Making the case for additional workplace lactation rooms
March 8, 2013 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Help me make an argument to my direct boss, and then facilities/HR, about why we should have a per-building lactation room on our three-building work campus (vs. one lactation room in one building).

This is a mid-size, publicly traded company in California. There are around 500 people at one campus, across three buildings. There is a dedicated lactation space in one of the three, which is at most a 5 minute walk from any other site in the other two buildings, although it's across parking lots and up stairs. There's a new mom in my building, and facilities is pushing back on accommodating her with a lactation space in our building. I'm a people-manager within our group, although not this person's direct manager. I am a woman, mom and pumped at work, so I feel that I want to advocate for the new mom. Rather than fight with facilities myself I'm trying to take this up with my direct boss (a VP whom she indirectly reports to). He's generally supportive but has been playing devil's advocate about why the space in the other building isn't sufficient.

I don't think it's a legal issue where the company isn't meeting their obligations. There also aren't many women pumping at work, so far as I can tell, so the one room/500 people thing might not be a strong argument. We have not yet heard of scheduling conflicts. My boss basically doesn't buy that the extra minutes of walking add up to more value in saved time than the cost of building a new space. I've tried to make the argument that more than saving this person the 20 extra person-minutes a day of walking you're showing her you value and support her, and perhaps that retains her in the long term. Plus you're showing your future-mom employees that you support their parenting choices. But I feel I'm not being articulate - what else can I add? The closest thing I've come up to an argument that he's bought is to ask, if the bathrooms all burned down, would he expect everyone to happily walk to the next building three times a day, every day, indefinitely.

I'm kind of upset about this and probably not writing clearly, but will be back later tonight if any questions come up. We are going to talk more on Monday. I'd be interested in any thoughts, or if this really isn't that big a deal. It's also a bit unclear how big a deal it is to the actual employee, and I'm planning to clarify with her how she feels before making this into a larger issue.
posted by handful of rain to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Something to consider is that you're not required to make a "permanent" space: converting an existing office (with curtains over any windows, etc.) may be an easier sell.
posted by SMPA at 3:29 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you say "building a new space", exactly what would the company need to do? Meaning, is it just that there are no rooms right now that would be suitable, so another room would need to be subdivided, or is that the other lactation room has sink etc, so you would expect this one to have the same?

I pumped at work for both my kids, for a year each time. The first setup was a shared "guest office", which was hateful (had to tape paper over the windows, had to negotiate with guest workers when they visited), so I pushed back and got a small room elsewhere in the same building designated as a lactation room. No rebuilding was required, it's kind of like a large walk in closet (or a very small office!) with a lockable door, and a small refrigerator. Our facilities person was going to put an easy chair and table in there, but I requested a desk because personally I prefer to work at the computer while I pump (helps me relax and not obsess over how much I'm producing). So I guess I'm saying, make sure he or you doesn't have an overly expensive vision of what this needs to be.

The bathroom analogy makes me cringe (so many women expected to pump in toilets - ugh), but if it wins him over, then ask him to imagine there are no mens rooms in his building, only a womens restroom. He has to walk over to the other building every time he needs to use the mens room. His boss refuses to build a mens room in his building because the one in the other building is perfectly adequate. Would he feel valued as an employee?
posted by Joh at 3:35 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

This may be a stupid question, but can your mom work out of the building with the lactaction room in it for the next year or so?
posted by Oktober at 3:35 PM on March 8, 2013

I would try to identify unused or underused space and suggest that be converted, if only temporarily.

When I worked at a big company, they added on to an existing building when they were growing. The recession hit and our department shrank. We ended up with some desk areas which were never used. They converted some areas to collaboration spaces just to try get some value out of space they had to pay for anyway.

So I think if you can find unused or underused space in your building, it would be easier to argue "we are paying the carrying costs anyway, we might as well get some value out of it." People tend to view any kind of accommodation as "extra expense." If you can show that it isn't, really, that might help.
posted by Michele in California at 3:42 PM on March 8, 2013

Is there an alternative use for the rooms if no one is pumping?
posted by Ideefixe at 3:42 PM on March 8, 2013

I work in a building with 2000+ people. There are 2 lactation rooms. I am not sure what the rate of pumping mothers is, but if ours is typical I'd doubt the need for another room.

I had at least 5 minutes per pump session of having to walk (down to get a key, up to the room, to return the key, back to desk). At first I was outraged at the key retrieving business, but in the end I just got into the habit and it was fine.
posted by sulaine at 4:01 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My boss basically doesn't buy that the extra minutes of walking add up to more value in saved time than the cost of building a new space.

That is probably because building a new space is real hard cash that hits bottom line and hurts everyone. Whereas having to walk an extra 5 minutes effects just the one mom.

The bathroom analogy fails because everyone uses the bathroom and it burning down is a bit far fetched. If it did happen it would effect 500 people, not 1.

