Supporting the Transition to New Parenthood: The Working Parents Support Coalition

Imagine you're a breastfeeding mother sitting in a long staff meeting. You're getting uncomfortable; you need to excuse yourself to go pump. Your boss, who is leading the meeting, suggests everyone break for 20 minutes. He knows what you need. You make a quick exit and go to the lactation room, a new private space only for breastfeeding moms. Gone are the days where you felt awkward in that walk between desks trying to conceal your little machine to go "hide and pump" in the bathroom.

Or imagine you're an expecting father, about to have your first child. The CEO of your company just took his paternity leave and encourages you to do the same.

Imagine if networks of established male leaders at your company were supported in their aspiration to become the kind of fathers they want to be, and provided the right culture to successfully balance work and family life as they advance in their careers.

Sounds like fantasy, right? But this should be the reality, and it can be. And it's National Work and Family Month, a time when leaders are working harder than ever to bring that reality closer.

That's why I am so proud to announce the first-ever Coalition of American employers to commit to increase their offering of a full range of parental leave and support practices for new parents and their babies. The Working Parent Support Coalition's founding members are U.S.-based divisions and subsidiaries of Barclays, my own company Danone, Ernst & Young, KKR and Nestlé. We launched the Coalition at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 29.

Coalition members are committed to implement a range of parental workplace support practices. These practices range from longer paid parental leave, to providing transition support training to help teams and team members prepare for and enter into parenthood.

One of our Coalition's guiding principles is to do the most you can for working parents, and then commit to do it even better. At Danone, all of our companies in the U.S.A. committed to improving parental benefits with the aspiration of getting to six months of paid parental leave as a part of a multi-year commitment.

Each company's commitment takes into account their unique baseline of current benefits and what each company believes is sustainable; and each shares the requirement that the commitment be new, specific and measurable over a baseline assessment. No effort is too small, and every improvement counts to help improve health and economic outcomes.

We do not wish to reinvent the wheel. There are many companies and organizations with great, proven programs for parental support. We admire those companies and encourage them to join us as examples of best-in-class work that we can learn from. In this Coalition, members will benefit from the wisdom of the many, and the wide range of programs and options we represent encourages each and any potential member company to just dive in.

What's truly special is that we all commit to sharing data and best practices with each other; we will learn together. We're fortunate to have the American Academy of Pediatrics, Cornell University, Working Mother and the Families and Work Institute, which will provide access to their existing resources and tools to help Coalition companies to establish workplace programs to support parents and families with education and guidance.

My vision is that the Coalition's work is about much more than policies that prescribe an amount of time off, for example, but that we can drive corporate culture change that helps parents make the most of the time with their baby. At Danone, our goal is not only to drive revenues but to move the needle when it comes to social progress and health outcomes. We've committed to supporting the World Health Organization's Global Targets to increase rates and duration of breastfeeding. We have a big ambition for this over the next 10 years. And when you look at the data, the leading reason why women stop breastfeeding too early in the U.S. is that they have to go back to work.

Sometimes women have no comfortable place to pump, but sometimes it's about culture change in an organization or office. Words like culture can feel vague: but imagine the breastfeeding mom in that long meeting. Will she feel uncomfortable and judged excusing herself to go pump? That stigma might lead her to stop breastfeeding before she wants to.

And think about those expecting dads. If parenting leave felt like less of a women's issue, if more ambitious fathers felt they could actually take leave without being punished, then they would use the benefits that in many cases they already have. Which in turn drives a greater sense of equality for both men and women.

Benefits and policies only get us so far. Culture must accompany policies, and there is much work to be done.

My wish is that 10 years from now we will be in a very different place, and that what seems like a fantasy for today's new parents simply becomes the new normal.

To learn more about the coalition, go here.

Luciana Nunez is the CEO of Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition in the US. She conceived of the Working Parent Support Coalition with CGI.