Julia Beck, the founder and visionary behind the It’s Working Project has inspiring words to share with companies lacking family-friendly workplace policies: consumers are watching.
She explains this in a recent article on Medium, “After Amazon: Parental Spending Takes a Time Out”
“More than ever, consumers are looking for parity — brands that sell to them must also speak to them. Consumers who carefully choose how they spend their money and with which brands are asking for proof of aligned values from their beloved brands.
And this is where the ‘Parenting Parity’ comes in to play. Is there equity? If you sell me diapers (as Julia Cheiffetz, former Amazon employee pointed out) you better not be full of crap in how you support families at the home office.”
Here at the It’s Working Project, we have dedicated ourselves to helping the private sector bring parents back to work with ease, as a matter of course, and with a sense of pride. Beck’s words come as a warning to companies lacking in the family-friendly policy department. The message here is clear- take care of your employees, or risk losing a valuable part of your consumer base.
Julia Cheiffetz shares her story of how It’s really Not Working at Amazon.
Cheiffetz, a successful young book editor, was about to begin an MBA program at Columbia University when she was presented with an opportunity others told her would be crazy not to take.
This opportunity was with Amazon, the largest Internet retailer in America. Cheiffetz was drawn to the company’s innovative spirit, but as revealed in a recent New York Times peice, its work culture is anything but glamorous.
In 2013, while on maternity leave, Cheiffetz was diagnosed with cancer. A few weeks later, she received a form letter informing her that her insurance had been terminated. Many frantic phone calls and emails later, her employer blamed a glitch in the system- But Cheiffetz wondered how a company of its size and prestige could allow such a thing to happen. It was only when she returned to work that she began to see what was happening. As published on Medium, Cheiffetz writes:
“I was nervous and excited to return to work, and I showed up that first day back with a big smile and a phone full of baby pictures to share. I figured I’d catch up with folks and get a high-level update on how the business was doing, since the strategy had evolved from the time I was hired. Here’s what happened instead: I was taken to lunch by a woman I barely knew. Over Cobb salad she calmly explained that all but one of my direct reports — the people I had hired — were now reporting to her. In the months that followed, I was placed on a dubious performance improvement plan, or PIP, a signal at Amazon that your employment is at risk. Not long after that I resigned.”
While CEO Jeff Bezos has been desperately defending the claims reported in the New York Times, stories like these give a revealing and honest look at what goes on behind the scenes of Amazon. Having a baby and being diagnosed with cancer should only warrant more support from an employer- certainly not the polar opposite.
The U.S. has been making great strides towards gender equality in recent years. So why is it that women still bear a heavier load than men when it comes to balancing work and family?
A 2013 survey found that mothers with children under the age of 18 were three times as likely as fathers to say that being a working parent made it more difficult to advance in their career. In addition, an analysis of government economic data showed that while young men and women generally start out with similar salaries, women struggle to keep up the pace once they decide to have children.
This data, released in an article from the Pew Research Center, is an alarming reminder that we are not making the progress necessary to ensure workplace equality among both genders. Kim Parker, Director of Social Trends Research at the center, writes:
“One reason mothers are more likely than fathers to say it’s harder to get ahead in the workplace may be that women are much more likely than men to experience a variety of family-related career interruptions. About four-in-ten working mothers (42%) say that at some point in their working life, they had reduced their hours in order to care for a child or other family member, while just 28% of working fathers say they had done the same.”
This motherhood penalty is a very real reality for working women, and it is up to the private sector to change that reality into one where a healthy work/life balance is successfully achieved through supportive and effective policies.
A recent investigation reveals that nearly 1 in 4 employed mothers are returning to work within two weeks of giving birth- and the effects are devastating. In a press call Tuesday, Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, discussed the disturbing findings revealed in an article from In These Times, a monthly news magazine. In reference to the article, “The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Leave Now,” Bravo says:
“What we are saying to women is either go back before you heal, before you have time to bond with your baby, or rely on public assistance and face the possibility of being called moochers and takers from politicians.”
With only the highest paid workers such as those at Netflix and Google having access to the best benefits, most women are going back to work out of financial necessity. This choice is a difficult one, and the burden is physical, emotional and economically straining. In the article, one mother opens up about having to pump milk in the parking lot on her breaks from a 12-hour shift, crying as she did so. A Chase banker was forced to quit her job to care for her premature infant.
The article sheds a heartbreaking light on the very real effects of the nonexistent parental leave provisions in the United States – As Sharon Learner, author of the piece, points out:
“Families need paid time off to take care of their new babies. Men, women and children will gain from this basic human dignity.”
