The first few weeks and months postpartum are filled with so many pleasures. But it's also a time that's fraught with challenges. No sooner have you got your “mom legs" under you then it's time to head back to the office. And even those of us that are excited to get back to work are simultaneously dealing with the emotional stress of parting with babe, the logistical stress of balancing baby and business, and oftentimes, the physical stress of nursing and pumping. We could all use a little support, right?
Julia Beck thinks so. Her new “It's Working Project," her latest since launching her company Forty Weeks more than 17 years ago, aims to do just that by developing strategies for the private sector to bring families (yup, dads included) back to work with ease and pride. It's Working offers guidance for employers--from parental leave to return resources like phase-back planning, pumping room design and implementation, backup childcare and more. It also fosters a sense of community among working parents, showing off a diverse range of back-to-work stories as part of its Portrait Project.
We're big believers in helping women do their own baby balance, so we'll be bringing you some of these personal reflections over the next few weeks, from moms we admire like Jennifer Senior and Katherine Stone. But first, to launch our series, we want to introduce you to another mom we admire, the oft-termed “fairy godmother" of the baby industry, Julia Beck. Below, find out why she launched It's Working and get her own tips for heading back to the office.
Tell us about your own experience of going back to work postpartum. How did the system serve you or fail you?
I was in publishing at the time. My pregnancy days were some of my most prolific and frankly, profitable of my career. The hormones were powerful. You could say that the failure of the system was what served me! My personal experience inspired me to change the conversation and launch Forty Weeks. I became an entrepreneur the landscape shifted, my passions ignited, and I worked (and still do) likely longer and better than I ever had!
Why are you so passionate about transforming the workplace for new parents?
The question of how to support new mothers is one that is always top of mind for me and one that requires forward-thinking commitment and connection to the issues at hand. It is a story that is equally unique and personal and needs to be approached as such.
What are the goals of the It's Working Project?
Simply put, to help keep families in the workplace--to bring new parents back with ease, as a matter of course, and with a sense of pride.
How is the private sector in a position to make real change for working moms?
The private sector has much to gain from supporting women (and men) as they transition into parents in the workplace. Retaining an employee is a more desirable and economical alternative to forever recruiting and training. And sharing this story as part of the brand's message is powerful and affirming.
The remarkable part is that the changes required to shift the existing norm are simple, straight- forward and easy to execute. The private sector controls their culture, sets the tone and establishes the bar. Choosing to build internal policies that support families aids retention and recruitment and begins a powerful corporate narrative focused on these cultural commitments.
What are some of the efforts you're undertaking?
We are deeply committed to supporting the private sector as they build stronger connections with their employees through simple gestures. We have partnered with Leave Logic to help these organizations understand and manage FMLA and related complexities through HR policy and management. But truly nothing feels better than that “ah ha!" moment when we explain how easy (and cost effective) it is to install and maintain a pumping room or offer other simple solutions that are game changers for new parents.
What's your best piece of advice for a parent about to make the transition back to the workplace?
Be kind to yourself--start by setting fair, realistic and gentle goals and be flexible with them! Give yourself the freedom to figure things out in real time. And build yourself a strong, reliable support system at home and work. Find a workplace mentor, or better yet a few. Look for the answers from those who have or are actively living through it (even someone with a baby just a few months older than yours is the keeper of great intelligence – ask for it.)
You had an active role at last year's White House Summit on Working Families. What did you take away?
Last year's Summit was a remarkable gathering of passionate individuals eager to tackle the myriad of issues around working families. My time with key political leaders, social advocates and “agents for change" sparked me in new, exciting ways, and this was the germ of the Portrait Project. It seemed clear–the story of working families in America needed to be told through the voice of the first person, without bias and with the raw truth of personal experience.
How does hearing other moms' stories help empower other working parents?
There is power in telling the truth. This is hard. Back to work with baby is rough stuff, there is no standard, ideal or simple right answer. Sometimes we forget. And when we do, we are quick to turn on ourselves. These stories are told in a candid way–meant to resonate and support. There is real power in listening to each other. We see ourselves in each others' stories and gain wisdom, inspiration and in the end we are better for having listened and shared our own stories.