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.
4 Min Read
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.