Inclusivity is an important goal for HR experts in today's workplace. The traditional assumption that white able-bodied men are the "norm" for employees will (hopefully) soon be a relic of a bygone era. Yet too many workplaces are still not supporting breastfeeding women when they go back to work. And now that women make up more than 50% of the workforce, it's time to make room for them.
The health benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mama are clear, so breastfeeding women are following the recommendations put forth by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.
The challenge facing moms is that in order to bring breast milk home for their babies, they need to express breast milk at work. And too many workplaces are falling down on the job when it comes to making sure mamas have reliable (and schedule-able) access to clean and private pumping places. So if your objective is to create a work environment and culture that is truly inclusive, here are four things to consider:
1) Do the right thing and don't wait for moms to ask.
Breastfeeding employees shouldn't have to ask for appropriate accommodations to pump breastmilk because that's not their job; it's the employer's job to provide a space suitable for their needs. Requesting appropriate accommodations from a male superior or in a male-dominated workplace can not only be uncomfortable, but also intimidating given power relations, status, and hierarchy.
2) Send the right message.
If your workplace doesn't provide breastfeeding employees with a clean, secure, and private place to pump that's available when moms need it (moms need to pump multiple times a day) you're actually sending the wrong messages because you're sending these messages:
- I take care of my personal needs and everybody is just like me.
- Breastfeeding moms can wait until they get home.
- Pumping breast milk in a bathroom or empty conference room is totally acceptable.
- If breastfeeding employees really need a space they need to ask for it and justify their requests.
Regardless of your company's best intentions, messages like these are at odds with inclusivity because an inclusive workplace values and provides equal opportunity to all employees. Period.
3) Acknowledge that not all moms work white collar jobs.
Some breastfeeding moms are fortunate enough to have private offices or can work from home, but the majority of women work in places without access to a space of their own: stores, cubicles, schools, factories, airports, hospitals, restaurants, distribution centers, and the list goes on. All mamas have the right to breastfeed, so all mamas deserve a dedicated space to pump milk.
4) Dedicate space for pumping breast milk.
Breastfeeding employees need a clean and private space where they can sit down, plug in, and pump in a comfortable environment. The space needs to be easily accessible to save moms time, but it also needs to be a space they can rely on to be available when they need it. No mom should ever be in the situation where she's pumping in an empty conference room...until everyone shows up for a meeting.
And now that millennial moms account for more than 80% of births in the U.S., you'll also need to consider accommodations that support all your employees who are currently breastfeeding, as well as those who will be in the near future.