Health 01 May 2019
Women are a force in almost every industry. Working moms account for 47% of all workers and more notably, the fastest growing workforce segment includes women with children under the age of three. So, making sure that working moms understand their rights in the workplace is critical.
Many of you have probably seen recent lawsuits alleging that working moms are forced to pump in “deplorable" conditions. From police departments to fast food restaurants, the increase in working moms who are breastfeeding is forcing the conversation around how businesses can best support moms when they return to work; whether that be in a corporate setting or even in a male-dominated industry.
It's a conversation that is long overdue, and worth our attention. Many of the women who are now speaking up are either in the workplace, or planning to return to work after maternity leave, and are dealing with a lack of necessary support from managers and colleagues to successfully continue breastfeeding. Additionally, many companies may be unaware of the laws that protect moms, do not have clear company policies, or simply do not know how to start a dialogue with their lactating or expectant moms.
Recently, Aeroflow Breastpumps commissioned a third-party survey to see how expectant moms were feeling about returning to work. The results were surprising to some, but probably not to the moms who are living them every day:
- Over 75% of moms said they plan to return to work after having a baby
- 53% say that their place of employment either does not have a lactation room, has a room that is not adequate, or are not sure if a space exists
- Over 62% of expectant moms think there is a stigma attached to moms who breastfeed at work
- 49% are concerned that breastfeeding at work could impact their career growth
- 47% have considered a career change because of their need to breast pump at work
- And almost 35% have had a negative interaction with a co-worker because of breastfeeding/pumping
Break Time for Nursing Mothers
The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child whenever they need for one year after the child's birth. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The break time requirement became effective when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.
Additionally, eligible mothers are to be provided with at least twelve weeks of unpaid maternity leave with no repercussions. This is a substantial amount of time for mothers to heal and bond with their newborns, considering that it takes an average of six weeks to physically recover from giving birth.
Breastfeeding In The Blue Collar And Service Industries
There is a common misconception that these benefits and protections only apply to corporate environments, but moms in blue-collar and service industries deserve support as well, sometimes even more given the additional challenges.
Many moms in physically demanding positions struggle to find time to take breast pumping breaks during their shifts. During an eight-hour day, moms will need to pump two to three times, possibly more during longer shifts.
Waitresses are often too busy handling multiple tables to suddenly stop for a pumping break, and policewomen are often traveling in the field. These mothers are simply unaware of when and where they will be able to pump,partly due to the fact that many businesses still have not provided nursing mothers with an adequate lactation room. These factors can make it easy for mom to give up on her breastfeeding goals, but there are many ways employers can help.
Ways To Support Breastfeeding Moms
1. Start the conversation and have a clear policy in place. This sounds simple, but it's amazing how many companies do not take this simple first step. When managers lead by example and show the rest of their team that they support their moms, it will affect the entire company's perception and attitude.
2. Be informed. Take the time to educate yourself on the laws in place, how they apply to your company and why breastfeeding is good for moms, babies and employers.
3. Ask moms what they need to maintain a comfortable pumping schedule and work with them to accommodate these needs. Involve your team to help cover the workload during breaks. Moms don't need more than 20 minutes, and can help cover tasks when other employees are busy.
4. Create a space for them to breast pump. Find an unused office or room to easily convert, even on a construction site. Outfit it with a chair to relax in, a surface to place their breast pump and accessories, and a mini fridge for milk storage. An area with a water source nearby is best, for hand washing. If absolutely no space is available, consider other options, such as a popup tent.
5. If your working mom is out in the field, allow them to come back to the office or station to breast pump. You can also use the pumpspotting app to find lactation rooms conveniently located along their routes.
It's Time To Start Supporting Breastfeeding Moms
As businesses face a more competitive recruiting landscape, a family-centric and supportive plan will serve as an advantage to skilled job seekers, while engaging and retaining existing employees. Not only is it good for both mom and employer, it's also, in many instances, a mother's right to have these benefits.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.