How to Advance Maternal Equity in the Workplace, According to an Expert

How to Advance Maternal Equity in the Workplace, According to an Expert

When Lauren Smith Brody, new mom of one, went back to work as an editor at Glamour Magazine, she was returning to a familiar place—but a whole new reality. “It got me back to a piece of my identity that I recognized,” she says. “At the same time, I was an absolute disaster… and yet I kept showing up–kept needing to show up–and I think I wore the challenges of new motherhood much more openly.”

Brody thinks back on one particularly formative encounter during those first months back: “A designer came into my office to work on fitting a headline on a story. My breast pump is on my desk, and God knows what is on my sweater… I clearly have big bags under my eyes.” Brody recalls she got a little worried that she had been unprofessional, but it turns out that her realness had made an impact. The designer thanked Brody for being honest about the experience of being a working mom. “She was like, it looks like it's hard, but it also looks like you're doing it,” remembers Brody.

Now the founder of The Fifth Trimester (and co-Founder of nonprofit organization Chamber of Mothers), Brody is doing everything she can to power gender equity by supporting working moms, parents and caregivers. Through her work with The Fifth Trimester, Brody has helped usher in sustainable, humane progress and policies that don’t just improve quality of life for caregivers, but are simply good business. In a white paper published in partnership with Vivvi, The Fifth Trimester found that every $1 invested in caregiving benefits drives $18.93, for an R.O.I. of nearly 18x. 

We spoke with Lauren Smith Brody about systems of support, redefining success, paid childcare, and more—plus four crucial things to keep in mind if you’re hoping to negotiate for better policies in your workplace.

On setting a vulnerable example

“Although I knew how to be an editor and lead a team, I was going to be doing something new and challenging by being a working mom. It gave me such an opportunity to lead in a vulnerable and authentic way, and also to help change the narrative in just our little workplace, to show you don’t necessarily have to fake it until you make it, to instead embrace vulnerability.”

On stepping into a new chapter

“This fifth trimester was for me—and it was going to be a big shift in how I defined personal ambition, how I measured success, how I managed, how I shared parts of myself."

On the conditions of a supportive system

“ , it felt very much like all of my struggles were an individual problem to be solved. What I learned is that a lot of what we assume are our individual problems are actually just systems that aren't set up to support us. But that does not have to be bad news. That can also mean that together, mobilized, unified, we can make a case to make things better—for everybody.”

On affecting change at all levels

“I have not shied away from private sector change being a really big piece of the equation. When you have companies doing a better job of supporting and retaining moms, when you make the business case for doing so, that also shifts our culture.”

On paid childcare

“It should be a public right. And the reason other countries see it that way is not because they're nicer than we are. It's because they see the economic case for doing it.”

On the gold standard of support

“Six months of paid family leave is really what's considered the minimum for reducing mental health risk to mom, improving physical health outcomes, improving baby's health outcomes, improving a partners’ long term bond with the baby, and improving mom's ability to maintain her income and status in the workforce.”

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On having hope for the future

“I'm hopeful that this conversation is becoming more universal. I’m hopeful that this is no longer being seen as a niche issue for moms, but actually a larger macroeconomic issue and an issue of caregiving in a five generation workforce.”

If you’re working up the courage to advocate for yourself in the workplace, here are four things Smith Brody recommends:

  1. Validate your needs

    “Nothing is wrong with you. This is actually hard. It feels so personal and so needy somehow to ask for what you need, but the things you’re asking for are not selfish.”

  2. Give yourself grace 

    “There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel good eight weeks in, 12 weeks in, even 16 weeks in. That's not your fault. It's actually not what our bodies and brains need.”

  3. Know your value

    “At the end of the day, when you support moms and when you support caregiving in general, you're supporting the greater economy. You're supporting the ability of people doing the care work to be able to also do paid work that contributes to our economy, and you're supporting their ability to raise the next generation to do so as well.”

  4. Remember it’s bigger than you 

    “By asking for that thing, you're bringing visibility to a broader need that a lot of other people, colleagues around you, also have. You're not just doing it for yourself—you're doing it for anybody else who for one reason or another cannot speak up as loudly. We can team up to defy established norms for the betterment of everyone.” 

Find support from other new moms by joining our community Village by Perelel on Geneva. And don't forget to shop our Mom Multi Support Pack—created by doctors to support the demands of postpartum, from breastfeeding to postpartum hair loss.*