Breastfeeding discrimination is rampant across all industries. Many employers are oblivious to the struggles of working mothers who struggle to make a comeback after a career break. It is evident in the form of lack of proper accommodation for nursing and, in worse cases, harassment. What many professionals fail to see is that supporting this will be beneficial for both female employees and employers. It promotes gender equality, reduces the cost of recruitment and training, and fosters a healthy work environment.
The Persistent Gender Gap
Women have constantly worked through social and cultural barriers and have earned their place in the workforce. Yet, the statistics on the lack of representation of women in the IT Support sector tell a different story. Deloitte Access Economics produced a report for the Australian Computer Society which stated how women make up for 28 percent of the workforce in the IT sector. This is shockingly less when compared to other industries where they have a representation of 45 percent. To make it worse, the wage gap between men and women aggravates the situation. It is a major culprit behind the underrepresentation of the latter in IT solutions.
These figures foreshadow how women, who are already at a disadvantage, face more problems when they return from maternity leave. In Australia, 96 percent of women opt for breastfeeding their baby after birth, but this number drops to 15 percent within five months. In most cases, the main reason behind this is returning back to work.
Breastfeeding benefits both the mother and the baby. Breastfeeding-related challenges after coming back to the workplace.
How can you help to breastfeed parents?
Many women face breastfeeding-related challenges after coming back to the workplace. This is one of the reasons why women stop nursing their babies despite its health benefits. Here is how you can prepare a breastfeeding-friendly workplace and support your co-worker or employee.
Make sure that adequate space is available to Nursing Moms
Providing space to set up a pumping station does not demand a reconstruction of office space. However, a washroom stall or shower area does not make for an acceptable space for breastfeeding either. Big organisations can allot an office room that is not used as frequently to nursing moms.
In the case of small workplaces where no other option is available, you can provide space in private changing rooms or through temporary tents. You can schedule breaks and make sure those breaks are free from any intrusion, and give the required space for breastfeeding.
Give lactation breaks to working mothers
Working for long hours without breaks can have a negative impact on breastfeeding. Within a daily work schedule of 8 hours, nursing mothers would require at least two breaks. It depends on the baby’s needs and feeding schedule. Organisations should be considerate enough to incorporate these breaks as per the employee’s needs, or they should be allowed to use existing break periods.
Additional time should be allotted for travelling to and from the private room. On average, it takes 20 minutes to express breast milk. But some time to set up the pump, which is followed by disassembling and cleaning, should also be taken into consideration.
An organised private space should have the basic amenities
The designated room or space for the employee must be equipped with a comfortable chair, a small refrigerator to store the milk, and a wall socket to connect the pump. A relaxing environment with dim lighting facilitates the expression of breast milk.
Allow direct breastfeeding if possible
This is a personal choice that mothers make, either for medical reasons or to bond with the baby. Sometimes, the workplace environment might not be favourable for direct nursing, or there can be other circumstances that might hinder it.
However, if the company is in a situation to accommodate it, they should allow it. Companies should also consider on-site child care assistance and support infants-at-work policy.
Speak up, support, and educate
When senior officials or managers support a policy, it creates an effective environment for practising that policy in the workplace. It sends a positive yet affirming message and is assuring for the new parent. It will significantly contribute to the lactation support program.
Actively listen and communicate
Paying attention to the needs of your employee by engaging in effective communication is the first step at extending your support to them. You can talk to them and ask them if they need additional accommodations or if they have any concerns or queries related to the breastfeeding policies. Interaction with the employee will help you resolve problems by effectively finding the solution and consequently foster a better work environment.
Inclusivity within IT Support
This is a win-win situation for both the company and the employee. By improving the environment for all the mothers in the workplace, you can promote a family-friendly business landscape. You are also building a space that provides equal opportunities to both men and women. There are quite a few companies that have already taken this step and have turned into an accredited breastfeeding-friendly workplace.
It is about time that we move beyond the social constructs of gender and race. This will help us to create a more diverse environment that is supportive of everyone. Being inclusive of people can encourage versatility. It gives them a platform where they can innovate and exhibit their creativity.
We need to create a culture where colleagues share mutual respect, and this is only possible when we consider each other as equals. If a woman is making a choice to come back after the delivery, it should be supported and respected. Together we can work towards bringing our breastfeeding employees back to work.