Yep—that’s right. I crashed my own baby shower.
Let me set the scene for you:
It was a beautiful, late winter afternoon, just before COVID-19 swept over the country. A group of my colleagues gathered in a big room, with long tables covered in sweets and gifts to see me off on maternity leave. I was due in just nine days, so this celebration was cutting it a bit close.
After the sweets were eaten, and the obligatory kind sentiments were exchanged, I was invited up to say a few words.
No one, but the few friends I’d let know of my plans, could have seen what was coming next.
I stood up, pulled out a carefully folded piece of paper, and said,
“I am one of the 83% of women in the U.S. who do not have access to paid maternity leave, and one of several women in this room who have or will experience this same scenario. ”
You can imagine I could hear a pin drop at this point, and of course, my hands began to shake.
But no sweat,
I was doing this for the Motherhood.
I kept going:
Here are a few benefits of paid maternity leave to consider:
- Paid leave supports a family during a time of transition – covering basic living expenses and additional medical costs, childcare, diapers, bottles, formula, clothing and other accessories needed for a new baby.
- Paid leave helps to retain employees.
- Paid leave helps to recruit new employees and encourages a diverse workforce across many characteristics (race, gender, socioeconomic status).
Oh, and at other companies:
- The average waiting period for leave benefits is 1 year or less.
- The average number of fully paid weeks of maternity leave is 11 weeks.
- 98% of the 100 Best Companies offer flextime.
- 75% offer sick-child care.
- 94% offer backup/emergency childcare.
I finished up with a few quotes from revolutionaries and activists (including Angela Davis and Rihanna of course).
And to my surprise (and let's face it -- luck), I received a standing ovation.
I had hit a nerve – I had said out loud what many on the team had been wanting to say themselves. There were even a few men who were amped.
I definitely took a risk that day, and I don’t suggest that everyone take this route. But, I do encourage you to speak up for yourself.
My hope is that by reading my story, you will feel empowered to ask for what you need at work. The only way to make things better for yourself and others is to bring awareness to the problem and suggest a different way. Sometimes you have to push like I did, but most times, all you have to do is ask – a lot of people just don’t ask.
So, in the spirit of asking, below are my tips for advocating for what you need at work. Let’s take asking for a place to pump as an example:
1. Do your research.
You’ll want to dust off your copy of your employee handbook, and find the sections related to your concern. Find out if your experience violates any state laws or internal policies. For the example of establishing an adequate place to pump, there is a federal law that requires companies to offer space and allow break time to accommodate you. Confirm that your company fits the parameters of the law.
You’ll also want to find information to compare and contrast the policies of similar organizations or companies. Sometimes showing your boss or HR what is possible can help open the pathway to change.
These elements will become the basis of your presentation (in whatever form it ultimately takes – a letter, a speech, an in person meeting).
2. Seek out trusted counsel.
Be careful here – but reach out to someone you trust who has knowledge of the lay of the land. Have they worked there for a long time? Do they seem to understand how the internal office politics operate? This person should be able to tell you if others have had similar complaints in the past, and how they were received. What have other breastfeeding women done in the past? Has anyone brought up this concern before? What were they given as a solution? Your person might also know if there are others who currently have a similar complaint who might want to join you in your efforts.
3. Write a proposal.
With the understanding of the items in your employee handbook, and in some cases of state or federal law, articulate, in writing, what it is that you have experienced, and what you are proposing as a remedy. Make sure to include the relative research – data, facts, stats, etc. – that you gathered. To ask for a lactation room, start with sharing your commitment to breastfeeding and your concerns of a lack of appropriate accommodations. Share what the federal law requires, and your suggestions for a solution.
4. Have your trusted counsel review your proposal.
This is a very important step. Make sure to have that same trusted individual review your written proposal. You want their feedback on the content and tone, and any other suggested edits. This person should give you a good idea of who in leadership to share it with and the best way to share it (ie. best format, best timing, etc)
5. Present your proposal to leadership.
Last, share your proposal with someone in a leadership position who has influence, and who may be willing to join you in your efforts to make change. Start with why a lactation room is important to you, how it will impact your life and work. I suggest sharing your concerns in person first, and following up your conversation with your written proposal.
Have you stood up for yourself at work and have more tips to share? Please leave a comment below with your story.