Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
September 27, 2023
Jen Henderson | Tilt
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Jen Henderson and I’m the founder and CEO of Tilt, where we are working to revolutionize leave of absence for employers.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
The origin story of Tilt is not that unique, in that it was completely born out of my personal experience. I had 15 years in corporate America in a variety of operational roles. I loved everything about it. I was a self-described career woman through and through. In the early formative years of my professional career, I battled to get pregnant. My husband and I went through seven years of in vitro fertilization. That lack of control and frustration led me to focus on my career, which I very much could control. I doubled down on every stretch assignment, was promoted every two years, and everything like that. Then we got lucky, and I became pregnant. When I announced to my employer that I was finally expecting, overnight I stopped getting invitations to the table, so to speak. Nothing had changed other than the fact that I was now pregnant. That was my first lived experience that something was wrong. Honestly, I was just happy to be expecting so I turned the other cheek. Then five years later, at a different company at a different stage of my career, when I announced that I was expecting again, I had a promotion rescinded. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I jumped into this world of entrepreneurship trying to figure out a better way. That was six years ago and we’ve been on this mission ever since.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
We really believe that there is a need to bring the human back to leave of absence. When you look at why a leave of absence takes place, 99% of the time it’s because there’s a very emotionally-charged human life event. You’re welcoming a new life into this world, or you’re saying goodbye to one, or you’re having a medical leave. We feel the process that accompanies that life event is incredibly cold in the way a leave of absence is managed. It very often includes a 1-800 number or a perspective that employees should figure it out on their own. It’s a stressful experience that just exacerbates an already stressful life event. We think there’s a tremendous opportunity to do it differently.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
To date, we’ve supported more than 12,000 leaves of absence. The way we validate how it’s working is twofold. One is the stories. The stories are our lifeblood. Every time the company is together, we either invite or share a story of impact as to how Tilt made that leave of absence better. Those are the most personal and inspiring reasons to keep going that a founder could ever ask for.
On the quantitative side of things, as a former operator, we are incredibly intentional about drawing very direct lines to cost savings in a couple of different ways. One is for our HR business partners, who are the ones who have the brunt of this management without an external vendor. For each typical leave of absence, we are saving them about 25 administrative hours. On top of that, we’re able to draw very specific lines from where the purse strings are coming from. At any given time, a leave of absence can have input from a state leave program, a short-term disability benefit, or the company policy itself. Those three inputs in that one example are very dynamic. We’re able to show not only where the money should come from, but how much and how it changes, for instance when babies come early or late, or when other dynamic changes of belief take place.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I often say that I’m amazed at the founders out there who don’t have a visceral connection to the solution that they’re bringing into the world. I have a living, breathing reminder every day in my children looking at me, as to what I experienced. I have given myself a clock until they enter the workforce to make this better for them so that they don’t have to go through what I went through.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Here in the United States in particular, leave of absence is incredibly behind. My vision is that the United States catches up to the rest of the industrialized world as it relates to an individual having the financial ability to take a leave of absence. One of the statistics that boils my blood and keeps me going every day is that one in four women go back to work 10 days after giving birth because they financially can’t afford not to. In my opinion, that’s inhumane and for anyone who has gone through birth, that’s unfathomable. My vision is certainly multifaceted, but first and foremost, it’s that we create an equitable and accessible way for every single human (regardless of socioeconomic status) to have a healthy and respectful time away when leave happens.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
Speed. We just can’t move fast enough. We know the problem. We know the pull from the market is telling us that employers want our solution and they want it yesterday. Quite honestly we can’t move fast enough in terms of continuing to develop the technology to support all types of leave, in all types of companies, with the tremendous variability that comes with the leave of absence landscape. It’s a very unknown space with complexities. It’s shocking how many nuances and edge cases exist and go into a single leave of absence. I often draw a parallel to my original inspiration, which is TurboTax. Taxes similarly are incredibly complex and unique to individual circumstances. There are a tremendous number of corollaries that need to be navigated with a leave.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Leave of absence is doable for every single company, regardless of employee size. I can’t tell you how many times I speak to employers, particularly smaller companies who just don’t see the financial viability of offering leave of absence to their employees. From an FMLA lens, which is the job protection element of leave of absence, they’re not required to offer leave if they’re under 50 employees as it stands today. What we see is an incredible variation of what that means for employees at small organizations. Some have very generous programs, it’s more of a handshake agreement, and others have absolutely no leave. Small businesses are the largest employer base in the U.S. I really want to help employers see that it is financially doable and in their best interest, especially when you factor in talent retention and engagement. It’s not as much of a cost barrier as they might assume, especially in states that have paid leave programs.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“Keep getting up.” As an entrepreneur, the mantra that I continue to tell myself is, “Get up more times than you get knocked down, because it’ll happen over and over again.”
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Share our work and bring us to employers where we can help. We are not limited to any geographical region, any leave type, or any employer size or industry. We can literally help everyone. If you know someone who could benefit from Tilt, please introduce us.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We help purpose-driven organizations transform their random acts of PR into a strategic, consistent approach that generates greater awareness and impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to email@example.com.