Working Mothers - Let's Talk.

Updated: May 10, 2020

I was having a chat with a friend who just gave birth, and she was telling me how she dreaded going back to work after maternity leave.

My friend mentioned to me how, when she was pregnant (this is her first baby), she asked mothers around the office who had recently had babies, what it was like transitioning back into the workforce. Then she mentioned the motivation for this post, something that drove me absolutely mad.

She mentioned that the ladies who come back to the workforce after maternity leave, have to express milk in the toilet because there is no other decent place for them to. They essentially beg cleaners to clean a stall, then they express there and dump the milk, because obviously it’s unsanitary. This same organization supposedly has an "active" campaign to ensure at least 30% of its partners are women.

The Problem:

Most organizations are so unconducive to new mothers that they have to take time off.

Do you realize how ridiculous this is? Expressing breast milk in the same place people defecate for the lack of choice. The data is not surprising, then! Of course women subjected to this type of treatment, amongst other horrors, will leave the workforce. Do you want to imagine what the data looks like for women who leave the workforce due to motherhood in Nigeria?

Let me back up to a little biology class on why there’s a problem with the current system. Recent mothers continue to produce milk even when they go into the workforce. Now, when there’s a lot of milk in the breasts, the baby sucks it out, or it is expressed. If left in the breasts, from what I hear, it hurts like hell. During maternity leave, most women have to feed the baby every 3 hours or so, hence, we have a routine. Every 4-6 hours the breasts are full, expecting extraction.

So, imagine that new mum co-worker of yours trying to conclude a presentation with hurting boobs. She needs to find somewhere to quickly express milk, and has only the toilet as an option. I mean, it’s bad enough she has to be thinking about expressing milk out of her body, can we just make having a comfortable, hygienic place where women can do this mandatory for organizations?

I won’t speak a lot about the problems. Here are three things I think will help, and I believe for this to be effective, it has to be regulatory driven.

1. Every Company Should Have a Private, Hygienic Room/Area for Nursing Mothers

Nursing mothers should be able to express milk in this area, fitted with a refrigerator, an area for sanitary cleaning, a breast cover, etc. The aim here is that mothers in the workforce have a private hygienic area where they can express milk and store it. If anyone comes with the argument that this is an extra cost, kitchens are an extra cost as well, and aren’t that important.

2. Maternity Leave and Transition Back to Workforce Should Be a Thing

In Nigeria, the maternity leave period is 3 months— that’s pre- and post-delivery. I would increase that to at least 6 months, with flexible work-from-home policies and staggered working policies incorporated into the 3 extra months, such that you have a decreasing work-from-home quota.

For example, 4 months full time off with full pay; 5th month, 3 days a week work-from-home option; 6th month, 2 days a week work-from-home option.

Ideally, all staff should have some days they can work from home depending on their job. What new mothers need most is flexibility.

It’s amazing how many companies pay lip service, using all the buzz words, with all the campaigns to drive more women in leadership. It’s not in the massive efforts, campaigns and PR stunts. It’s in the little things. Let your office be that place where working mothers know they have the following:

The flexibility of hours to do the work, but not in line with the strict working times as that can be pretty difficult.

A safe place in or close to the office where the newborn can access a trained nanny and not have to worry if they are okay.

A private place in the office where they can express milk, and freeze to potentially stock up for the baby.

3. Compulsory Paternity Leave

Yes, you saw right. This is just as crucial a conversation as maternity leave is. It’s bad enough that the burden of parenting falls mostly on the mothers. Upon closer observation you see that the workplace does not incentivize participating fathers.

This article from Wall Street Journal talks about men not taking parental leave because they worried it would hurt their careers.

This is a problem, an absolute problem. Beyond implementing these policies, it is important, perhaps even more important, that the office culture allows for it to thrive.

If we don't actively try to fix this, we will continue to see women enter the workforce, but leave in droves before they ever reach leadership positions.

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