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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki Crusades for Family Benefits

As a female CEO in the male-dominated tech industry, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki is unique. But she is also like all of us, scrambling to provide signatures for her kids’ homework and permission slips.

Wojcicki believes that a robust home life is critical to succeeding in the workplace. A vocal advocate for generous family benefits — paid maternity leave in particular — she wants all parents to have the ability to care for their kids while still being able to shine in the workplace.

“At YouTube, it’s been an opportunity for me to be able to help other women,” Wojcicki says. “I see the potential that women have. And I enjoy being a mentor, figuring the best way for them to balance work with family.”

Joining Google (now YouTube’s parent company) in 1999, Wojcicki helped institute the company’s family-friendly atmosphere, by blazing the trail: She was the first employee to go on maternity leave. Fast forward to 2015, and it’s a policy Wojcicki recently used for the fifth time at the company. In 2007, Google extended the time off for workers’ paid maternity leave from 12 to 18 weeks. Since then, the rate at which moms were leaving Google fell by 50%, according to the company.

Ian Allen for Variety

In a recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Wojcicki argues that corporate America can only improve if it supports extensive family benefits. As it stands now, just 5% of U.S. employers offer any form of paid maternity leave.

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When Google upped its leave policy in 2007, “Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs, feeling confident and ready,” Wojcicki wrote. “And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line — to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers.”

Wojcicki believes having kids bolstered her corporate performance. “Being a mother also gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently,” she says.

Her activism is inspiring other working women to fight for their families.

“When Susan talks, people listen,” says Jennifer Owens, editorial director at Working Mother magazine, adding that her presence in the tech field makes her an example in a growing sector of the economy. “Because she is wearing the mantle of being a working mom proudly, women are seeing opportunities to advance,” Owens notes.

Wojcicki encourages YouTube employees to follow her example by leaving work at a reasonable hour. She keeps to a strict routine of being home between 6 and 9 every night. “I’m very open with my team about the hours that I keep, so that enables other people on my team to do the same,” she says. “They feel it’s OK to also go home and have dinner with their families. And people are more likely to stay here at YouTube for the long term.”

“I see the potential that women have. And I enjoy being a mentor, figuring the best way for them to balance work with family.”

Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior VP of people operations, says Wojcicki’s championing of families is crucial to the company retaining executive talent.

“I love that she can be CEO, and still make it a priority to be home to eat dinner with her kids,” Bock says. “I don’t mean to say it’s easy, and I’m sure there’s never a perfect balance. And I know she’s got a great partner in her husband (Google exec Dennis Troper), who also has a demanding job. But the fact that they find a way to make it work so well is a great model for all of us.”

Wojcicki admits it can get a bit messy checking emails after her five children go to bed, or texting with her kids while at work. It’s better to keep work and family life separate for each to thrive, she says. “In the mornings, I’m focused on getting the kids off to school, which is a huge project in and of itself. They’ll need signatures for homework or a field-trip form. But as soon as they are gone, I get ready and go to work. And once I’m at work, I’m really able to focus on work.”

Overall, Google boasts a massive family benefits package, in which paid maternity leave is just one component. New parents can receive one-on-one mentoring with veteran Google parents, child care assistance at many company locations and $500 to ease into parenthood while working, among other perks.

Wojcicki also carves out time to serve as a board member for global literacy charity Room to Read. The organization serves as a link between Wojcicki’s work and personal life.

“This is a chance for people all over the world who otherwise do not have good access to education to be able to improve their literacy and empower themselves,” says the YouTube topper. “With Google, people are able to go online and learn new facts, new skills and hobbies, and see places they’ve never been before. And I see how empowering that is.”

Her favorite success story: a young girl from a disadvantaged village who realized her dream to become an engineer.

“Everyone in town looks up to her,” Wojcicki says. “Her family sees how significant it was for her to be an engineer. That brings together everything that I really care about — education, family, work and technology.”

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