Building a special permanent room won't be acceptable, but the idea of a temporary space should be easily acceptable. Won't cost a dime and makes everyone happy. That is assuming there is someplace that could be made nice enough to make the mother comfortable. Most offices have such spaces. Rarely is every office/storage use 24/7.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:18 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The bathrooms haven't burned down, so your hypothetical is moot. Five minutes' walk isn't a big deal - did you find it so, as a pumping mother at work? Was it particularly arduous for you? Five minutes is a very short period of time.

I'm trying to understand what is making you so upset about your employer providing a dedicated lactation room so I can answer your question better, and I'm struggling - what is it that upsets you so much about the current setup?

As a manager, sometimes you have to maintain the status quo, even though your employees buck up against it. If the solution provided is appropriate and functional, which yours sounds, then it's your job to temper her expectations if they're beyond appropriate and functional. Just tell her she has to walk for five minutes, it's not that big a deal. You can't always be your employees' friend.
posted by goo at 4:25 PM on March 8, 2013

What about actually crunching some numbers?

Annual salary divided by number of minutes in a work-year = her salary per minute

Multiple that number by the minutes lost walking* per trip x number of times she pumps per day** x however many work days she might pump*** = the total cost to the company of walking to the lactation room for this employee

I bet that number would be far higher than the cost of providing a space closer to this employee's work area.

*I can't tell from your question if it's 20 minutes total, or 20 minutes one way. Don't include the time spent actually pumping, just the walk time.
**Maybe twice a day at first, once a day later?
***I pumped every work day for about 3 months, IIRC.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:31 PM on March 8, 2013

Is she able to take that extra ten minutes per pumping session on the clock, or does she have to use break time for that?

For the first few months of my son's life, I was pumping at work 4 times per day. That would have been an extra 40 minutes per day, x 5 days per week = 3 hours 20 minutes per week.

If I had to make up an extra 40 minutes per day, I would have just pumped in a bathroom stall rather than leave work 40 minutes later. Being a new mom is hard enough without that. I think a lot of moms would have just given up and used formula in that situation.

On the other hand, if it was on the clock, and I could arrive at 8 and leave at 5 no matter how much time I spent walking to and from the lactation room, I would have been OK with it, so I think this needs to be specified. (On the other hand, if travel time is on the clock, the argument could be made that if the company looks at it costing x dollars to make a space in her building vs. losing 3 hours 20 minutes of work time per week it might make financial sense to them to provide accommodations in her building).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:31 PM on March 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Two tacks:

1. It is about accommodation and showing support and all the other things you mention. It is in the interest of a company to show that it cares for the needs of all its employees, even when some employees' needs are more specific than others, because this assures prospective talent that they will be enabled to do their best work.

I'm not sure if I'm overreading the original statement, but to me, it sounds like the VP balked so s/he could engage in this intellectual, theoretical exercise of explaining why the lactation room is unnecessary, before considering simple solutions (e.g. #2) that could make a fellow human being more comfortable. This is telling and makes me uneasy.

1.5. How uncouth would it be to bring up handicapped bathrooms? Surely those are in all buildings, not just when someone wheelchair-confined gets hired into the building, or when someone breaks their leg, right?

2. Is there some "Focus room" with a lock? And only lactating mothers can get the key to lock it?
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:34 PM on March 8, 2013

If there is a facility available and there are not scheduling conflicts, then it'll be a hard sell. I did some facilities projects when I was consulting on reorgs. Here is what I learned. Office space is expensive, political and no one is ever happy with what they get.

I agree with your need for lactation rooms and we put them on every other floor (on alternate floors we put a "quiet room" for everyone to use). However, lactation rooms are a bit of a rub with some staff. Here is this room - which people claim is empty every time they walk by it - but they don't have enough offices, conference rooms, private phone rooms for people who work in cubes.

A different question to ask the VP is, "What are the current space issues in this building?" If he's already dealing with multiple department expansions, lack of conference rooms and hotel space, then you have a much harder sell. If this is really just converting a lightly used hotel office, then you've got a better shot.
posted by 26.2 at 9:57 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

A five minute walk doesn't sound like much -- and it might be worth making the walk with a stopwatch from the employee's office as well as from the farthest possible workspaces from the existing room. Then multiply that number by two (there and back). Generally new moms pump more than once a day, so double it again. That's lost productivity time.

Adding the fact that it can take up to a half hour for a successful pump, time during which only some work can be done (and in some cases none, depending on the job and the pump), not having an easily accessible room means that you are losing your worker's productivity far more than you need to.

Agree with finding a temporary space. In some companies I've worked, they designate a windowless conference or meeting room that can be booked through the same system as meetings, so no one has to know why she needs the room.
posted by Mchelly at 5:02 PM on March 9, 2013

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