At Dwolla, one of our core beliefs is that inclusion fuels innovation. We know that inclusion is something that lives in the pages of our handbook but for it to be real, it has to also live in the thoughts and behaviors of our entire team. A company can have inclusive policies without having an inclusive culture. We are always striving to have both but it requires consistent diligence.
One of Dwolla’s customers, GasBuddy, recently came face-to-face with this issue. When CEO Sarah McCrary was expecting her first child, the company looked holistically at how inclusive it was to new parents, using Sarah as the guinea pig. Sarah shares her raw perspective on being a new mother in the workplace and her recommendations for other companies in this special guest blog.
by Sarah McCrary, CEO @ GasBuddy
For the past twelve weeks, I’ve partially undressed at the office three times a day to pump breast milk for my baby daughter. It is disruptive to my schedule, physically uncomfortable and tedious. I felt I had to apologize every time I cut a meeting or conversation short or declined a phone call so that I could “take a break” and slip into the mother’s room for 20-30 minutes. The thought that being a nursing mother somehow made me less professionally capable started to creep in. What kept me positive and focused to continue the routine was the support and encouragement of the people around me. This support also manifested in deliberate policy and environmental changes we made at GasBuddy to support new parents. Here is what I learned about expanding authentic inclusion in the workforce to parents and specifically to nursing moms in your organization:
- Implement Paid Parental Leave
- Encourage the Use of Parental Leave
- Model Support and Encouragement of Parental Leave
- Create Dedicated Spaces for the Nursing Mothers
Implement Paid Parental Leave
There was no paid parental leave policy at GasBuddy so we created one. I confess I was not completely disconnected from our business during my leave, but I felt I could remain engaged on my terms rather than being compelled to return to work full-time before I was ready. We have a policy that combines short term disability coverage at 60% of salary for the birthing partner with full paid leave for a total coverage of twelve weeks. For the non-birthing partner, or non-primary care partner in the case of adoption, we offer seven weeks of paid leave.
We also have an “open vacation” policy that allows us to help individuals create the flexibility that works for them and their families as they return to work.
This is not a market-leading paid leave program. But we are learning what works for our team and the team we aspire to build and I hope we can encourage every company to implement paid parental leave programs and not feel discouraged if they cannot provide top-of-the-market benefits.
Key takeaway: Be mindful of the needs of your team and work to make improvements.
Men, Take the Parental Leave
Your partner needs you. Your new baby needs you. My husband was with me for all twelve weeks of my leave and it made it possible for me to care for myself during the physical recovery and I was able to maintain engagement with the business. (Hello, board call nursing a two-week old infant!). The other benefit is to remove the stigma that women are a liability because we will seek time off when/if we have families and men will not. Creating a cultural expectation that family comes first, regardless of gender or role in the family, removes a bias that weighs down women’s professional growth and is just better for all families.
Key takeaway: Parental leave is just that: parental leave. It is for—and benefits—all parents.
Leaders, Model Support & Encouragement
The senior executive team I work with are all men and fathers. They are empathetic and thoughtful humans. By modeling their support of my parental leave and return, they have fostered a positive environment. They did this by expressing out loud in front of others their support for my leave and helping me prioritize my pumping sessions above meetings and working sessions. The whole team joined in an impromptu Slack thread regarding the construction of the “Mothers Room” and offered their support and ideas for making it as comfortable as possible. One of our team members made the kind gesture of baking lactation cookies that he delivered to the mothers room for me to enjoy. The rest of the team enjoyed the same cookies marketed slightly differently as “oatmeal.”
Key takeaway: Good behavior and expectations are modeled from the top.
Boards, Support Parental Leave
As we discussed my pregnancy and eventual leave, GasBuddy’s board chairman made a point to tell me that he, and the rest of the board, were 100% supportive of my plan to take 12 weeks of parental leave. More importantly, he offered me the advice that I should enjoy the time with my baby and husband. He specifically said “You will never have this time again and it is the most precious time for bonding with your baby. You should value it above all else.” By voicing that support directly, and early in my preparations, I had the confidence to take my leave and focus on my new baby and husband. It was a spectacular gift.
If you are in a position to offer this type of support for new parents, then do it. The board members were thoughtful in helping to design our parental leave policy and their engagement with formalizing a parental leave policy demonstrated how important it was for them that we have a workplace environment that supports the demands of family.
Key takeaway: To truly create a specific environment, everyone must buy-in.
Create Dedicated Spaces for Breastfeeding Moms
The practical matters are important too. There are laws that make it a requirement to have safe, clean spaces for nursing mothers to pump at work and ensure they are protected from discrimination that might result from pumping at work. Every workplace should strive to provide more than is required by law.
For the first month back to work full-time, I pumped in a meeting room that had blackout shades on the windows, a couch, and a mini-fridge, but no sink and no place to stash my pumping supplies. This arrangement is significantly better than many women who are stuffed in supply closets, bathrooms or ill-equipped semi-private spaces, so I made it work. However, as GasBuddy built out a new office space, the mother’s room was deliberately upgraded to a dedicated room with a sink, mini-fridge, comfortable chair, dedicated storage cabinets for the “gear” and a dimmer switch on the lights.
These accommodations have made it a better experience for me and now the other women using the room. In addition to a sink and a mini-fridge, it is helpful to provide a good supply of paper towels, gallon-size ziplock bags, breast milk storage bags, and wipes made for sterilizing pump parts. It is also an excellent idea to provide an extra pump at work for your pumping population to enjoy so they don’t have to carry one back and forth from home each day. Things happen, and having these provisions in the mothers room makes it less stressful. Everytime I use this new room I say a little prayer of thanks and remember the countless women who are not cared for to the same extent.
Key takeaway: Talk is good but physical, tangible evidence makes it real.
The CEO Is Leaking, So This Meeting Is Over
The reality is that my work habits have altered. I’m no longer the first person in the office in the morning or last person to leave. I bring more work home to address late at night and early in the morning—working around baby’s sleep patterns—or on the weekends. I delegate more now, use Slack more heavily to communicate during breast pumping sessions, and probably don’t get as deep into every issue as I once did. I have said “NO” to more engagements that don’t directly benefit our strategy and I am pickier about the meetings and introductions I take on.
The business is fine, maybe even better, without me trying to fill every second of the day digging into some aspect or other about our products, our partners, or our industry. I’m more focused than I have ever been and I appreciate the pumping sessions now as small gifts during the day to block out the world and think more deeply about something, or a time to catch up on emails uninterrupted, or just a moment to express gratitude to a team member I have been meaning to thank.
I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to end a meeting early and say, “I have to go pump now.” After three months back at work, I am not fearful of being less capable. Like the best experiences, this challenge of being a new mom and pumping at work has expanded my appreciation of what I am truly capable of doing. It has also reinforced my belief that we are all better when we have people around us that conspire to help us succeed. Be one of those people!
GasBuddy is a company that connects drivers with their Perfect Pit Stop. As the leading source for crowdsourced, real-time fuel prices at more than 150,000 gas station convenience stores in the U.S., Canada and Australia, millions of drivers use the GasBuddy app and website every day to find gas station convenience stores based on fuel prices, location and ratings/reviews. GasBuddy’s first-of-its-kind fuel savings program, Pay with GasBuddy, has saved Americans more than $6 million at the pumps since its launch in 2017. The company’s business solutions suite, GasBuddy Business Pages, provides Fuel Marketers and Retailers their best opportunity to maintain their station information, manage their brand, and promote to their target consumer audience. For more information, visit http://www.gasbuddy.com.