New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who brought her 3-month-old to the United Nations General Assembly, says she’s trying to ‘create a path for other women.’
Make way for the baby delegation.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern broke new ground this week as the first world leader to bring her infant to the United Nations General Assembly meeting. Footage showed 38-year-old Ardern cuddling and kissing 3-month-old Neve Te Aroha during the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit on Monday; her partner, TV presenter Clarke Gayford, held the First Baby while Ardern spoke.
“I have the ability to take my child to work, there’s not many places you can do that,” Ardern told the Guardian. “I am not the gold standard for bringing up a child in this current environment because there are things about my circumstances that are not the same.”
Ardern also holds distinctions as the second sitting world leader to give birth while in office — the first was Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990 — and the world’s youngest female leader. She later told CNN she hoped talking openly about the issue would help “normalize it.” “If we want to make workplaces more permissive, more open, I think we need to acknowledge that there are logistical challenges that come with that,” said Ardern, who is breastfeeding her daughter. “And I hope … by being a bit more open, it might create a path for other women.”
Because everyone on twitter's been asking to see Neve's UN id, staff here whipped one up.
I wish I could have captured the startled look on a Japanese delegation inside UN yesterday who walked into a meeting room in the middle of a nappy change.
Great yarn for her 21st. pic.twitter.com/838BI96VYX
— Clarke Gayford (@NZClarke) September 24, 2018
She’s not the only famous new mom breaking barriers: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who was the first senator to give birth while serving, became the first senator to bring her newborn to the Senate floor after lawmakers agreed in April on a rule change permitting children under a year old during votes. And tennis champ Serena Williams brought her baby daughter, Olympia, to a Grand Slam event for the first time over the summer.
“I think why those are such powerful images is because we’re not used to seeing children in the workplace, but when we see them from women in these positions of power … it sends the message that it’s OK to be a mom and work, and it’s OK to bring your well-behaved child with you to work,” Meredith Bodgas, the editor-in-chief of Working Mother magazine, said of Ardern and Duckworth. “You’re not going to be any less productive or make any questionable decisions just because your baby is with you.”
And the fact that Ardern did so in an impressive setting like the UN is “striking and relevant,” said Lori Mihalich-Levin, a law partner at Dentons’ Health Care practice and founder of the new-parent support organization Mindful Return. “I think it’s important for us to see examples of ourselves, however we look, in leadership positions,” Mihalich-Levin told Moneyish. “There will be people who come behind her who are much more comfortable bringing their child to a public setting because she’s done this.”
“To have leadership display that you can be your whole self — including being a new parent or mother specifically — is a step that sort of legitimizes the fact that new mothers can be leaders and also do their jobs,” agreed Georgene Huang, CEO of the women’s career advice and job-review site Fairygodboss.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth's baby makes her big debut on the Senate floor.
Duckworth is the first sitting senator to give birth while in office, and the Senate unanimously passed a rule change to allow her to nurse her newborn on Senate floor. https://t.co/VeBjl9Jo1U pic.twitter.com/cRdWOVpXIO
— ABC News (@ABC) April 19, 2018
A visible statement like Ardern’s can signal to young women considering motherhood down the line that they can also aspire to leadership positions, Huang suggested. It’s also important for childless colleagues to see it, Bodgas said, as it can help “get them more comfortable with the prospect of children being around in their own workplace.”
And though the memory may escape an infant, the experience can be valuable for children overall. “It gets kids excited about what their parents are doing all day — they understand it a little bit better,” Mary Beth Ferrante, a mother of two young daughters and founder of the new-mom consulting and coaching organization Live.Work.Lead., told Moneyish. “I think it’s an important story to tell them; an image to put in their heads of where I am during the day,” agreed Mihalich-Levin, who has boys aged 5 and 7.
Of course, it’s likely not every day that a parent will bring their child to work — and if they do, Bodgas pointed out, parents need to be realistic about whether their child’s presence will distract coworkers or disrupt office life. While Bodgas’ 7-month-old son can be easily pacified when he fusses, she recognizes that her 4-year-old son is “not the kind of kid who can sit still.” “Moms really have to ask themselves: ‘Do I have the right kind of kid to bring to the workplace?’” she said.
Workplace policies permitting employees to bring their new babies to work seem to be relatively rare, said Mihalich-Levin, citing a recent informal survey she conducted among alumni of her course. “I think maybe one person out of a couple hundred had said that it was possible in her workplace,” she said. Huang, for her part, said she hadn’t seen many formal workplace policies address bringing kids to work one way or the other. (Separately, 36% of organizations on Working Mother’s just-released 100 Best Companies list offer on-site child care, and about nine in 10 offer back-up child care.)
“I don’t think it’s going to be a normal situation where people are bringing their kids to work on a regular basis, nor do I think most parents would want that,” Ferrante said, likening the feat to “doing two jobs at one time.” For most of her clients, she said, the issue more often arises around travel or events outside of standard work hours — like conferences or networking events — for which parents don’t have their usual child care lined up. “The things that are outside your day-to-day is where people typically feel like they have to make a choice,” she said.
An initiative led by the nonprofit Parenting in the Workplace Institute, meanwhile, actually encourages parents to bring their babies to work. The group claims it’s aware of more than 200 U.S. companies that have hosted more than 2,100 babies to date — up from just 70 companies in 2007 — and says those organizations reap “extensive benefits for their businesses and their employees from their baby programs,” including earlier return to work after giving birth, higher morale and greater employee retention.
The PIWI site provides downloadable documents for those looking to “propose a babies-at-work program” at their organization — all while acknowledging the need for guidelines “to ensure that babies are not disruptive to coworkers and that all employees effectively complete their work.”
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