As Liz Bingham of EY mentions in her blog, diversity and inclusion in the workplace “encompasses all aspects of the human condition, from gender to ethnicity, sexuality, social background and age.” In 2014, few who value their credibility would seriously challenge that view.
Yet there is one aspect of the human condition that continues to divide social opinion: a mother’s breastfeeding of her baby outside the home. The ongoing media furore over the actions of staff at Claridge’s is simply the latest in a long line of incidents demonstrating that – despite the Equality Act 2010 making it illegal to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place – there is still some way to go on social attitudes on the issue.
Breastfeeding is a healthy choice for both mother and baby. And, for employers, research shows there are good business reasons to facilitate the expressing of milk and breastfeeding when new mothers return to work:
- Breastfed babies are ill less often than babies fed on formula milk. So breastfeeding mothers (and their partners) take fewer days off to care for a sick baby.
- Facilitating breastfeeding in the workplace increases retention rates, keeping female talent and reducing recruitment and training costs.
- Employees working in companies that facilitate breastfeeding have higher morale and job satisfaction, and so higher productivity.
Not only that, but facilitating the expressing of milk and breastfeeding at work is simple, inexpensive and time-limited. Employers can reap the benefits by following a few basic rules.
That said, there is a lack of clarity in the relevant law – there is no explicit legal right to breastfeeding breaks at work in the UK, as there is in 92 other countries. And there is some inconsistency in the advice provided by different government agencies and other bodies. This has led to confusion, making it more difficult for breastfeeding women and their employers to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.
To help dispel that confusion, and with funding from the Department of Health, Maternity Action has developed a new guidance leaflet for employers. This outlines the business case (including employers’ obligations under health and safety, flexible working, and anti-discrimination law), and offers guidance on managing requests from staff. And it sets out the practical requirements for facilities, milk storage, and breaks.
One-third of all new mothers are still breastfeeding when their child is six months old, yet only one in five working mothers have access to workplace facilities to express milk or breastfeed. We hope our new guidance will help close that gap.
Richard Dunstan is a Project Officer at Maternity Action.