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.
13 AugustFresh Voices
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.