Could company-sponsored breast milk mailings become the new normal for working moms?
Accenture announced a new series of parental benefits for employees in the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday. The consulting firm will now pay for lactating moms to ship breast milk home to their infants while traveling for work. With this announcement, Accenture joins tech giant IBM, which announced a new policy last month, and fellow consulting firm EY, which tells Fortune that it has offered a similar benefit for several years.
Accenture’s chief HR officer Ellyn Shook says the company will pay for milk packing materials and shipping costs for lactating employees, and make hospital-grade breast pumps available to female employees in the U.S. Other new benefits include the now-formalized opportunity to work locally for one year following parents' return from leave, 80 hours per year of back-up dependent care for children, spouses or elderly family members paid for by the company (up from 40 hours), and o nline parenting education for U.S. employees. Back in March, the company doubled its paid parental leave for birth mothers from eight weeks to 16 weeks, and increased leave for other primary caregivers to eight weeks.
The new breast milk benefit comes at a time when breastfeeding rates are on the rise, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If market availability is any indicator, demand for these services in the U.S. is also climbing. A company called Milk Stork, which launched earlier this month, provides breast milk-shipping supplies to traveling mothers. These include storage bags and pharmaceutical-grade shipping coolers that can be shipped directly to a traveler's hotel.
While Accenture’s and IBM’s new benefits undoubtedly help working mothers do their jobs, some question whether such policies are really helping or hurting women in the long run. Anne Weisberg, senior vice president of the Families and Work Institute, recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “This new raft of 'perks' shows how trapped we still are in a work culture that prizes total availability at the office at all times and how blind we are to the impact that norms at work have on roles at home.”
Shook says Accenture's breast milk policy originated from a request made by a company employees who'd heard about the practice at IBM and wanted to see something similar implemented by her workplace.
“Women are not asking for off ramps,” Shook says. “They want to understand how they could have both [work and family].”
While the option to ship their breast milk doesn’t guarantee that women will be able to have it all, it should make the lives of working mothers—especially those that travel regularly for their job—a little bit easier. As Floren Robinson Pressman, a managing director at Accenture and mother of a two-month-old and a 22-month-old points out, “Any policy intended to help parents find balance between work and family is important.”
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