Interview with Annette Brüls, CEO of Medela discussing gender equity in the workplace
As we wrap up 2020, and look forward to 2021, Medela and the Kin team remain committed to helping employers create more gender equitable environments, so working women don’t have to choose between their career and parenthood. This mission is fully supported by Medela’s CEO Annette Brüls, who shares her thoughts below on gender equity, support for working women, and the advice she would give other executives on how to create successful, thriving workplaces for women.
A senior executive with more than 20 years in the medical device industry, Annette Brüls currently serves as CEO of Medela, joining the company in May 2018. Previously, she held a number of global leadership positions in several multinational companies, most recently as President of Diabetes Service & Solutions at Medtronic. Today, Annette oversees the #1 breast pump brand¹ and one of the leading companies in medical vacuum technologies respected and trusted by doctors and healthcare professionals from around the world, working in more than 100 countries. With more than 1,800 employees, the company is focused on improving health and well-being through the pursuit of knowledge and the development of innovative products and services, empowering mothers, babies and patients to live their lives to the fullest. Recently named the Best CEO for Women, as well as Best CEO for Diversity, Annette is actively investing in policies that support families, encourage employee growth, and improving the societies and communities where we work and live.
What organizational trends/changes are you seeing when it comes to gender equity in the workplace?
This is a hot topic – and rightfully so, with more women in the workforce than in generations past. Earlier this year, I shared with the Journal of Thoracic Surgery my perspective as a woman leader in a male dominated industry. In that piece, I referenced how more female than male students are enrolled in medical school in the U.S. for the first time ever, yet the percentage of females specializing in surgery remains low—well below 15%. This is equally true for the areas of state or corporate management with 6.3% female heads of state and 6.6% female CEOs across all Fortune 500 companies. I do not find this surprising and think it is fair to assume that many of the challenges facing women in these typically male-dominated worlds are the same.
At Medela, our U.S. office is comprised of 56% women, and 44% of those women are managers and above. I believe there is more we can do to improve career development and training opportunities, which is why I’m so excited about our new global corporate social responsibility program, Medela Cares. In that program, where we are members of the UN Global Compact, we also have a pillar focused on developing and investing in our employees, with a dedicated leadership team who look at opportunities to improve the resources and programs offered to Medela employees.
This year, exceptional for its unprecedented effects on today’s working families, we saw how a global healthcare crisis has had a surmounting negative impact on mothers in the workforce. It was said that American women were leaving the workforce at four times the rate of men. For our Medela family in the USA, I am grateful to have introduced policies to help reduce the stresses on our working parent employees, including an expanded paid parental leave policy and moving our workforce to remote and flexible schedules. We also prioritized resources that matter to our employees, including back-up childcare and telehealth services. But more can be done. This number reflects a deep societal need to recognize how mothers in the workforce are also managers of their family units. As a mom of two sons, I know full well how overwhelming it can be to juggle home and work, and I am inspired by the working parents who have done their best through this year.
What has Medela done to help support their working, parenting women?
As an organization committed to supporting mothers and their babies, Medela employees are passionate about this topic. It is threaded through our organization – you see it in how we innovate with our products, in how we ideate on ways to improve awareness and access, and in how we advocate for moms through policy. As a leader, I know that our people are at the heart of this organization, so policies that reflect our investment in them are important to our continued success as an employer.
Focusing on the U.S., all Medela employees have access to our New Moms’ Healthy Returns program for return-to-work parents, which includes telehealth powered by Pacify through the first year. Parents also have access to Medela’s 16-week paid parental leave policy that applies to moms and dads and can be taken at any point during the first year after the arrival of a new baby, as well as an emergency back-up child and dependent care benefit. Mothers returning to work after baby also have access to flexible work schedules to support their transition back to work.
I should also mention that Medela USA, located in Illinois, offers multiple pumping spaces, each offering products and storage in a quiet, restful space – providing everything needed to support breastfeeding for as long as they choose.
Women say they need more employer support so they can successfully manage both their career and parenthood. What advice would you give the C-suite looking to support their working women?
My advice is always to start with your people. At Medela, we recognize that the needs of working families are unique in the United States. With lacking federal policies on paid leave being only part of the issue, the opportunity for business leaders is to connect with the employees to find out what they need.
By way of example, the Medela USA team has worked over the years to create a supportive workplace culture that also provides new mothers with solutions that encourage their success – however they define it. Starting with internal surveys, we took the feedback and improved the mothers’ rooms around the buildings. We implemented an email series to help expecting mothers navigate the paperwork and transition to new motherhood and beyond. Those activities were employee driven. This passion-fueled work led to what we now offer to other organizations in the New Moms’ Healthy Returns program designed to help employers support their new parent employees.
For organizations that are committed to creating a more equitable environment for their female workforce what advice would you give them regarding how to get started?
Research indicates that companies that provide lactation support programs showed a 94% retention rate among new parents, compared to the national average of 59%.² Start the conversation. Survey your workforce and find where there is synergy and if there is discord. At Medela, our customer is our primary focus, and most of our customers are moms. As the #1 breast pump brand, we know that our employees and our customers overlap. With this at the forefront, we’ve rolled out policies to help to level the playing field, we’ve introduced benefits to better support working families, and we’ve introduced flexible solutions to encourage everyone’s success. The most important thing is to simply take one first step forward.
1. IQVIA, using ProVoice Survey; September 2019-August 2019
2. Berry, et al. CDC. Becker’s, Harvard.