HOW TO: Create a Breastfeeding-Friendly Culture
We know many HR leaders are searching for things they can do to help nudge their company culture in a positive direction for new parents and breastfeeding employees, and we’re here to help! Shaping a culture that supports employees who are new parents and those who may be pumping during the workday is an important step in ensuring an inclusive work environment. Culture is manifested through a set of shared ideas, customs, and norms for how to act and react in a group. In a workplace culture, it often requires intentional effort and investment to establish appropriate norms for supporting the unique needs of new, breastfeeding parents.
First and foremost, it is important to write and publicize policies that specifically address the company’s position and related processes that govern the rights and treatment of breastfeeding employees. Specifically, this means maintaining a current Lactation Accommodation Policy that describes where and how employees can express breast milk during the workday, and reflects your compliance with applicable federal, state and local regulations. Additionally, policies that address parental leave, flexible scheduling, and paid sick leave should also be written and communicated. We recommend you incorporate these policy documents into your standard communications for employees who are expecting or new parents.
Once your policies are written, it is time to communicate them. We firmly believe communication from top leadership is key to creating culture change, as it provides all employees a shared understanding on where the company stands – and it ensures consistency across geographies and departmental functions. If you are among the many employers-of-choice focused on creating breastfeeding-friendly environments for your employees, you’ll definitely want to make sure you are communicating your efforts effectively. Supporting your working parents is something to be very proud of!
When it comes to communication, be sure to share announcements about policy additions or changes that might impact new parents. You can do this through any standard digital communication tools, such as HR emails, employee newsletters, display boards in the workplace and on your intranet. Additionally, you can communicate your core values – such as establishing “This is a Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace” – through posters or other appropriate signage in shared public spaces, such as break rooms, cafeterias, coffee stations, or other rest areas around the building.
In addition to your communication activities, other steps to create a more breastfeeding- and family-friendly work culture may include facilitating employee groups or programs for new parents. These kind of interpersonal options are a great way to engage the workforce, help establish good networking in your company, and give employees who are excited about these topics a way to engage and help expand your efforts!
Employee Resource Groups are a great place to start. For many new parents, having access to other parents in the workplace can be a great source of advice and insight. It’s also a good way for employers to spread the word about their commitment to creating family-friendly environments, and provides an organized place for employees to seek out information. Remember, it’s a good idea to recruit both men and women to new parent groups, and always designate someone from HR to show support from the top of the organization.
You may also want to consider setting up “New Mom Mentorship” programs. You likely have informal mentorship happening today between expecting employees and their colleagues with children – but the experience is likely inconsistent across locations and work groups. By establishing a formal program, you can invite mothers who have successfully navigated returning to work after a baby to mentor an employee who is currently pregnant. This is a great option to ensure newly expecting moms get the “inside scoop” on the unique elements of returning to work at your company – from a tour of the lactation space, to guidance on where to find policy information – a mom who has recently been through it herself is often the very best resource to rely on.
Finally, ensure that your company is compliant with all the legal requirements and protections for employees who may be breastfeeding. You’ll want to check the state and local laws wherever you have employees, as they can differ significantly and may be more stringent than the federal regulations. At a minimum, you must ensure employees have access to a private place to pump with a locking door (never a bathroom!), and that time is granted for pumping breaks during an employee’s workday. And you can always do more to recognize and support the needs of your pumping employees, from providing pumps and supplies in the workplace to offering lactation consultant services.
If you are just getting started on exploring how your company is doing when it comes to breastfeeding support, we recommend you visit our Resource Center and download our Corporate Self-Evaluation Checklist. A robust and intentional effort to make your work culture breastfeeding-friendly will serve you well in demonstrating your commitment to helping families succeed, and furthering your reputation as an employer-of-choice.