OpEd: Company Breastfeeding Policies Help Build A Better, More Equitable World
4 Mins Read
Feeding your child should not be a barrier to success, argues our special columnist Australian entrepreneur Glen Hare, and that means companies need explicit, comprehensive breastfeeding policies for working mothers.
In a major and unexpected turn of events, I’ve been thinking about breastfeeding – a lot. Naturally, a gay man, with no children, is not generally expected to be across the intricacies of breastfeeding and its interplay within the workplace. But, what about a gay man, with no children, who is the founder and managing director of a company with a fifty percent female workforce? Should he be expected to think about breastfeeding? Absolutely.
It may be surprising, jarring even, for some to hear a male business leader discuss breastfeeding so openly. What I find even more surprising, though, is the fact that it’s taken so long. Fifty-three percent of my team at Fox & Hare Financial Advice are women (none of whom are living under a gender pay gap) and fifty percent of them are mothers. But, until recently, zero percent were protected by a strong, fair breastfeeding policy. These numbers are not anomalies. Fifty percent of Hong Kong’s total labour force is female – the second highest in the Asia Pacific, only topped by Macao and just ahead of New Zealand.
Let’s be clear, breastfeeding is a natural and essential practice that provides numerous benefits for mothers and babies. These include, but are not limited to, the reduced risk of certain diseases, better cognitive development, and a reduction in the mother’s risk of some cancers. However, the professional burden of breastfeeding, that is the negative implications for long-term earning and career prospects often falls solely on women. This is an unfair burden that, as a business leader reliant on a team of talented, reliable, and extraordinary mothers, is my responsibility to alleviate.
Without a supportive work environment and the proper protections in place, extended maternity leave or frequent breaks to accommodate breastfeeding can result in a whole range of negative outcomes for mothers. Women may face challenges in maintaining continuity and progression within their careers, especially if they work in competitive fields or industries where rapid changes and advancements occur. These interruptions can impact salary growth, skill development, and opportunities for promotion. Not ideal in a world that upholds a persistent and alarming gender pay gap.
Some employers may view breastfeeding as a sign of reduced commitment to work, assuming that mothers who breastfeed will be less available or less dedicated to their job responsibilities. This perception can result in biased treatment, limited career advancement opportunities, or even the denial of certain professional opportunities for breastfeeding women. As a result, mothers may feel pressured to conceal their breastfeeding or may feel compelled to choose between breastfeeding and participating in professional settings. All of this can have far-reaching implications for an earning capacity, long-term career prospects and perhaps less importantly, depending on who you ask, the health of your organisation as a whole.
The scariest part about it all? The fact these negative effects are not inherent to breastfeeding itself but stem from a lack of supportive policies and business leaders’ tolerance for archaic, yet pervasive societal attitudes towards breastfeeding in the workplace. At Fox & Hare, we’ve chosen to tackle these challenges head-on. By implementing a comprehensive breastfeeding policy, and fostering a culture that values gender equity and work-life balance, we intend to build a workplace where starting a family and maintaining a career are not competing priorities.
The policy itself is far-reaching, yet surprisingly manageable. We provide suitable and reasonable facilities for team members who choose to express or breastfeed their child; lactation breaks during work hours; access to flexible work options and actively work to ensure the wider team is aware of our breastfeeding policies/facilities. As an already flexible workplace, the measures outlined in the policy offer little in the way of distraction or inconvenience for the wider team. For a new family, however, they can be revolutionary. The challenge of adjusting to their new lives just got a little easier, and we are incredibly proud to offer that opportunity.
Of course, for some in the business community, the ‘human angle’ is never enough to justify the cost of programs centered on equity and/or inclusion. For them I offer this, women now make up a majority of university enrolments and graduations across the developed world. It is inevitable that, at some point in the near future, the most skilled applicant for a role in your organization will be a woman. As is the case with every ‘must have’ hire, other companies will be competing for their attention, time and expertise. Which employer do you think they will choose?
As a founder and business leader, it is my responsibility to remove every possible barrier to my team’s success. Becoming a mother should not be a barrier to success. Feeding your child should not be a barrier to success and, as an extension, having a male leader who doesn’t think about breastfeeding should not be a barrier to success either. And so, I am very happy to report that the Fox & Hare breastfeeding policy brings us one step closer to a world where mothers are not penalised for caring for their children.