The co-owner of a small UK business recently started somewhat of an online debate after she shared her experience with breastfeeding in the office. Having recently given birth, the woman was on maternity leave when she agreed to sit in on an interview at the request of her business partner.
For reasons she deemed to be beyond her control, she ended up breastfeeding her three-month-old son during the interview, in front of a candidate.
Although a few netizens saw no problem and praised her for normalising breastfeeding, the majority of respondents felt her actions were unprofessional and she should have stepped out of the room, or not brought her baby in the first place.
While this case of actually breastfeeding a baby in the office may be an exception, working mothers are not. In Hong Kong, the female labour force participation rate is around 50%, in line with the global average. Although men still outnumber women in the workforce, especially higher up in the ranks, you can expect to find at least some female employees in most companies.
Of course, an increasingly diverse workforce does not necessarily mean all companies should immediately start allowing their female employees to breastfeed at their desks. But it does come with the responsibility for Hong Kong employers to ensure a comfortable, supportive work environment for all employees, regardless of gender or parental status.
One of the ways in which companies can support their female employees is by offering dedicated facilities new mothers can use to pump and store milk after returning to work. With working mothers in Hong Kong being entitled to only 10 weeks of leave, many female employees will still be breastfeeding their baby after they’ve returned to the office.
A Hong Kong company showcasing its commitment to providing a great work environment for its increasingly diverse workforce is Towngas. “Promoting and supporting breastfeeding at the workplace shows our care and support to our post-maternity employees,” Kit Fan, Towngas corporate head of human resources told Human Resources magazine. “Even though we have relatively small population of female employees, we consider their needs to be an equally high priority.”
Microsoft offers another example. The company has been proactively including the needs of working mothers in its office design since it first introduced so-called Mother’s Rooms in 2005 by freeing up spare meeting rooms for breast-feeding purposes.
Realising the importance of the facility to its employees, nowadays new mothers at Microsoft can enjoy a state of the art Mother’s Room featuring private booths and automatic locks that only allow access via a security card to registered mothers.
Both companies believe making an effort to provide the right environment for employees eventually results in a better workforce. “By taking away the mothers’ worries about finding a place to prepare milk, they can be more focused at work which brings more productivity, higher quality, and stronger engagement”, Fan says.
Maria Hui, director, human resources at Microsoft Hong Kong agrees that it’s a win-win situation. “We believe that our employees are a bridge to our customers, and women, including mothers, are no exception. It’s important that they feel happy at work and are encouraged to contribute their unique insights and skills to enrich our company’s performance and products.”
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