Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Mother-Friendly Workplace

As part of my study for postpartum doula certification, I'm reading Sally Placksin's Mothering the New Mother: Women's Feelings & Needs After Childbirth, A Support & Resource Guide. While it is not written in language inclusive of gestational/birth parents who do not identify as mothers or women, it contains some important concepts I'd like to share here. In her book, Placksin cites Ontario-based anthropologist Penny Van Esterik and the Women, Work, and Breastfeeding: The Mother-Friendly Workplace Initiative Action Folder of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (1993).  In Placksin's words,
The piece calls for a redefinition of the way in which work is traditionally viewed -- that is, from the male perspective.  "Can we create a woman-centered approach to work," [Van Esterik] asks, "that values women's productive and reproductive work, and reduces the double burdens women carry?" Such an approach would acknowledge pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childcare as socially meaningful and productive work, and recognize the social support necessary for optimal breastfeeding.  Men share the responsibility for providing this support in the home and the workplace."
The folder also provides suggestions on how to create a mother-friendly workplace:

1. Provide at least four months paid maternity leave (with an ideal of six months) that begins after the baby is born.  Offer other options such as longer maternity leave with partial pay.
2. Offer flexible work hours to breastfeeding women such as part time schedules, longer lunch breaks, and job sharing.
3. Provide breastfeeding breaks of at least an hour a day.

1. Support infant and childcare at or near the workplace, and provide transportation for mothers to join their babies. For rural work sites and seasonal work, use mobile childcare units.
2. Provide comfortable, private facilities for expressing and storing breast milk.
3. Keep the work environment clean and safe from hazardous wastes and chemicals.

1. Inform women workers and unions about maternity benefits and provide information to support women's health.
2. Ensure that mothers have full job security.
3. Encourage coworkers and management to have a positive attitude toward breastfeeding in public.
4. Encourage a network of supportive women in unions or workers' groups who can help women to combine breastfeeding and work.
I want to stress that this ideal is not about "special treatment" for mothers of the kind that would be unfair to employees without children. After all, it seems silly and obvious, but we were all children once.  Children's rights and family rights are human rights.  No one has to have or want to have a child, but no adult gets to avoid being a child, and the child-parent bond should be protected by society as a way of supporting the next generation of adults.

It's easy to imagine that a Mother-Friendly Workplace would also be child-friendly and father- (or partner-)friendly.  In fact, it would not only positively impact the family, but I'd guess it could increase workplace morale, job loyalty and productivity.  It could make the choice of whether or not to work outside of the home less torturous for some women (and their partners).

Reading this passage of Mother-Friendly suggestions made me wish I worked in HR or were a manager at a large company.  I think it should be a top priority of all those whose job it is to support their coworkers/employees to promote, ask for, and create a safe, comfortable place for new parents to feed their babies or pump.  And that's just the beginning, of course.  I haven't even started to rant about how radically parental leave policies need to be improved!

How does your workplace measure up?