All aboard the breast milk express! Twitter is the latest company to reveal that it too is helping new moms ship their breast milk home while on business trips. Just days after releasing its updated diversity numbers (and setting goals to increase the percentage of women and minorities on its staff), the San Francisco-based company unveiled its latest perk exclusively to Fortune.
According to Twitter’s VP of diversity and inclusion, Janet Van Huysse, the company quietly piloted its milk-shipping service at its recent global sales conference. Out of the gathering of 1,500 worldwide salespeople, which took place at the company's headquarters in July, nine women signed up to have their milk FedExed home by Twitter. (Going forward, lactating employees can take cold-shipping materials with them before a trip or have the necessary packing sent directly to their hotel.) “This wasn’t something we looked at as a program that would have great reach,” says Van Huysse. “But it would have big impact for the people it did include.”
Holly Murphy, a senior account sales executive at Twitter and early guinea pig of the program (she calls herself a “piloter”) refers to the new perk as a “game-changer.”
“When you come back to work, you’re thinking so many different thoughts,” says Murphy. “Then you have to figure out how am I going to get this food I’ve worked so hard for back to my child.”
For those who have never lactated, the onus of pumping milk while on the go might seem trivial. It's not. To keep her milk supply going, a nursing mother needs to pump every three to four hours. Each session lasts about 20 minutes, if not more (trying fitting those "breaks" in between meetings). The process isn't just a time-suck—no pun intended—it's also a logistical nightmare. A woman on a four-day business trip can express upwards of one gallon of milk. That milk needs to be refrigerated and even then, only stays fresh for a few days. Then, of course, there is the headache of going through airport security while lugging liquid. In other words, there is a reason many moms refer to breast milk as "liquid gold."
In the past, female employees who do double-duty as nursing mothers have been left to their own devices while traveling for work—lugging around a breast pump to business trips, and often having to dump out their hard-earned milk. Twitter's attempt to mitigate this inconvenience isn't the first.
In a small but growing trend that will likely make many other new moms—not to mention La Leche League supporters—happy, other companies seem to be paying more attention to the needs of their working, breastfeeding mothers. In mid-July IBM kicked off the milk madness, announcing it was developing a program to allows moms to send expressed breast milk back home to their babies. Consulting firm Accenture soon followed with a similar plan for employees. (Meanwhile, another consulting giant, EY, says it has offered such a benefit for eight years.) For moms whose companies don't yet offer such services, there's another option: Palo Alto-based Milk Stork, which launched in early August, lets them order breast milk storage bags and postage-paid coolers on their own. The only catch? The company is still in beta and the service costs $99 per day.
The reality is that the vast majority of working mothers—a quarter of them return to work within two weeks after childbirth—have limited options when it comes to getting milk back to their babies while on the go.
"I don’t know how pervasive this will be," says Twitter's Van Huysse. "But it’s one of those things: why isn’t everyone doing this?"
According to its recent numbers, 34% of Twitter's employee base is comprised of women. The company is no poster child for diversity—a recent frat-themed celebration didn't help its image—but it has made strides in offering more benefits that appeal to employees who have kids, both moms and dads. For example, last March Twitter launched a dinners-to-go perk that allows employees working in the office to take meals home to their family (the subsidized service costs just $5 per box, which includes an entree, salad and side dish).
The breast milk-shipping benefit might only attract a small sub-category of working parents (not all parents are moms, and not all moms breastfeed). But it can be significant to those who use it. More symbolically, it is a way for a company to tell employees that it is making an effort to meet their needs and make juggling work and life easier, which can go a long way when it comes to recruiting. Especially given the competition for talent, you can bet we will be seeing more and more companies launching milk-shipping perks. All aboard!
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