Additional Challenges facing African American Working Mothers

February 14, 2019 - What needs to be done in the workplace to help new parents transition back to work? By Mari Vega

As a human resources professional and working mother, I am empathetic to the stressors working parents face and feel compelled to play a role in simplifying the transition to parenthood, specifically for breastfeeding mothers. Having children teaches you a certain discipline and responsibility that can be leveraged in the workplace in order to improve productivity and efficiency. Despite a growing body of research that supports this understanding, many women face a “motherhood penalty” after starting a family. More often than not, we will be perceived as less dedicated to our job which will hinder our ability to earn promotions over time. This was best described by Anne Hathaway, United Nations Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, during her speech for paid family leave at the United Nations 2017 Observance of International Women’s Day.

Regina Smith James, M.D., Director of Clinical and Health Services Research at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities indicates in her article, “Breastfeeding Disparities in African American Women”, that one of the reasons for lower breastfeeding duration for black mothers is returning to jobs less supportive of breastfeeding.

I work in the financial services industry, so my experience has been geared towards helping new parents transition back to a corporate environment. I feel my industry has done a lot to support breastfeeding mothers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, being in the transportation industry would make consistent private breaks for pumping less available. If you’re a flight attendant, bus driver, or postal service employee you may find yourself in a less than ideal environment for maintaining your breastfeeding relationship.

It is important to bring awareness to the reality that a large number of women of color hold the majority of these types of careers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Transportation & Utilities industry holds the highest percentage of Black or African American women, with 19.2% represented in 2018, followed by 16.9% in Public Administration and 15.1% in Education & Health Services.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Women Services created a wonderful resource for suggested lactation break time and spaces in multiple industries. Below are the specific links for the industries with the highest percentage of Black or African American women in the labor force: Transportation, Public Administration,  Education & Healthcare. Employers and leaders in these industries need to intentionally create space for new parents to thrive. The Department of Health guidelines are a great place to start.

In conjunction with remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora during Black History Month, we should also work to alleviate the particular challenges that our women of color face in breastfeeding and motherhood as a professional year round. I encourage you to help spread this blog post and create awareness for the employers of these industries.