With only a few weeks left of my half of the shared parental leave it’s perhaps not surprising that a piece on the BBC about family friendly work places really struck a chord with me.
Apparently there was a motion raised to allow mothers to breastfeed on the floor of the Commons. This is allowed in other European countries and also the European Parliament. A Conservative MP said that this might open up the House of Commons to ridicule by the tabloid press and they shouldn’t do it. The Women’s Equality Party, of which I am a member, was outraged by this and started tweeting about the need to make the Commons more family, and therefore woman, friendly.
And here my feminist credentials (which are pretty solid) started to get tested. SHOULD women be able to feed a baby (breast or otherwise) at work? What does that mean in terms of bringing babies and young children to work on a regular basis?
What then ensued was a pretty long Facebook dialogue about the rights and wrongs of children in the work place and the Patriarchy (side note I LOVE my friends).
I have taken away two overall points from this conversation:
- Children are a distraction in the workplace, but if they are in the work place then you should be able to feed them.
- Workplaces and working practices are designed for a time when men were the majority of the workforce. Clearly times have changed, and we need a clearer debate about how to change with them.
The House of Commons may be a special case – because MPs are elected as individuals you can’t actually have maternity leave without calling another election (risky and unlikely). Some high profile ministers have taken maternity leave, but that’s just from their ministerial office, they still have all the work of a constituency MP. As a side note on the feeding point. I don’t think adults are allowed to eat in the chamber. My more savvy public affairs friends may correct me on this, but if that’s the case then… presumably babies shouldn’t be eating there either?
I’m still feeling fairly ambivalent about my return to work. One of the reasons for this is that I’ll be moving my previously 100% breastfed twins onto two formula feeds a day as there aren’t appropriate pumping facilities at my office (I could be locked INTO the IT cupboard…). They will be six and a half months when I go back, and will have started solid foods, and indeed all the research shows that the majority of the benefits from breastfeeding will have already been passed onto them. But still, it feels strange that my decision about something as seemingly simple as what to feed my babies is being dictated to by my workplace. I should say that in all other ways my office is an incredibly family friendly place, with generous maternity leave and flexible working so I don’t want to complain too much.
What are other people’s thoughts on family friendly workplaces?