In this post we hear both from media intern Briana Pearl (who is also a mom) and CEO of El Camino Travel, Katalina Mayorga (who is not) on the subject of breastfeeding in the workplace and what it means to the work environment for the newest crop of young female professionals in the workforce.
When my son turned two weeks old, I decided it was the perfect time to start an internship with El Camino.
Actually, it went like this: I’d been excited about the possibility of working for El Camino for several months. I was already taking time off from the long days and heavy equipment involved in running my videography business. I learned from my first kid that having an outlet for creativity and problem-solving during the bleary, blissful early days with a newborn is key for me to maintain my sanity and my identity outside of “mom.” So when the opportunity to work part time from home for El Camino arrived, I took it.
"Having an outlet for creativity and problem-solving during the bleary, blissful early days with a newborn is key."
Since January, I’ve been completing my tasks for El Camino during the holes in my schedule. When baby is awake at 3am, instead of bemoaning the lack of sleep, I’ve enjoyed the snuggle time and the opportunity to review an email. When he sleeps during the day, I write blog posts from my couch. When we hop on Google hangout for a cross-country team meeting, I can stealthily stay in my PJs from the waist down. Much of my time isn’t my own, but I’ve learned how to utilize every precious quiet, alone moment I have. I type at an impressive speed with one hand, and I help projects leap forward when I’ve got ten minutes free. I instantly slide from mom mode or play mode into work mode, and I bring my unique perspective to a team that values new ideas, distinct backgrounds, and a mix of voices.
During one afternoon filled with El Camino-related phone meetings, my husband/partner-in-child-wrangling peeked into my room with a hungry baby in his arms. I had another hour left of topics to discuss with Katalina. I could either tell Kata I’d have to call her back or make my hungry baby wait it out.
Work or kids?
While it might seem like I have to choose one or the other, the answer is: both. I told Katalina I needed a moment to readjust. I flipped our call to speakerphone, moved my laptop to one side to continue taking notes, and started feeding my baby. It wasn’t a big deal.
Breastfeeding so often is an act deemed inappropriate for women out in public just doing their everyday mom thing. Breastfeeding in a professional context is something I haven’t even heard of. I’m grateful that the El Camino work culture embraces my mom status and gives me the space to say something like, “Hey, my kid is hungry. Give me thirty seconds to get him in place, and then we’ll continue brainstorming marketing strategies.”
What would happen if more bosses (and employees!) embraced moms in the professional world as empathetic, power multi-taskers who can accomplish anything in an hour, even if that means a baby must make an occasional appearance?
I’m a busy, diaper-changing mom. I also possess valuable skills, in spite of my mom status and because of it. Though sometimes the El Camino team and I must bear the momentary interruptions and slight inconveniences that all young children generate, we also get to utilize a partnership that wouldn't have been possible if either of us couldn’t make space for motherhood and professional expertise to coexist.
"I’m a busy, diaper-changing mom. I also possess valuable skills, in spite of my mom status and because of it."
El Camino is an unconventional business environment in several ways. We are small and scrappy, we travel a lot, and we have team members who are located thousands of miles a way. We are a young team that embraces virtual collaboration and does not fully accept the typical 9-5 work schedule as the best schedule that leads to the most productivity. The El Camino office needs not to always be defined by the same set of four walls. One day Joshua Tree may play host to our office or another day Bogota, Colombia. The standard conventions of what is deemed an appropriate work environment is not of interest to us, as it is not of interest to much of our millennial generation. If you are concerned about the the happiness of your employees than you need to take this seriously as an employer. 74% want flexible work schedules and 84% say that helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition. We do not measure our happiness by the same yardstick as our parents’ generation.
Furthermore, our team is mainly comprised by a strong squad of millennial female professionals who are also approaching societal norms such as motherhood, relationships, and professionalism with a new lens. Just like male professionals have been able to do for several decades, we are eager to do and “have it all,” but the reality is that most young female professionals are reconsidering motherhood all together because of the lack of organizational support. In fact, only 42 percent of women graduating from the Wharton School of Business in 2012 said they planned to have children, compared to 78 percent in 1992 for these reasons.
I do not have kids, but we do have team members that are mothers or are planning to have kids in the future. That in no way should hinder their ability to be both the ambitious professionals and good mothers they strive to be. I have had countless discussions with my female friends about the many anxieties connected to these two topics. It should not have to be a choice, it should be a duality that can happily coexist. We are frequently told that it is one or the other and as a women it is hard to balance both. It is a choice we have to deal with that our male counterparts often do not even have to think twice about.
One clear example of this is with breastfeeding in the work place.
The story is pretty simple. I was on a call, with Briana our brilliant media intern/resident mama and we had a lot to get through. There was a whimpering baby in the background, and she asked for a few seconds to adjust. Within minutes the baby was on the boob and cooing and sucking away. Though you could hear the baby eating, it didn’t mean we couldn't power through our agenda. It was not a distraction, but instead a natural act that seamlessly fit into the rest of our call. We just needed a few seconds to accommodate and we were immediately back on track.
Once we hung up, I had a moment of strong feminist pride. A biological need that has unnecessarily become a contentious issue in the workplace really was not a big deal or inconvenience. That phone call provided a peak into what could become the new normal for female professionals and I got excited imagining how much life and work would be easier for so many women if moments like this were more frequently accepted. The reality is that the typical workplace norms are the same that have been around for decades. They are the same norms that have accommodated a workplace that has been dominated by men (and fathers) in leadership positions who have not had to face the same hurdles as working mothers. That face of leadership is clearly changing and with that we need to reconsider and redevelop the constructs of what is considered normal in the workplace. We need to adjust more and more to leadership that has two boobs and sometimes those boobs got to feed a hungry baby whether there is a team meeting or not.
I am interested in hearing from all of you. As we grow our business, the work environment we are providing all our colleagues is of high importance. As a mother or female professional that would like to have kids, what do you wish was a reality in the your work environment so the choices often made between motherhood and career did not have to seem so stressful? What do you want to see more of? Less of? How can more workplaces empower their employees who are also mothers?
Katalina is the CEO and founder of El Camino Travel. El Camino was featured in AFAR in their 2015 Vanguard Issue under, "Surprise Is the New Luxury" category, as well as Mashable, the Guardian, Marie Claire and Forbes for their innovative approach to travel. El Camino works closely with local tastemakers to curate off-beat experiences for small groups of people to unique locations. The trips all come with a creative photographer in tow, so that their travelers can thoroughly enjoy their experiences while ensuring that their memories are captured and that they will have great social media content. In addition, a percentage of profits are donated to a local social entrepreneur working to better his or her country.
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