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