Texas A&M Earns “Mother-Friendly” Designation
AUSTIN – The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has designated Texas A&M University as a “Mother-Friendly Worksite” as part of a statewide program coordinated by DSHS. To earn this distinction, an employer must meet DSHS-established workplace criteria for practices and policies that support and accommodate workplace breastfeeding for mothers who return to work soon after having babies.
Pursuit of the DSHS Mother-Friendly Worksite designation by Texas A&M is part of “Equilibrium @ Texas A&M” – a work-life balance program developed to expand and create Texas A&M’s programs and services to assist employees in balancing work and family life.
“We strive for balance in our life, much of which is spent at work, so smoothing the edges around work as it intersects life is the objective of the umbrella of services captured by Equilibrium,” says E. Jill Pollock, Texas A&M associate vice president and chief human resources officer. “The initiative is a comprehensive work-life balance and family-friendly initiative by the university’s Office of Employee Services in support of faculty, staff and students in balancing the demands of work and school with the commitments and obligations of their personal life.”
Pollock adds that nearly half of the university’s employees are women, as are approximately half of its students. “Some of these women are new mothers who require unique campus services. With the State of Texas designation as a Mother-Friendly Worksite, the university affirms its sensitivity to needs of nursing mothers. This public recognition will be another signal as we competitively and inclusively recruit and seek to retain high-quality faculty, staff and students.”
As a part of the effort, Administrative Services, a unit within Employee Services, working in conjunction with the Physical Plant Department and the Department of Facilities Coordination, reviewed existing family-friendly/unisex restrooms and other facilities across campus to determine if the number of those amenities could be increased.
“Initially we identified seven facilities on campus that were family-friendly or unisex restrooms. Our hope was that we could tie the availability of those facilities to locations that might be used by nursing mothers seeking privacy for milk expression,” said Karan Chavis, executive director for Administrative Services. “With the assistance of the Physical Plant Department, we were able to increase the number of our family-friendly/unisex restrooms to about 25 sites. We anticipate expanding that number in the next several months.”
Chavis adds that Administrative Services is able to provide information regarding the location of those sites to the university community by use of a GIS map developed by the Office of Facilities Coordination.
“Anyone trying to locate a family-friendly/unisex restroom on campus (which includes restrooms identified for use by either gender, employees needing privacy to administer medications, or mothers needing a room to express milk) can go to the Facilities Coordination Web page, access the GIS map and locate the family-friendly/unisex restrooms by clicking on the ‘Family Friendly Restrooms’ search feature,” Chavis notes.
She says this resource will allow a person to know if the restroom in a particular location has a chair, a diaper changing station or other amenities. Chavis adds, “Mothers who require a private space to express milk do not have to use these facilities; many will use the privacy of their offices or work stations. If they work in a location that is less than private, however, a family-friendly/unisex restroom can be used as an alternative.”
In December, Texas A&M adopted a rule on workplace lactation in support of mothers who are breastfeeding and require access to flex scheduling to coordinate milk expression during work hours. Accompanying the launch of the lactation rule, Administrative Services also created the Workplace Lactation Program to provide new mothers with packets containing information on breastfeeding, local support groups, privacy hangtags to use during milk expression breaks and a listserv to facilitate communication among employees who are nursing mothers.
“We believe that supporting mothers with newborn children as they return to work after maternity leave is good for employees and for the university. Research supports that helping university employees balance work-life and personal-life will help Texas A&M attract, hire and retain highly-sought faculty, staff and students, while increasing employee loyalty, morale and productivity,” Chavis says.
“Equilibrium @ Texas A&M” will in the future include other employee support programs in addition to the Mother–Friendly Worksite designation and Workplace Lactation Program. Recently the university launched a program in support of faculty, staff and students who have extensive commutes to and from the university. The Commuting Aggies Web site provides information on short-term and overnight affordable housing options, carpool and ride share opportunities and a listserv for commuters to share information.
Another Equilibrium initiative expected to launch in Fall 2008 will focus on supporting university employees in learning the strategies important to getting their children into college or other post-secondary education institutions and navigating financial strategies and financial aid resources. “This initiative will rely heavily upon support from the university’s Department of Admissions and the Department of Scholarships and Financial Aid,” Chavis said. “We believe that, as an institution of higher learning, Texas A&M is uniquely positioned among employers to provide this support to our employees. Helping parents chart opportunities for their children is a benefit that we can provide that will have long-term meaning and benefit.”
Other “Equilibrium @ Texas A&M” initiatives are slated for later this year.