Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth has broken plenty of new ground in her life—she was one of the first women in the Army to fly combat missions, the first member of Congress who was born in Thailand, and the first Senator to give birth while in office. But while she was expecting, she realized that current Senate rules would make life as a new mom nearly impossible—as she would not be allowed to have her new daughter, Maile Pearl, with her on the Senate floor during those often marathon-length voting sessions.
So she led the charge to change the rules to allow children under one on the Senate floor—and as of yesterday, newborns are allowed on the Senate floor by unanimous vote of her colleagues. (Because who doesn't love it when their colleagues bring their adorable little ones into the office?) We're finally catching up to other countries, where one Icelandic parliament member even breastfed her child while giving a speech.
And while this may seem like a small victory, Senator Duckworth hails it as a giant leap forward for women everywhere. "By ensuring that no Senator will be prevented from performing their constitutional responsibilities simply because they have a young child, the Senate is leading by example and sending the important message that working parents everywhere deserve family-friendly workplace policies," she said in a statement on the historic change. "These policies aren't just a women's issue, they are a common-sense economic issue."
Odds are, small changes like that could make a big difference for many working families. Studies show that 70 percent of moms with kids under the age of 18 currently work—with most of them working full time. And most new moms are back to the workforce quickly—nearly two-thirds of moms of babies are currently earning a paycheck. A workplace rule that allowed a new parent to bring a baby along—especially during those early newborn months—could make it much easier for new families to juggle their responsibilities.
Family rights experts see this rule change as helping open the door for more women to run for Congress. "At a time when more women and moms are running for office than ever before, we're thrilled to see the U.S. Senate update some of its more archaic regulations to make room for more female representatives," says Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, an online and on-the-ground organization of more than one million mothers and their families.
And they say it's high time that other companies make similar accommodations for working parents. "New parents face significant barriers in the workplace," Rowe-Finkbeiner says. "Many lack sufficient paid family and medical leave, affordable child care options, and spaces to breastfeed or pump. Reasonable accommodations like the U.S. Senate rule change can go a long way in helping new parents re-enter the workforce, which would improve families' financial security, increase productivity, and boost our national economy."
We'll see if this change helps encourage Congress to enact more family-friendly legislation—or to encourage more companies to follow their lead and provide more flexibility for working families.