The United States is the only advanced nation in the world that does not ensure paid parental leave for employees. Some states have taken matters into their own hands- New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island have all put paid leave policies into place, but access to paid family leave shouldn’t depend on where you live. And despite these policies being proven to be beneficial to or have no effect on business, the United States is still falling short when it comes to taking care of families.
“Michelle Williamson, a 41-year-old parent of three who helped build Amazon’s restaurant supply business, said her boss, Shahrul Ladue, had told her that raising children would most likely prevent her from success at a higher level because of the long hours required.”
“Another employee who miscarried twins left for a business trip the day after she had surgery. ‘I’m sorry, the work is still going to need to get done,’ she said her boss told her. ‘From where you are in life, trying to start a family, I don’t know if this is the right place for you.'”
Based on the embarrassed response, it seems Amazon may have some thinking to do about how to define it’s workplace culture.
“I think someone realized, ‘Why should I not look good for that great picture that I’m going to show everybody, the first picture of my child?’ ” said Joel Warren, an owner of the Warren-Tricomi salons.
“Just a generation after fathers had to beg or even sue for the right to be present, the door to the delivery room has swung wide open. Even the most traditional hospitals now allow multiple guests during labor, transforming birth from a private affair into one that requires a guest list.”
The bottom line: new mothers have always decided how they want to experience their motherhood (with a blowout, or without!).
The It’s Working Project applauds initiatives that support families in all aspects of life: work, home and perhaps most importantly, play. So, naturally, we were thrilled to get a sneak-peek at the Lansinoh Nursing Lounge at Nationals Park- a project inspired by a petition on Change.org.
We had the opportunity to speak with Gina Cicatelli Ciagne, Vice President of Healthcare and Media Relations at Lansinoh, who shared:
“Moms are fans, too and we want to make sure this is a comfortable place for mothers to come.”
And comfortable it is- The fully outfitted nursing lounge includes cozy chairs, electrical outlets and tables positioned specifically to accommodate breast pumps, privacy drapes, changing tables, room for small children to play and, of course, TVs to keep up with the game. Talk about a home run!
We have to applaud both Lansinoh and the Washington Nationals for making sure It’s Working for new mothers. Whether it’s an outing to the ballpark with family or good friends- everyone deserves to enjoy the game!
Everyone is talking about Netflix and its new maternity and paternity leave policy. But is it a ploy for publicity? Or a step towards real change in the private sector? These are the questions the It’s Working Project and Julia Beck are asking. Amy Joyce reports in the Washington Post:
“‘We’ve hit an amazing spot,’ said Julia Beck, founder of Forty Weeks and the It’s Working Project, who helps companies figure out how to get women and parents back into the workplace. She hopes (as many of us do) that this will be the new norm. But ‘are these going to be flashes of media? Or is it going to be the true new normal?’ she asked.”
Netflix is now the latest company to make headlines for its parental leave policy, announcing on its blog that it will offer one year of unlimited leave to all parents. This comes after similar announcements from IBM, Vodaphone, Virgin and other companies all striving to offer better maternity and paternity leave than their competitors.
Companies seem to be learning that introducing more flexible policies for working parents is getting them favorable attention- We can only hope that once outcomes are positive, the rest of the private sector will follow.
Coming off a recent piece from Fortune on the secret society of executive women– it is clear that women are supporting one another in the workplace. However, Refinery29 confirms that employers are not exactly on board when it comes to pumping on the job. One woman’s testimony:
“So, picture the scene: Twice a day, every day, for the past seven months, I go to the women’s restroom, prepare my pumping pieces, put my shelf on top of the toilet seat, take a seat, and begin pumping. For the next 20 minutes, I stare at the back of a toilet stall door. I did finally figure out how to hold the pumps while looking at my phone, so it did become a bit less boring. Oh, and the real kicker: The lights in the bathroom are on a motion sensor, so after exactly nine minutes, 13 seconds (I know this because of the timer on my pump) the lights go off. Unless someone comes into the bathroom to trigger the motion detector, I am left in the dark for the next 10 minutes.”
Donald Trump also made headlines last week after calling lawyer Elizabeth Beck “disgusting” for requesting to take a pumping break, raising concern that employers simply do not understand the needs of new mothers.
While women supporting women is something to be admired, it is important employers are accommodating new mothers- whether it be through providing a sufficient pumping space, or simply adjusting attitudes (Looking at you, Trump).