Prior to the pandemic, more women than men were enrolled in college, medical schools and law schools. In the three months before COVID-19 hit the US, women even outnumbered men in the workforce for the first time.
But by February of 2021, a net of 2.4 million women had left the workforce, putting women workforce representation back to the same levels as 1988. Women of color were hit even harder. More than 1 in 12 Black women were unemployed as of January 2021.
As the world reopens, women have faced more issues going back to work. Job growth for women is so low that based on April’s reports, if women don’t re-enter the workforce sooner, it will take them until 2024 to recover from the losses of the pandemic, which is two full years after men will recover.
One way to support women who want to come back to work is to ensure your workplace is friendly for expectant and breastfeeding mothers. Making moves now will help you retain top talent and reduce turnover, and breastfeeding employees who feel supported are more loyal and have higher rates of productivity.
Here are a few inexpensive things you can do right now to show support to nursing and expectant mothers:
- Create a Return to Work Plan
Having conversations with expectant mothers on the plan to bring them back helps them feel valued and reassured that their job is waiting for them. In these conversations, you can discuss gradual reintegration and regular check-ins to onboard returning moms.
- Allow Employees to Sit Down
Women in the retail, hospitality, or restaurant industries can spend hours on their feet. This can be especially stressful for a pregnant woman. Consider offering cashiers a chair behind the register or more seating options in the server station. Resting their feet can feel great and help the overall health of pregnant employees.
- Allow Employees to Take a Walk
Alternatively, sitting at a desk all day can also be too much for pregnant women. They need to get up and take walks at regular intervals. Implementing short walking meetings or simply encouraging pregnant employees to move when needed will show that you support them.
- Foster Community and Mentorship
Being pregnant or returning from maternity leave can offer challenges like work-life balance or feeling isolated. If you create a parent-employee group, coworking parents can build a community and share resources. You can also connect expecting or new moms with moms in leadership positions to help them navigate their new challenges and build their confidence.
- Provide Breastfeeding Accommodations
By law, companies with 50 or more employees are required to have a “reasonable” pumping space for mothers. However, companies that have more comprehensive lactation support programs report a 94.2 percent retention rate. When you provide more than a supply closet, your working moms experience higher job satisfaction, improved morale, and better productivity. Consider designating a comfortable space for lactation that includes sink access and a lock for privacy. In addition to a lactation space, you can invest in comfortable chairs and a private mini refrigerator for breast milk storage. Small investments like these create a peaceful and stress-free space to support working moms.
- Offer Paid Break Time
Most nursing moms need 2-3 pumping breaks in an 8-hour workday. These pumping sessions typically take 15-20 minutes, but sometimes longer. Providing these breaks in their day (with pay) gives working moms peace of mind and less stress (and pain) trying to figure out when they can pump next.
For more ideas or assistance with breastfeeding accommodations, check out our list of resources. For more ideas to support pregnant workers, visit the Guide to Family Forward Workplaces section for pregnant worker accommodations.