Just in time for National Breastfeeding Awareness month, Atomic Object received a gold-level Michigan Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace Award. The distinction, awarded by the Michigan Breastfeeding Network, acknowledges organizations that demonstrate support for women who may need to express breast milk while at work.
For Atomic’s Business Manager, Mary O’Neill, the award represents just one part of the company’s larger effort to employ more women: “Though a breastfeeding-friendly workplace isn’t going to be relevant to all women—it will be essential to some. It’ll be an important factor when it comes to the jobs some women consider.”
New Accommodations for New Moms
Atomic began improving its facilities for breastfeeding women when Marketing Manager Lisa Tjapkes returned from her parental leave early this year. Mary installed a retractable shade over the window of a small meeting room in the Grand Rapids office—a pumping room prototype. Ever the tech-conscious company, Atomic set up a Google Calendar reservation system for the pumping room. A similar set-up now exists in the Ann Arbor office.
When Lisa was coming back to work, she felt some trepidation about balancing work with an hour-and-a-half of pumping time throughout her day. She says Atomic’s accommodations and the right equipment have let her pump without major work interruptions.
Lisa, who’s in her fifth year as an Atom, says she wasn’t surprised that Atomic helped meet her needs: “Atomic recognizes we all have lives and families, home repairs, and dentist appointments. They’ve always been respectful of the fact that my personal life sometimes needs attention between 8 and 5.”
Translating Breastfeeding Support into a Policy
In addition to designating a pumping room and refrigerator space to store milk, Mary wrote an Atomic Breastfeeding Support Policy, which enumerates local breastfeeding resources, including lactation consultant services covered under Atomic’s health insurance. The award application process also requested documentation of Atomic’s parental leave policy.
Mary has two children of her own, and she says she was one of only a few women at her former workplace who breastfed their babies after returning to work in the ’90s.
“I remember it was really challenging to find a safe place to pump,” Mary said. “I didn’t have a lot of flexibility around when I could pump during the day.”
When she learned Atomic had received the highest-level award status—which is currently only held by St. Joseph Mercy Oakland and St. John hospitals—Mary said she felt validated.
“It felt nice to get external recognition that the support we’ve put into place speaks to the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law,” she said. “That’s consistent with who we are.”
Evolving the Human-Centered Workplace
Despite the welcome recognition, Mary says she’s not done with her mission to craft a workplace that’s welcoming to Atoms and supportive of their work. She says she uses the software development approach of human-centered design to guide this effort, constantly asking herself empathic questions:
If I were a breastfeeding woman, what would I need when I returned to work? If I were a prospective client walking in our door, how would I feel if that door was hard to open? What does it say about my experience?
“I’ll never be satisfied,” she said. “I’m always looking for ways to make something better.”