Breastfeeding in the workplace

Wednesday July 12, 2017

History was made in Federal Parliament recently when Australian Greens Senator Larissa Waters became the first woman to breastfeed in parliament. It’s a shame really, when something as natural as breastfeeding makes headlines across the world. But that is the state of play in 2017.

Unfortunately, this act of motherhood is often liable to stir up controversy whenever it is carried out in public, be that a workplace or at a café, for instance.

The benefits of accommodating breastfeeding at work

Many mothers successfully combine work and breastfeeding. Our work environment continues to change, and as many more women return to the work force, many workplaces now have greater awareness of the importance of individual family responsibilities, and include this in workplace policies. Legislation exists in most states to guarantee that no employer may discriminate against individuals with family responsibilities. Employers need to be aware of what obligations they have for woman wishing to continue breastfeeding while returning to work.

A progressive and we would add reasonable employer might think about going well beyond this though. It would certainly make the return to work easier at a time when it is difficult and may be appreciated with increased loyalty.

However, do warn others that the milk stored in those cute bottles is not for the tea and coffee!

Breastfeeding and the gender pay gap

A policy like this may also feed into reducing the gender pay gap. Despite there having been equal pay legislation for decades, females, in Australia are paid 23.1% less than their male counterparts, on average. To put that into dollar terms, men across all industries, on average earn $26,853 more than women every year.

The reasons for this are complex, but one of them could be described as the “motherhood penalty”. This means dealing with the challenges that a mother may face on their return to work after having a baby: the time away from the workplace (which may extend far beyond maternity leave), juggling childcare, and breast feeding, among others.

The government has been bringing in more proactive measures to try and reduce the gender pay gap. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (EOWW Act) has been replaced with the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (WGE Act). All non-public sector employers with 100 or more employers in their corporate structure (relevant employers) are required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) annually.

Policies that support breast feeding could be helpful in closing the gender pay gap and in showing that a company is taking the issue seriously.

If you need help implementing any similar policies please get in touch with The HR Dept.

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