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How a new coalition of 200 businesses could transform working parenthood

May 19, 2021, 6:43 PM UTC

Over the past year, CEOs were confronted with a reality many of their workers have long known: Holding down a job without access to childcare is incredibly difficult.

The months that leaders went without their usual caregiving support during the coronavirus pandemic helped many to realize the imperative to address the problem in their workforces. Now more than 200 businesses have signed on to join the new Care Economy Business Council, a group organized by the nonprofit Time’s Up.

Companies that have joined the council range from major public companies—McDonald’s, Google, Uber, Spotify—to businesses that work on caregiving full-time, like Care.com and the startup Helpr. Other signers include JPMorgan Chase, Levi Strauss, Patagonia, and Pixar.

“The last year has proven what we have always known: Our employees thrive when they are given the support they need to do their jobs well,” Brian Lamb, global head of diversity and inclusion at JPMorgan Chase, said in a statement on behalf of the bank. “Caregivers are a perfect example—they face a crisis that has been brewing for decades, particularly among working women who cannot fully achieve workplace equity without a major shift in how businesses support them. At JPMorgan Chase, we’re proud to join the Care Economy Business Council to share our own innovative approaches and advocate for long-term solutions to this issue.”

“The formation of the Care Economy Business Council is critical to facilitate collaboration across the public and private sectors to create programs and policies that support families wherever they are on their caregiving journey,” McDonald’s said in a statement about its decision to join the council. “Our people come first, and we’re committed to breaking down barriers for opportunity and support equitable access to care for all.”

Open to all

There’s no standard a business must meet to join the group; some signers already offer wide-ranging caregiving benefits, while others still employ hourly workers with scant access to any caregiving support. But by joining the coalition, a company is expressing its support for changes to the United States’ caregiving system, or lack thereof; companies who join also gain access to resources from Time’s Up about building better caregiving support. The hope of Time’s Up is that that commitment will extend to a company’s own workforce.

The problem this group is aiming to address goes beyond business. The United States is one of few wealthy countries without a significant caregiving infrastructure, and lawmakers in Congress as well as Biden administration officials have put forward proposals to rectify that, calling for solutions from subsidized day care to the recent extended child tax credit. But business has a role to play in pushing for these changes, says Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen. “Businesses don’t want the public sector to do it alone,” she says.

The focus for business on these issues has often been speaking out about paid family leave, which the United States does not guarantee and businesses largely decide on their own whether to provide. But this particular effort takes a broader approach, advocating for a federally funded baseline of family and medical leave; affordable childcare and elder care; and living wages for care workers. The group is asking companies to help support caregivers at work; to rally investment in solutions to fix this year’s caregiving crisis; to advocate for public policy changes; and to shift the cultural narrative about who is responsible for care.

Shaping the narrative

In the past, business has played a role in shaping the narrative, says Tchen, viewing government implementation of policies to support caregiving workers as “overregulation of business.” But with the pressures of the pandemic and other cultural changes—the growing role many men seek to take in their young children’s lives, the needs of Generation X and baby boomer leaders caring for aging parents—businesses are changing their tune.

Some of the companies who have signed on to the new council have in the past clashed with Time’s Up, which seeks to hold leaders and businesses accountable on issues ranging from pay equity to sexual harassment. Most notably, the organization’s Legal Defense Fund has backed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s over sexual harassment in its restaurants. (McDonald’s has said that sexual harassment has “no place in any McDonald’s restaurant” and that the company will ensure that “every allegation is fully and thoroughly investigated.”)

But the organization notes in the council’s fine print that a business joining this group does not mean Time’s Up will not “comment or otherwise take a position on any company.”

“I’m looking to make change for workers,” says Tchen. “Sometimes that means holding companies accountable, and sometimes it means working with them to help them do better. It won’t benefit workers out there if all we do is stand on the sidelines and shout about it. We also need to get in there and help employers do better.”

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