Updated: Mar 8
The Workplace Will Never Be the Same -- and it Shouldn't: Let's Build it with Mothers in Mind
From corporate boardrooms to Capitol Hill, women are gaining seats in powerful places, and we’re hopeful about how this growing gender diversity in leadership will change the future of our economy. Research shows that diverse organizations outperform those that aren't in ways that range from financial performance to employee engagement. Unfortunately, we’ve also witnessed a huge and sudden attrition of women from the workforce. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, women made up nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce, but over the last year, 2.2 million women have left or were forced out. Balancing work and new motherhood today is stressful, unsustainable, and for those who have a choice of whether or not to work, perhaps not worth it. As our country and economy look to grow and move forward, we must address how we bring women back to work. How do we account for the career consequences that result from time away? How do we support single mothers and those who are the primary breadwinners for their families? How will issues working mothers face today impact the next generation? The last year has shown that we are capable of making big changes. That we, as people and as leaders, are nimble and creative and flexible. That these qualities aren’t at odds with achieving business success—they’re essential.
Now we have an opportunity to change the workplace forever—and, as organizational leaders, we have a responsibility to do so. For the health of our country, business leaders must take a stand in supporting women at a critical crossroad in their personal and professional lives: the transition to motherhood. It isn’t hard. Start with this simple checklist:
Provide paid parental leave. Every new mother must have time to recover from birth, to bond with her baby and establish breastfeeding without facing a loss of wages. The United States remains the only developed nation in the world that does not offer federal paid leave, leaving this responsibility to employers. Own this responsibility, if not because it’s the right thing to do (it is), then for the sake of your business. Paid leave doesn’t just improve infant and maternal health outcomes; it bolsters economic impacts. It contributes to talent retention. Consider this: 43 percent of mothers leave within three months of childbirth. And according to SHRM it can cost up to 200% of an employee’s salary to replace them, not to mention the cultural cost of losing female talent. Extend paid leave to fathers, too, establishing from the outset that caring for children is not just “women’s work.”
Establish lactation policies and benefits. More than $17B would be saved in the US each year if 90% of women breastfed for 6 months; yet only 1 in 4 mothers make it to this milestone. Every company must have a dedicated lactation space, a clearly defined lactation policy, and other benefits that help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. This requires ensuring your insurance plan coverage offers adequate reimbursement for a high quality breast pump that allows moms to initiate, build and maintain their milk supply when they are absent from their child. Though hourly breastfeeding employees have some protection under the 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, many women still do not have access to adequate lactation spaces, or time to use them, while at work. Employee benefits should fully cover the cost of lactation consulting for breastfeeding mothers, as well as milk shipping if an employee is required to travel for their job.
Create an inclusive work environment. Creating an inclusive culture starts at the top. All business leaders must model inclusive behaviors. Train all managers on lactation policies and resources so they are able to support newly-returned team members. Don’t just offer inclusive benefits, talk about them—a lot. Establish employee resource groups to support working parents. Employers who acknowledge, embrace, and celebrate life beyond work reap the benefits of an engaged and loyal talent pool.
Offering paid parental leave, providing lactation support, and establishing a company culture that’s inclusive to breastfeeding employees isn’t hard. It’s essential to establishing a healthy U.S. economy. By doing so, you not only provide logistical support to employees at a time they’re most vulnerable to leaving, you signal that mothers are a valued part of the workforce. You retain employees, you attract talent, and you expand and diversify your leadership pipeline - and your business will thrive as a result.
It is time for leaders in positions of power and influence to stand up for the future of motherhood. After all, without mothers, there is no future.
About the Authors:
Melissa Gonzales, RN, serves as the executive vice president for Medela Americas, the most trusted breast pump brand.*
Sascha Mayer is the CEO and co-founder of Mamava, the creator of freestanding lactation pods and an app that helps breastfeeding moms find lactation spaces wherever they go.
Kate Torgersen is the founder and CEO of Milk Stork, the first-ever breast milk shipping company for business traveling, breastfeeding moms.
1 Hunt, V., Layton, D., & Prince, S. (2020, February 14). Why diversity matters. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters
2 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020 https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat09.htm
3 National Women’s Law Center, November 2020 https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/October-Jobs-Day.pdf
4 Pl+us. (n.d.). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://paidleave.us/
5 Berry, et al. CDC. Becker’s, Harvard
6 Bartick, M., Schwarz, E., Green, B., Jegier, B., Reinhold, A., Colaizy, T., . . . Stuebe, A. (2016, September 19). Suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: Maternal and pediatric health outcomes and costs. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/mcn.12366
7 Results: Breastfeeding rates. (2020, December 10). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/nis_data/results.html
*Voted most trusted breast pump brand by United States and Canadian shoppers based on the 2020 BrandSpark® American and Canadian Trust Studies