there going to be a place for me to pump?!” After receiving multiple emails along these lines from Lady Project Summit participants, I was determined to find a way to provide accommodations for nursing and expecting mothers at this year’s conference,held this past weekend (April 18) in downtown Providence. This year’s conference sold out quickly, drawing more than 270 diverse young women from across the nation for a full day of speakers, workshops, and networking.
Many of our participants are new or expecting mothers, juggling work, school and other responsibilities – a feat that is harder than it should be. We wanted to make this professional development opportunity possible and enjoyable for all women. Our brilliant team was able to convert vacant space into a pumping room for nursing mothers, which offered private and comfortable space with access to electricity, seating, wi-fi and even a view of downtown. We also made sure there was an abundant water supply, elevators, seating at every workshop, and ample snack breaks for pregnant participants. Any minor costs to these simple accommodations were well worth it in the engagement, appreciation, and participation they facilitated.
As co-founder of The Lady Project, I set out to make Rhode Island an ideal place for a woman to thrive professionally, whether that be through employment or heading a start-up of her own. Since we launched in 2012, six other cities have started chapters, all working to empower women to be confident, creative leaders by connecting and showcasing local women in business – an intentional alternative to the “old boy’s network”. When women stand together to support each other, we all grow and shine.
Keeping pregnant women in the workforce isn't just a women's issue; it's a family issue. When pregnant women can stay healthy and on the job, everyone wins – businesses, families,and society at large. The changes we made at the Summit to meet the needs of our pregnant and nursing attendees are simple and easy things that all businesses can and should do to keep valuable employees at work and performing at their best. We know that many businesses see the value in keeping their pregnant employees on the job and are willing to make adjustments to reduce physical demands; provide for access to water, food and privacy for nursing; and offer a stool or break for employees who stand for long periods. But we also know that some employers are unwilling to make even the simplest of changes, and many working women are afraid to ask without legal protections.
That’s just one of many reasons that we collaborate with the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island to promotegender equitable policy changes. Advocacy from the Women’s Fund’s Women’s Policy Institute fellows led to newordinances protecting pregnant women and new mothers working in Providence and Central Falls. 13 other states have passed similar legislation recognizing that it is good policy to keep people safe, healthy, and in the workforce. The Lady Project lends its voice to the many speaking out for statewide legislation to ensure that working women are able to do their jobs at all stages of their lives.
Pregnancy accommodations are not only vital for a gender equitable work environment, but also for the economic success of our state and the well being of our residents. Everyone deserves to be safe and happy while contributing to the work force of Rhode Island. No woman should have to choose between supporting her family and having a healthy pregnancy. It’s time for our legislators to make pregnancy accommodations a priority and
pass H5674 and S276 this year. We encourage our members, friends and business colleagues to contact their legislators in support of this important legislation.