As Black Maternal Health Week comes to an end, workplaces can use this time as an opportunity to continue evaluating how their practices and culture are supporting the maternal health needs of Black women and birthing people. The annual week-long campaign, founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, aims to, “build awareness, activism, and community-building to amplify the voices, perspectives and lived experiences of Black Mamas and birthing people.”
In the United States, the maternal death rate of Black women is almost three times the rate of White women. Many deaths are preventable, due to neglectful and biased practices from hospital systems during and after labor and delivery. While outside of that system, workplaces can still play a pivotal role in the maternal health outcomes of the Black women and birthing people who are leading their organizations.
The impacts of racism, microaggressions, and discrimination take both a mental and physical toll on people in the workplace. Over time, that accumulated stress can result in adverse health outcomes. So for pregnant and postpartum Black people in the workplace, the stress and toll of working in inequitable and unsafe spaces can have direct impacts on their birthing and parenting experiences.
In your organization’s journey to creating an anti-racist and equitable workplace, ask yourself the following questions to ensure you’re supporting your pregnant and birthing employees’ maternal health needs:
Is our culture equipped to support pregnant people and parents?
Many Black women and pregnant people feel pressured to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible from their employers, fearing potential backlash or isolation. Evaluate what practices– both spoken and unspoken, written and unwritten– that are in place that might be preventing your pregnant and parenting team members from having the proper support. Be flexible in accommodating their individual needs, whether that includes remote work, time off, or adjusted working hours.
Culture also extends to the social cues that are developed and shaped over time, and embedded within an organization’s DNA. For employees whose family structure does not follow White, cis-hetero norms, ensure that their experiences as birthing people and parents are honored and respected.
What accommodations do we have in place for pregnant and postpartum people?
With many companies and organizations back in the office, the lost flexibility of remote work can create additional anxiety for pregnant and postpartum Black people. If you’re back in the office, is there a comfortable and private area available for lactation? The process of breast feeding and caring for young infants when returning to work can be incredibly stressful; the flexibility your organization provides can play a key role in reducing the pressures pregnant and postpartum employees are already under.
Black birthing people are increasingly seeking out the support of non-traditional medical care in the form of doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, and more in their journeys. Evaluate what resources you have in place for employees to receive high quality care.
How can we retain Black mothers and birthing people in our organization?
Many Black women and birthing people return from maternity leave only to find that many of their responsibilities have been diminished, or their interactions with peers have changed. While it’s important to be flexible and understanding during the transition back to work, it’s equally important to listen directly to the needs of your employees and continue to provide them with opportunities for growth at every stage of their birthing and parenting journey.
For the many Black women and birthing people who experience miscarriages, stillbirths, or other complications during and after pregnancy, consider what mental health resources or leave policies are in place to support their healing journeys.
Ending the Black maternal health crisis includes creating the conditions for Black women and birthing people to live joy-filled, abundant, and secure lives– and your organization can play a pivotal role in this. This Black Maternal Health Week and beyond, interrogate the ways your organization is promoting the maternal health outcomes of Black and birthing people.