Working breast-feeding mothers of Austin, get ready to be jealous.
Last week, we visited one of two Mother’s Rooms at IBM’s Austin offices and met with Carlie Bower, who is program director for cloud platform development. When she returned to work, Bower pumped breast milk for her son Elian, who is now 19 months old, as well as milk she donated to Mother’s Milk Bank of Austin. She plans to do the same for her daughter, who is due in July.
The Affordable Care Act requires any company that is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide a place, not a bathroom, for new mothers to pump breast milk and the time to do it. The room had to be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.
Before the act, we had mothers like myself pumping in nasty bathrooms, or makeshift spaces in conference rooms or closets. The room I pumped in after both of my pregnancies was a single bathroom with a shower across from the photo department. I would stand in the hallway outside of the room waiting for the room to be free. When it finally was, it smelled, and then I got to hear my male co-workers pounding on the door while I pumped. They couldn’t understand why anyone would take that long to use a bathroom.
Now offices have dedicated spaces, though many not as nice as the ones at IBM. The new Mother’s Rooms in Austin opened last fall as part of a renovation of the Austin offices, but the company has them at it’s other locations, too.
Before the Mother’s Rooms opened, Bower used her office to pump, because she’s lucky to have an office with a door. But she didn’t have a sink for cleaning pump parts and washing her hands. She also would have to kick people out of her office to pump, which made for some awkward situations: like having to announce that “we need to continue this meeting by conference call.”
“Breast-feeding is wonderful, but it’s a huge commitment for any mom, but once you add working mom dynamic, it adds that much more challenge and complexity,” Bower says.
What does IBM’s Mother’s Room have that makes me so jealous?
• Three different smaller rooms with an outlet, dimable lights, a comfortable chair, side table, and a lockable door. One of the rooms also has a desk for working.
• Lockers for storing pumps and larger supplies.
• A refrigerator with individual bins for storing milk. Each bin has a combination lock.
• More bins with locks for storing extra pump supplies in the cabinets.
• A sink and counter for keeping everything clean.
Some of the IBM Mother’s Rooms at other locations also have provided breast pumps. Workers just have to store their pump parts like hoses, bottles and suction attachments on site. Some even have extra parts employees can use if they forget theirs. IBM’s health insurance also pays for a pump for each new breast-feeding mom.
Not all the Mother’s Rooms have multiple rooms inside, but when it’s just one big room, employees can use the conference room reservation system to reserve time.
Bower, who has had to travel for work, has used the rooms at other locations as well. She’s also been able to take advantage of IBM’s concierge-style breast milk shipping system.
Traveling IBM employees can use an app to arrange for the breast milk they pump to be shipped home. IBM sends a cooler and shipping materials to an employee’s hotel, one cooler for every day she will be at that location. With the push of a button, the coolers keep the milk cold for up to five days.
All an employee has to do once she gets to a location is pick up the boxes when she checks into her hotel, fill the coolers with milk, and then give the labeled boxes to the hotel’s business office to be overnighted to her house.
Before IBM began the concierge service, breast-feeding moms either didn’t travel, or they would need to bring Baby and a caretaker with them, or they would have to figure out how to keep milk cool and travel with it through airport security or how to keep it cool and shipped home.
IBM also has a program to reward people who volunteer in the community. Bower and two other IBM employees were able to turn their time pumping and donating milk for Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin into a volunteer team. IBM rewarded their volunteer hours with a $2,000 donation to the bank.
Personal finance website WalletHub conducted research into which states were good for working moms and which ones were not so good. Texas ranked 33rd. We ranked 17th for child care, 38th for professional opportunities and 42 for work-life balance.
Vermont was No. 1, followed by Minnesota, Connecticut, North Dakota and Massachusetts. The bottom five were Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama and at the bottom, Nevada.
It wasn’t all bad for Texas. Apparently, we tied for third for best day care system, but we were No. 48 for female to male executives ratio in business.
How did red states versus blue states measure up? Blue states had an average range of 21.30 and red states had a rank of 31.25.
So what was WalletHub looking at? In childcare, it looked at quality of care, the cost of care, access to pediatric services and best school systems. (Texas was 27 according to its best school system rank).
In professional opportunities, Wallet hub looked at gender pay gap, the ratio to female executives to male executives, the median salary for women, the percentage of families in poverty, the female unemployment rate and the gender gap in different economic sectors.
In work-life balance, it looked at parental leave policy, length of a woman’s work week and average commute time.
I suspect if it took a city-by-city look, Austin would present a different picture than the rest of Texas, though I bet our average commute time is bringing the rest of the state down with it, while professional opportunities, access to pediatric services and salary for women might be bringing it up.