Juggle Founder Romanie Thomas on breastfeeding at work – and even on stage – and how revolutionary acts that normalise motherhood are absolutely necessary.
Hermione Way, Head of Marketing and Brand at myCrew and former head of European Comms at Tinder, recently posted a picture of herself on stage at The Europas tech conference, simultaneously moderating a panel while breastfeeding her baby boy. Although I like to consider myself progressive (the next bit will immediately undermine that statement) I was pretty shocked, initially. I couldn’t get my head around it. Perhaps because I don’t really have a frame of reference, despite my career taking place in the last decade when the pace of change on equality issues has been fairly swift (although not nearly as swift as I’d like – that’s why I founded Juggle Jobs in the first place).
When I’ve seen an equivalent image or think-piece it’s been from a female-centric event, not a tech conference, which I don’t think I’m alone in seeing as a “by default” male-centric culture (although The Europas has done well on diversity, congratulations to Mike Butcher).
I don’t know Hermione personally but I follow her on social media and she’s very positive, open and forthright with her views. She’s nailed the online persona thing with a nice mix of aspirational and real; it certainly feels authentic.
She approached the whole thing with her usual confidence and nonchalance. Her next tweet simply reads: “First time I’ve ever had to breastfeed on a panel but hey! Gotta feed the next generation of entrepreneurs.” And it certainly appears as though it was an easy decision: he was hungry + she was on stage = breastfeed. Whether it was effortless or not, it was still an extraordinary brave act. It was also a stark display of women’s power: I can feed a human and wow an audience with my intelligent chat, so of course I can do them both at the same time.
New mothers are generally put on a shelf whilst they figure it all out. Many choose to spend that time solely with their children which is awesome. These mothers have a different fight on their hands when they return to work (and one that I hope Juggle is helping with) but Hermione is speaking to another group of women.
Some people label breastfeeding in public as inappropriate – which is utterly ridiculous – and I think some of that labelling comes from the idea that a woman shouldn’t (not can’t, because obviously that’s not the issue here) be prioritising her own life, especially her professional life, alongside her baby. Maybe there was some vestige of that in my own reaction, and that’s why Hermione Way’s nonchalant tweet is a statement, and an important one. Because people might want to parent a bit differently – and go on living their own lives. She’s speaking to the mothers who are craving to do both, and perhaps earlier on in the journey too.
Hermione breastfeeding on stage and sharing it has gained lots of positive likes and comments which reinforces this is a great thing to do. To me it was an act of brave leadership and genuinely symbolic (the biggest acts normally are). I for one am really grateful to her for standing up and making a change.