Go Ahead, Bring The Pump To Work
I’ll never forget excusing myself from the conference room, stepping into a restroom stall for a modicum of privacy and praying to the heavens that the churning of my portable breast pump wasn’t reverberating down the hall mingling with the executives’ conversation. All. Kinds. Of. Awkward.
My first baby was just a few months old. As the currents of career and motherhood were converging, swirling, eddying, I was trying to pull off that “effortless professional vibe” while somehow disguising the fact that my body was committed to something nurturing and primal.
Fast forward to today, and there’s this: “No need to stress or think you’re going to pump in a bathroom. No how, no way. We’ve got your back. You bring the pump, we bring a super comfy chair, great music, light snacks, and a calm, private room to brighten your day.”
A space for moms and kids
That’s the description of the Mothers Room at Ladybird Society, a downtown Salt Lake City coworking space created for “bad-a**, ultra-driven women who are hustling to make things happen in their businesses and in their careers.”
Where was this corporate embrace of parenthood back in my baby days?
Vanessa Ramirez, who cofounded Ladybird Society, says, “My partner and I are both mothers, and we have our own businesses. We understood what it looks like to not have a space to work out of that doesn’t have amenities―the biggest one is the childcare.”
In addition to cool services like a podcast room, a nap room, and a fully stocked beauty room for a pre-meeting refresh, Ladybird Society offers affordable drop-in childcare for its members, childcare that’s extended even to visitors who meet with members for a few hours.
And according to Ramirez, onsite childcare can make all the difference: “Recently, [a lot of children were on break from school]. Members were able to bring their older kids in with them, have their lunch with their kids, bring the kids back into childcare while they worked. Me, being a mom, I get that. They would normally have to figure out alternative care for their kids.”
For entrepreneurs like Catherine Bennett, president at Backpack Marketing, Ladybird is a godsend. Bennett had been in marketing and communications for global markets when she scaled back to part-time after her first baby was born. A string of events led her to head back to school for her Master’s, take on freelance clients, and ultimately leave the corporate gig (the reduced hourly pay for transitioning to part-time left her feeling undervalued).
Oh, and she discovered she was pregnant again. By the time baby number two arrived, she had a full roster of clients, two little ones to care for, and a husband pursuing his Master’s degree full-time. She knew something had to give. It was then that a friend forwarded an ad for Ladybird and she became a member the very next day.
Now, she brings her children to the Ladybird office for a few hours at a time, a few days a week. They can thrive in childcare, while she can focus on work. “The great thing about bringing them to childcare at Ladybird is I’m still somewhat in control,” says Bennett.
“If they need potty breaks, if they need to be fed, if my kid’s crying, I can hear him—I’m still being a parent, but I’m so productive in that space. I believe in it so much. I’ve been Ladybird’s biggest cheerleader, because I feel like it’s this cause-and-effect situation, where women don’t take opportunities because they don’t think they have resources like this.”
Not far from Ladybird, The Wave coworking space shares a similar viewpoint on the value of affordable childcare in the career success equation. The Wave’s childcare center offers educational programming with weekly themes in music, art, science, and more. A parents’ room also offers comfortable space for nursing, pumping, napping, or relaxing.
“Our founder and CEO, Joanna Smith, has a background in nonprofits,” says Cristina Rosetti, general manager at The Wave. “When she set out to build The Wave, she was really setting out to build something that could tangibly empower women and all marginalized genders in Utah. We realize that one of the barriers to women going back to work is access to affordable childcare, a space where children are welcome, where you’re allowed to be both an entrepreneur and a mom. You don’t have to negate one of those identities.”
Rachel Lewis Jepperson had been at Sandy-based Workers Compensation Fund for 14 years, rising through the ranks from intern to director of communications and public relations when she had her first child. Within a few years she welcomed her second baby, and through it all, has been grateful for WCF’s short-term disability and paid maternity leave that allowed her precious time to bond with her babies before heading back to work.
With her second son, she says, “I was home for the 12 weeks, and 10 of those were paid. That makes such a difference. As a mom, you feel torn, because you want the opportunity to still grow in meaningful ways, but it’s such an emotionally difficult time to leave your children. Having that three months gives you enough time to realize that you can go back, you can do both.” WCF also provides the flexibility to work from home a couple days a week. “There are things I can do faster at home without the distractions of the workplace, and so there are things I schedule to do at home, things I schedule to do at work. It’s made me more efficient at my job,” explains Lewis Jepperson.
Companies like CHG Healthcare also understand that working moms can thrive when they get the support they need. Before birth, the international healthcare staffing headquarters provides a healthy pregnancy program and comprehensive fertility benefits. After the babies arrive? Paternal leave covers up to 12 weeks for the parent who gives birth, and six weeks for the partner, along with a four-week return-to-work transition allowing for reduced hours. To help nursing moms, the company also provides a mothers’ room on every floor.
Domo offers employees fertility benefits along with perks like its Haute Mama program, which provides $2,000 in gift cards to spend on maternity clothes. After the stork delivers, employees get a “generous paid leave for mothers and fathers,” as well as $1,000 in “baby bucks” gift cards to spend on things like cribs, bouncy chairs, diapers, etc.
Lehi-based Canopy is likewise focused on parents’ success. “We created a parental guide that helps mothers and fathers navigate preparing for leave. We have a flexible PTO policy that employees can take advantage of both before and after leave. We also allow babies under six months to be in the office as we know this is an especially special time for new parents and especially helps with nursing mothers,” says Camille Lewis, director of people operations (who also just welcomed her second child).
The tax solutions company offers flexible work schedules to help parents tend to things like sick kids and other family needs. “At the end of the day, we want to know that we can thrive at work, but not at the expense of our family’s wellbeing. I also applaud companies like Podium and Qualtrics who are so committed to this cause, providing daycare centers in the workplace.”
On that note, Podium, is indeed breaking ground, literally, on the Silicon Slopes childcare front. “In May, we broke ground on a new building on our campus to accommodate our rapid growth and allow us to expand up to 1,600 employees. Slated to open in May 2020, the new 132,300-square-foot building will include an on-site, state-of-the-art early childhood education and care center for infants to pre-K (filling up nearly half of the first floor),” says Eric Rea, Podium cofounder and CEO. “We’ll be subsidizing the costs to help make childcare affordable to our employees. We have made it a goal at Podium to create an environment where anyone with any type of family situation can pursue a career while still providing care for their family.”
What’s prompting this corporate prioritization of parents’ needs? Right thing to do? Good for recruiting and retention? Maybe some of both.
“We have a strong belief in taking care of the whole person, making sure our working parents can be the best parent they can be,” explains Christine VanCampen, vice president of culture and engagement at CHG Healthcare. She adds, “We’re in a very tight unemployment market right now, so the fight for talent is fierce.”
While there’s been progress, Dr. Susan Madsen, professor of leadership and ethics at Utah Valley University, says Utah companies are playing catch-up: “One Utah study clearly shows that women’s number one concern is childcare and number two is having flexible schedules. In Utah, we are behind other states on these initiatives. Twenty years ago when I was doing my dissertation in Minnesota on related topics, many companies there we doing these things. Just in the past two years, I’ve seen a few more companies here catch on to things.”
Well, I’ve got the slow clap going, because it’s time, past time, for companies to embrace the notion that working moms and dads can perform better when they’re able to balance family and work.