Technology companies offer their employees all kinds of perks, from free meals to unlimited vacation days.
Now, IBM has upped the ante, offering breastfeeding mothers a shipping service that will send home the breast milk they pump while they are traveling for work, according to a Fortune article published Monday.
The logistics of breast-feeding babies can be difficult, and hitting the road complicates the picture further. Being away from their babies means mothers have to find a place to store expressed milk and keep it cold enough to survive the trip home. Otherwise, they may have to “pump and dump” — discarding the milk they have pumped in order to keep their supply of milk flowing. Instead, IBM plans to organize a service for women to ship the breast milk back to their babies in temperature-controlled packaging whenever they travel for business.
“We are going to experiment with this and see how many women are interested,” Barbara Brickmeier, vice president of benefits at IBM, told Fortune. “As long as it appeals to a segment of our population and they feel that they can better balance their work and home, we will continue it.”
While IBM is still working out the details and how much it will cost, it plans to create an app to go along with the shipping service so that employees can specify which hotel they're staying in so that temperature-controlled packaging that will be waiting when they arrive, according to spokesperson Laurie Friedman.
While other companies reimburse workers for the cost of shipping their breast milk, Friedman says, IBM is unusual in offering a dedicated breast milk shipping service, due to launch in September. “It’s important for companies to look at innovative ways to help their employees,” Friedman said.
Many technology companies have moved to create more family friendly environments by extending benefits for parents and parents-to-be. Companies such as Apple and Facebook pay for two rounds of egg-freezing for female employees, and Change.org recently increased paid parental leave time to 18 weeks from six weeks for both mothers and fathers.
Anne Weisberg, senior vice president at the Families and Work Institute, a New York-based non-profit that conducts research on families and the workplace, said IBM's move serves as a real recognition that mothers are returning to work after having babies, and that they need policies to help them do that.
“The issue is no longer ‘Are women going to come back?’" she said. "The issue is, how to make the transition back to work as smooth as possible so they can really be fully engaged at work.”
In one respect, however, IBM is like many other technology companies. While its CEO, Ginni Rometty, is female, women comprise just 29 percent of the company’s total work force. That's a similar breakdown to other tech titans; at Apple, for example, 30 percent employees are women, and at Facebook they make up 31 percent of all workers.