One of the hottest employee benefit trends—companies paying to ship home the breast milk of new moms who travel for work—just entered a new industry: law firms.
Latham & Watkins, a 2,200-lawyer firm with 30 offices worldwide, introduced a breast milk shipping program this week that’s available to attorneys and staff worldwide when they travel for business.
Nursing mothers who opt into the free program fill out an internal form that sends a cooler and nursing bags to their out-of-town location—typically a hotel. The supplies are then shipped ahead and are there waiting for the employees when they arrive. The cooler contains an internal cooling mechanism that, once flipped on, keeps its contents chilled for 72 hours. When the cooler’s full, the employee can drop it off at the hotel desk and it will be shipped to her pre-selected destination, which avoids the whole dilemma of how to get breast milk through airport security.
(For attorneys traveling inter-country, the firm recommends women take the cooler with them as checked luggage on their journey home instead of shipping it because of differing customs regulations.)
Hayley Gladstone, an associate in Chicago and global co-chair of Latham’s Parent Lawyers Group, said the program is another way for the firm to support working parents and to make it easier for new moms to transition back to work. It is “an easy way” to solve what can be a logistical nightmare, she says. Nursing while working can be tricky for new moms, and that challenge is even more daunting when they need to travel, especially if business trips pop up on short notice. In fact, the firm decided against using an outside vendor to run the program to ensure it could cater to the lawyers’ and staff’s sometimes unpredictable schedules. The firm was also wary of giving employees’ personal information to an outside company, Gladstone says.
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Latham says it believes it’s the first law firm to offer the breast milk shipping benefit, but it is by no means the first employer that’s attempted to ease the headache of pumping and saving breast milk while on the road. Ernst & Young has provided this service for years. IBM introduced it last July, and consulting firm Accenture and Twitter did the same later that summer.
Employers have espoused the benefit as a way of making it easier for women to have rich professional and personal lives, but it’s worth noting that the programs have cropped up in industries that are struggling to recruit and retain women, and could be seen as a tool to keep women in the workforce.
Technology’s shortage of women workers has been well documented. Twitter, for instance, introduced its program after setting targets to increase the percentage of women and minorities on its staff. Accenture launched its benefits as it set a goal of upping the share of women it hires to at least 40% by 2017, up from 36%.
The legal industry, too, has had a hard time reaching gender parity in its leadership ranks. The American Bar Association reported in May that women made up nearly half of all summer associates and full-time associates in private practice, but they fade further up the management chain. Women accounted for just 22% of law firm partners, 18% of equity partners, and 18% of managing partners. At Latham, 36% of attorneys are women while 19% of partners are female.
Gladstone said part of the mission of Latham’s Parent Lawyers Group is to help recruit, retain, and promote working parents, no matter their gender, and this program could contribute to that objective.
The new breast milk benefit trend comes at a time when breastfeeding rates are on the rise, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and while it certainly makes breast feeding more convenient for working moms, not everyone sees it as an absolute good.
Last year Anne Weisberg, senior vice president of the Families and Work Institute, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that such mom-friendly perks “[show] 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.”
Gladstone says Latham does not regard the new program as a cure-all for the challenges facing working parents. But it will, she says, “help those who are currently in a tough situation.”
This story has been updated to add Latham’s gender breakdown.