Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Idealism rebounds

My employer has recently introduced a new policy for all sorts of family friendly stuff - among them, a "breastfeeding friendly workplace". I work in the CBD. We have employees spread across a few different buildings. They have put aside one room in one building for expressing breastmilk. Completely useless to anyone in any other building.

A bit of background - I have expressed in the workplace for six months with both of my children - first child mostly part time, second child full time working. It was important to me - I liked breastfeeding, and it was the one thing nobody else could do for them.

My belief is that the Australian Breastfeeding Association has such idealised requirements for a "breastfeeding-friendly workplace", that what ends up happening is a fairly useless lip-service.

Their requirement is for (among other things) "A clean, private room with a power point, lockable door, comfortable chair, refrigerator, hand washing facilities and breastpump storage area." This tends to reduce, rather than improve the availability of breastfeeding facilities in the workplace.

At my former employer they spent six months refurbishing the old first aid room on a single floor. For me, the six months delay, plus the fact that the floor wasn't my own (and every five minutes counts, when you're trying not to miss the evening feed that night) meant that I just made my own arrangements without any workplace support on my own floor.

In my experience, all you need is:
- a private lockable room (i.e. nobody can see in from the outside of the room)
- a powerpoint in the room
- a chair and table in the room which is reachable from the powerpoint
- a fridge on the same floor
- toilets on the same floor (so you can wash your hands)
- the room is guaranteed bookable for a set period each day

For most white-collar workplaces, even in these days of open plan offices, all that's needed to make that work is to make sure that you can't see into one of the meeting rooms, and that anyone (even the junior employees) can book that one.

If that was the ABA requirement, then it would be much easier for employers to comply, they wouldn't spend six months figuring out how to do it (find a new room that was never used for anything else, buy a new fridge, install a sink), and there would be more rooms available.

For me, I arranged that for myself (I was senior enough to be able to demand the refurbishment of our floor was slightly changed to make one meeting room's glass door not transparent) and the fact that I could go quickly and express, meant that I was more likely to do it twice a day, rather than once, and I kept my supply up for longer (both times supply failures was what made me stop).

I'm sure whoever is responsible at the ABA thinks they're doing the right thing by asking for perfection. I think what that means, though, is employers think it's all too hard. The employees who are senior enough, and/or feisty enough to figure it out for themselves, and ask for something reasonable, manage to work through it. The others get ground down with the hassle, and end up giving up earlier than they would like.


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