When it comes to paid maternity leave, the U.S. is known to be the least generous in the world – a reality that can impact women and their career trajectory.

Pregnancy, maternity Leave, work-life balance, and companies leading the way in supporting a healthy working environment were in focus during Wednesday morning’s conversation at the CFDA. Billed under the umbrella topic of “Women in the Fashion Industry” and on the heels of our recent Glass Runway study with Glamour magazine, the panel was moderated by Glamour Executive Editor Wendy Naugle and featured Stacey Bendet Eisner, CEO and Creative Director of alice + olivia; Marina Larroude, Fashion Director of Barneys New York; Brian McComak, Senior Director and Head of Inclusion & Diversity of Tapestry, and Noria Morales, Target’s Senior Director of Influencer & Brand Collaborations.

How can the situation for working mothers be improved?

Bendet Eisner pointed out that the two years after a woman returns to work are of utmost importance.

“What happens when they come back and all of a sudden have to figure it all out, from childcare to day-care,” she said. “It’s partially about companies being more flexible and accommodating and working with women in making plans.”

A vocal proponent of improving the system, the designer suggested a “big sister” program to identify women who have gone through pregnancy and parental leave as mentors to others entering motherhood.

For Larroude, working for a female executive with young children provided her with role models on how to balance work and parenting. For example, she rarely arranges weekday dinners and prefers breakfasts so that she can be home and tend to her children in the evening.

“When I was pregnant, my boss had to leave at 6PM every night, so I learned to follow her example,” Larroude recalled.

Target’s Morales stressed that a work environment “where it’s understood that parenthood brings extra responsibilities…and there is no stigma associated with it” is key to balance.

At Tapestry, the return to work is staged over six weeks, starting with a three-day week and then four days before working full-time.

“It’s about the culture and environment and about being flexible and accommodating,” McComack said.

A key takeaway was the importance of not just of setting boundaries, but also having a dialogue. Conversation can be tough to have, but engagement with upper-level management will more likely than not yield success.

The conversation was attended by CFDA members and industry executives, including Tanya Taylor, Nicole Colovos, Jussara Lee, Ruthie Davis, Monica Sordo, Rony Vardi, Adrienne Landau, Morgan Curtis, Lizzie and Kathryn Fortunato, Sang A Im-Propp, Jodie Chan, Grace Cha, Priya Shukla, Jayne Harkness, Aliza Licht, and Brooke Jaffe.

 

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