The tech giants of our world are good at coming up with novel solutions for attaining and retaining female employees.
They simply have to: the tech sector is still significantly lacking on gender diversity, with just 24% of Australia’s general tech workforce made up of women, according to the ABS.
And so we’ve seen some interesting initiatives for women, everything from offering to pay for egg freezing, as Apple and Facebook did in 2014, to releasing comprehensive diversity statistics, setting targets, promoting activity-based working to support flexible work environments and engaging female high school students on the benefits of tech careers.
But IBM may have just hit a new policy high when it comes to supporting a least one portion of its female workforce, new mothers.
From September, the tech giant will roll out a breast milk delivery service for news mums who’re travelling, meaning they can express while they’re on the road and have the milk safely delivered via temperature-controlled packages, to their baby back home.
It’s great news for all those mothers who’ve experienced the “pump and dump” while travelling: that is, pumping out your precious excess milk only to see it tragically poured down the drain.
There’s just one problem. One that could also be an opportunity for any other organisation thinking of doing one better than IBM on supporting lactating mothers. IBM’s new policy doesn’t cover new mothers sitting in their office.
To be honest, I had never thought of an employee breast milk delivery service until reading this news from IBM in Fortune this morning, but I think it could be a very good idea.
Any mother who’s battled with a breast pump at work knows how frustrating it can be. Finding the time and space (preferably a sound proof room if the pump’s electric) to extract the milk is one thing. Storing and getting it home is another. There’s the dilemma of discreetly putting it in the office fridge, the worry that it could get mixed up with something else, and then finding a private sink and space to clean the many difference pieces a pump requires.
Transporting breast milk home can also go very, very wrong. I’ve ruined more than one handbag due to faulty lids and, on occasion, forgotten that it’s actually in there until discovering the ruined contents the next day. I’ve also had bottles of breast milk questioned and a few strange looks when going through airport security.
Breast milk and office work is a messy combination. And yet thousands of women are making it happen across Australia every day. Some women, particularly in large organisations, have dedicated spaces and fridges in order to making it happen. Others find whatever private spaces they can — a meeting room, a storage cupboard, the backseat of a car (I’ve tried them all) — to express. Others again simply give up on discretion: a general manager of a medium-sized, female dominated business recently told me she simply pumps in front of staff during work meetings.
Then there’s the huge segment of new mothers who give up breastfeeding altogether when they return to work (who can blame them?) and/or put off returning to work while they’re still breastfeeding. According to researchers at Curtin University, returning to work is the most common reason why mothers stop breastfeeding before six months.
What if employers took their support for lactating mothers one step further? How about a delivery service that gets milk to a baby shortly after it’s pumped?
IBM has set the bar very high by offering this service for new mothers who’re travelling. Now which organisation will the first to offer a breast milk transport service for mothers while they’re in their office?