emotional experience. So have a policy in place. This is the takeaway. This is the lesson.
Simmone: That’s exactly right.
Katelin: Supporting your people, right? The other thing I want to highlight about what you said around how you support.
So let’s take it into the positive. When somebody is able to give birth. How you really set people up for success matters. And so I think a lot of companies are in this race for time. How much time can we give off?
I love about what you built at Poppy Seed is that you have been so thoughtful about yes, time, time matters. It’s not nothing but really it’s all of that backend work that I think is so important.
You talked about creating these programs that not just start again before the childbirth experience and after where you’re having these off boarding and onboarding these ramp cycles on both sides that are not just the responsibility of the birthing parent, but the responsibility of the organization.
So you’re bringing this in, you’re using it as a tool to not just support an employee who’s experiencing a major life milestone, you’re also using it as an opportunity to grow and develop your team. How beautiful is that? I love this.
Simmone: Yes, no, totally. And growing and developing the team means better support for everyone. It means that there is a safety net in a way for our full-time employee, right? To be able to turn completely off during that very critical parental leave time, which is no vacation y’all. That is not the time where folks are drinking pina coladas and eating sushi for the first time in 10 months.
Katelin: Oh, I wish.
Simmone: In addition to that, Katelin, I want to tack on here what the modern family looks like and actually what the everyday person looks like in their own family planning and their own journey. And that is, we have a vast majority of this country that gives birth on Medicaid.
50% of everyone who gives birth in the US are on Medicaid, which means that they don’t have the same access to the same equitable care as most people, that it does not presuppose that they are also hourly workers, but there is almost 50% of births in the US.
Those folks identify making an hourly rate wage. And they’re covered by FMLA for only four to six weeks in some states, eight weeks if you have a cesarean, which is major surgery.
And so when we think about the multitude of the modern family, where people are when they’re giving birth, maternal care deserts, more than seven million birthing people live 90 miles or more from their closest OB-GYN, midwife-
Katelin: That’s insane.
Simmone: … birthing center hospital. So when we think about creating policies and access and plans, I want us to challenge ourselves continually about what it means to start a family in the US now especially, and what it means for the individual and the entire family unit.
By the way, everything that you said, especially for the person who is carrying, but equal rights for the non gestational carrier, equal rights for the partner. We talked a lot about loss.
I will tell you that to your point there is so much physical trauma that’s happening with your body and the choices that you may or may not be able to make for yourself. And the medical side of things, of course, the emotional, mental health support, this is not like, you don’t just snap your fingers and it all goes away, right? Grief can hit you anywhere that you are.
And a partner’s experience is equally as important and their support is equally as important for their own health outcomes, the birthing person’s health outcomes. So their partner and the entire family. And so if we are not thinking about the entire family in the workplace, then we’re not thinking at all, it’s no longer just about the person that works for you. That person has a family, and that’s who we’re responsible for.
Katelin: Oh, I love that so much.
Simmone: When I think about modern families and how we as employers and leaders and colleagues and teammates need to be thinking about supporting the whole family, not just the individual, it is equally important to think about the lived experience of the individual.
So I am a half black, half Indian woman, and I have different lived experiences. Whether or not I like it or not, there are deep racial biases that happen in healthcare that affect me, that are completely out of my control.
And so we do know statistically that folks who look just like me have a higher rate of unplanned cesareans in our country, that is major surgery. For a lot of people, you can’t even hold your baby for a few days. You are healing. You need support. You need help. You need your entire friends and family network to really hold you up during the time that you’re healing.
But there may be a reason I had that unplanned cesarean that was completely out of my control, right? And we have to think about meeting people where they are and with the kind of support that they need.
We stand really boldly at Poppy Seed Health in the fact that our advocate now work so those doulas nurses and midwives in which we have hundreds across the country now, which is so incredible in just this past year, but they are reflective of the people that we are supporting.
It’s just as equally important to be able to support folks whether they are BiPOC or they’re queer, or they have some sort of very individual lived experience for us to be able to meet them there.
And I do very much commend all of the employees that are no longer sitting back and just accepting the very traditional, very square, super heavy policy driven that not everyone can understand HR policies there’s a rising voice.
And it’s a tsunami of individuals who are coming together, right? Who are very much making sure that things are getting better in the workplace. And it’s so important for all of us to be listening to what is actually happening right under our noses and not just be creating policies for policy sake, but to focus on lived experiences as well.
Katelin: I’m so glad that you brought all of that up. And the thing that I want to point out for our audience is, as you are writing policy, do not write it to tick a box. What the policy is designed to do, we like rules for the many, not for the few.
So make sure that you really are understanding the problem you’re trying to solve, and run it through that inclusion filter. If it is not applicable to the community that exists, not only in your organization, but the community at large, you are not writing the right policy. Policy is there to enable and to support, not to block or stop
… are you ready for rapid fire?
Simmone: I’m ready.
Katelin: What item sitting in front of you right now sparks joy and why?
Simmone: My Do-si-Dos Girl Scout cookies. The last two that are on my desk from my annual Girl Scout cookie order that I have to do for, all my friends girls, their daughters
Katelin: Next question. Favorite productivity hack.
Simmone: So I wake up extremely early in the morning-
Simmone: … because it’s so gross. It really is. So I’m up usually somewhere between 5:40 and 5:45-
Simmone: .. which took me a while to get to, this is like a getting older thing. And it is in those wee hour mornings that I’m the most creative, which is my productivity hack. It’s when I have the most clarity and where everything is calm and silent and all me and my thoughts.
Katelin: I love that. Let’s see. What is one skill that all great people leaders have?
Katelin: So fast and so good. Look at you. I love it. Last question. Very last question of the day. When was the last time you were deeply proud of something you’ve accomplished?
Simmone: Wow. So the thing that I’m really proud of, the most recent thing is that I have no green thumb at all, but about two years ago, I brought an orchid home
And it was January and by March it had lost its last blossom. And like clockwork, I was going to throw this orchid away because all it was leaves and a bunch of air roots.
And I left for two weeks, came back and the darn thing had a stem poking out of it. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve named her Tilly.
Katelin: I know.
Simmone: It took my orchid nearly two years to re-bloom eight beautiful flowers. I’m proud that I have a great metaphor in life now, which is some years are root years and some years are growth years, and both years matter.
Katelin: Way to bring it home. I love it. I love it.
That’s my philosophy. Love what you love and love it harder than you think is physically possible. And you love Tilly, and I love that you love Tilly.
Simmone: That’s right. I do love Tilly, I do.
Katelin: It’s a beautiful thing.
Simmone: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
Katelin: Simmone, I cannot thank you enough for joining us on the show today. I enjoy every single second we get to spend together. So I just want to end and wrap this up by saying thank you so very much for the work that you are doing, the product you’re putting into this world on behalf of people everywhere. Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing and please, please, please, keep leading authentically.
Simmone: Katelin this was so much fun talking about all of my favorite things. Thanks so much for having me.
Thanks so much for joining me on this week’s episode of All Hands, brought to you by Lattice. I’m your host, Katelin Holloway.
Join us next time on All Hands when I talk employee wellness, mental health and taking care of your people team with Head of People, Scott Domann, at Calm.
“It’s truly like people teams give so much of themselves that then you realize that your tank is empty. I encourage everyone, take a beat, form your community within the people leader or HR leader community, to make sure that you have someone that you can just take a deep breath with and say, gosh, today I’m actually not okay.”
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