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#WomenInAg - Achieving my Goals as a Professional and a Mother

Posted by Sarah Kliethermes, Policy Administration Branch, USDA Risk Management Agency in Initiatives
Aug 30, 2018
A curtain with a woman’s crossed feet at the bottom
The USDA Kansas City office features a dedicated lactation room for working mothers. Photo credit: Jackie Susmann, USDA

As a business professional, you set goals often. I have set goals for my career and as a mother. USDA is helping me achieve these goals.

I grew up on a family farm in Northeast Missouri that grows corn, soybeans and wheat, and raises Angus herd bulls. When I was young, I was very active in 4-H, FFA, and in my community. I graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in Agribusiness Management and a Minor in Plant Science and International Agriculture. I am married to Brandon, a turkey, corn, and soybean farmer from Central Missouri, who is also an agricultural economist. We have three children, ages five and under. In my free time, I am active on my husband’s family farm.

In June 2008, I joined the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), Kansas City’s Operations Office. As a risk management specialist, I write crop insurance policy regulations related to Congressional legislation and Farm Bill implementation. I also manage the federal crop insurance programs for corn, soybeans, and other crops, as well as a program on weather-related insurance. If policy disputes arise, I assist with legal determinations. I am an active member of the USDA’s Women in Agriculture Kansas City Chapter and was elected chapter president in 2018.

I really love my job at USDA - RMA and am thankful management supports working mothers. I scrimped and saved annual and sick leave for years and was able to take 12 weeks of leave to care for each of my children. While I was on maternity leave, I set some goals as a mother. One of those goals was to nurse each baby until they turned one. It’s a tough goal, but it can be done with the right support at home and at work. I also set career goals. I didn’t want to fall behind on my duties and made sure someone was taking care of issues while I was away from the office. I was grateful to RMA management for allowing me to ease back into working full time after my baby was born.

When I returned to work after having my first baby, I was able to use the dedicated lactation room provided in the Beacon Building in Kansas City. It’s worth noting that the Beacon, built in 2000, included a lactation room in the original construction plan. This room features two pumping stations that look a bit like shower stalls. Each station is equipped with a chair, an electric outlet, and a TV-dinner table. There is a full-sized refrigerator to store your baby’s milk during the day and a small sink unit to wash breast pump parts.

USDA management has made this resource available to new mothers. I have used this room for my three children over a span of seven years. During that time, more than 10 working moms might use the room each day. If there’s ever a wait (these are rare), the RMA staff nurses offer safe and clean spots in their office.

I am excited to say that I have met my goal. I have successfully breast-fed three children until each turned one, thanks to the benefit of having a lactation room in my office building and management support of working mothers. I have been able to work full-time, attend meetings, and work on projects while being a breast-feeding mother.

The lactation room offers shared benefits as well. Since my building houses multiple USDA agencies, such as Farm Service Agency and Agricultural Marketing Service, the lactation room gives us a chance to meet and expand our professional, social, and motherhood networks. The room is also open to visiting mothers in town for meetings or conferences. Having a safe, clean, dedicated lactation room is a welcome alternative to pumping in the bathroom or the car. It also allows new mothers to physically relax, which gives a better result.

USDA Nursing Mothers Support Program Handbook (PDF, 2.4 MB) and the Office of Personnel Management Guide for Establishing a Federal Nursing Mother’s Program (PDF, 1 MB) offer detailed policy guidance on implementing lactation rooms. I appreciate how the federal government is a leader in developing wellness programs and policies, including support for breast-feeding. On the program side, USDA’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program has introduced an online resource for new mothers. The WIC Breast-feeding Support website offers access to WIC lactation experts, WIC breast-feeding classes, and other resources to help mothers succeed. Other businesses can take a cue from USDA and federal policy guidance and best practices.

The majority of women with children under age 3 are in the workforce. They contribute great value to the workplace, and I applaud USDA’s efforts to encourage women to enter and stay in the workforce while they raise healthy babies.

Category/Topic: Initiatives