IBM gives nurs­ing moms one less thing to worry about on the job.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - BY JENA MCGRE­GOR jena.mcgre­gor@wash­post.com

For most new moth­ers who breast­feed and have to travel for busi­ness, the op­tions have been few and un­de­sir­able. They can sus­pend travel al­to­gether — some­thing that’s im­prac­ti­cal for work­ing women who nurse for many months. They can dump all that milk af­ter it has been pumped — a cringe-in­duc­ing thought to any­one who has ever been strapped to a breast pump.

Or they can go through the lo­gis­ti­cal headaches of stor­ing and trans­port­ing milk — in­clud­ing re­serv­ing a ho­tel room with a re­frig­er­a­tor that has enough space for bot­tles, find­ing a way to cool the pack­age that will trans­port the milk, deal­ing with the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion and cov­er­ing the cost of overnight ship­ping it home for the baby.

At at least one com­pany, those chal­lenges may soon be al­le­vi­ated. IBM is start­ing a pro­gram in Septem­ber that not only pays for its new moth­ers to ship milk home, but co­or­di­nates the pro­gram through tech­nol­ogy that em­ploy­ees can down­load to their smart­phones, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by For­tune.

The ser­vice would work like this: An IBM em­ployee who is nurs­ing and plan­ning to travel tells the app where she’ll be stay­ing and the num­ber of tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled pack­ages she’ll need. When she gets to her ho­tel, pre-ad­dressed ship­ping pack­ages will be wait­ing for her at the front desk. Once filled, they will be picked up and shipped home overnight, all at IBM’s ex­pense. “We do all the work so the mother doesn’t have to think about any of the de­tails,” says Bar­bara Brick­meier, vice pres­i­dent of ben­e­fits at IBM.

IBM isn’t the only com­pany that will pay to ship breast milk for an em­ployee’s baby, says Jen­nifer Owens, ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor for Work­ing Mother mag­a­zine. Of the 100 com­pa­nies on her pub­li­ca­tion’s list rank­ing the best places for work­ing moms, 24 of­fer to re­coup the cost for moth­ers while on busi­ness travel. (Ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, which is not onWork­ingMother’s list, pays for breast­feed­ing moth­ers to bring along a travel com­pan­ion, such as a spouse or nanny, who can watch the baby when trips ex­ceed four days.)

But em­ploy­ees typ­i­cally have to or­ga­nize the ship­ping them­selves, Owens says, and then fill out an ex­pense re­port to be re­im­bursed. IBM cov­ers the cost up­front, and ap­pears to be dis­tinc­tive for the con­ve­nience it of­fers.

“It’s al­most a concierged way of do­ing it,” Owens says. “To think be­yond just al­low­ing the ex­pense, but to make it easy and seam­less — that’s re­ally com­mend­able.” IBM is one of only two com­pa­nies that have been onWork­ingMother’s list since its in­cep­tion nearly 30 years ago.

The idea for the ser­vice came out of a meet­ing be­tween Brick­meier and her team, who were brain­storm­ing ways to help moth­ers ease back into work. Sev­eral shared sto­ries of their own ex­pe­ri­ences deal­ing with nurs­ing and trav­el­ing.

“We know we could have just pro­vided a re­im­burse­ment and been done with it,” Brick­meier says, “but that’s putting all the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on the mother.”

IBM’s milk-ship­ping ben­e­fit will be­gin at a time when com­pa­nies are in­creas­ingly rolling out more niceties to at­tract and re­tain women. A grow­ing num­ber of cor­po­ra­tions are in­tro­duc­ing longer parental leave for both moth­ers and fathers. Some, such as Voda­fone, are al­low­ing new moms to work part-time for their first six months yet re­tain their full-time salaries. And some, such as Ap­ple and Face­book, have in­tro­duced ben­e­fits that cover the cost of freez­ing eggs for non-med­i­cal rea­sons for women who choose to de­lay hav­ing a child.

What’s in­ter­est­ing about IBM’s ben­e­fit, and the one Ap­ple and Face­book in­tro­duced, is that they don’t just of­fer flex­i­bil­ity or more time off— the tra­di­tional do­main of ben­e­fits for new­moms. Rather, they are ini­tia­tives that al­low women to con­tinue do­ing their jobs, keep­ing up their pace of travel or work­ing dur­ing pe­ri­ods of their lives when they oth­er­wise might have taken time off to have a child.

“It’s all about flex­i­bil­ity,” Brick­meier says. “Just like any other em­ployer, our tal­ent base is re­ally im­por­tant for us and we want to make it easy for them.”

Brick­meier would not say how much the pro­gram will cost IBM. “The thing I can say is that it’s not a huge cost in the grand scheme of things,” she said.

More at wash­ing­ton­post.com/onleadership

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