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 have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
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