Will the wheels come off the childcare bus?

I heard the first rumble of school buses in our suburban St. Louis district this morning. Although our kids are long past school bus age — and therefore fully vaccinated against COVID — the sound still gives my stomach a little twist of anxiety, recently mixed with nostalgia.

This year, it’s the sound of dread for many parents.

Parents of unvaccinated school age kids are facing a gauntlet of difficult choices and outcomes, a tough wakeup call after a summer that felt normal for a few hot weeks before the Delta variant came knocking. And knocking. And knocking.

Employers have long had a significant, if often unfulfilled, opportunity to help parents, particularly working mothers, whose spirits and prospects were decimated by quarantine. In this must-read-and-share piece on the future of “Big Day Care” by my colleague Maria Aspan, the aftermath has been brutal. She begins with the story of Kate Mendolia, a sales manager for a manufacturer who once used a provider called U.S. KinderCare in a district not too far from mine:

“Then the COVID-19 pandemic came crashing across the U.S. KinderCare—like most schools and childcare providers of any size—shut down many of its centers. And suddenly the system that had sustained Mendolia’s career, and that of most U.S. working mothers, had its fundamental weaknesses exposed in a massive, public implosionMore than 2 million women left the paid labor force entirely, erasing more than three decades’ worth of employment gains. Most of them still haven’t returned

The pandemic widened the childcare gap in homes with fathers, cementing it, once again, into a woman’s issue. An analysis by the Brookings Institution found that on average, mothers with kids under 13 spent some eight hours a day on childcare while working six hour days for their employers. The issue was driven largely by school closures, but for plenty of women who were already under-supported—low-wage workers, essential workers in vulnerable, public-facing occupations, and lots of women of color in executive ranks—the pandemic exacerbated a pre-existing wealth and opportunity gap.

Addressing these challenges are table stakes for employers, says Jen Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty.

On a recent Leadership Next podcast, Tejada told Fortune CEO Alan Murray and me that COVID was the last straw for lots of working women with children. “It’s just like that one last thing that prevents [their career] from seeing seeming realistic or reasonable or a decent trade off to go back to work for a lot of women…especially women in in roles like hospitality and travel and education and healthcare.” PagerDuty put together what she calls a slew of new benefits over the pandemic year for parents and eldercare, including funds for emergency childcare. 

But she says the only true path forward in an uncertain future is a diverse and empowered leadership team.

“These kinds of benefits are becoming table stakes and frankly, mission critical in terms of getting people back,” she says. “I also think that having diverse boards, having diverse leadership teams…is super important because one way to ensure that you’re going to leave women and underrepresented people behind is to not have any representation in those leadership discussions.”

RaceAhead has put out a call for employers to share how the specific ways they’re supporting parents in the not-so-normal new academic year. Now, it’s your turn. How are you listening to employees? What are their stated needs? What insights are you gathering differentiated by race? Geography? Job function? And parents, how are you faring? What would make a difference for you?

I’ll be reporting back in the weeks ahead. Some of these insights may be used in a future Fortune podcast series that will explore solutions to the childcare issue and debuting this fall. Stay tuned for more on that.

Hit me up below with “Child Care” in the subject line. And here’s hoping the wheels on your particular bus keep going round and round.

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Show us the receipts George Floyd’s murder plus 390 days and counting later, it’s time to ask big business what’s happening with all their promises to encourage a racial reckoning. So far, according to this analysis from the Washington Post, the results are decidedly mixed. Big corporations collectively pledged nearly $50 billion in collective support, yet, “Where and how they dedicated their money became the most visible signs of their priorities,” the Post notes. While $4.2 billion came in the form of grants, “more than 90 percent of that amount—$45.2 billion—is allocated as loans or investments they could stand to profit from, more than half in the form of mortgages. Two banks—JPMorgan Chaseand Bank of America — accounted for nearly all of those commitments.” Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s a thing worth understanding.
Washington Post

The trouble with “love letters” from homebuyers In a red hot sellers market, desperate homebuyers are leaping over asking prices to get their dream homes. But some have taken to writing heartfelt letters about themselves, their families, and the life they hope to live if the owner will hit their bid. “These ardent pitches often rave about a home’s natural light or historic character. They also contain deeply personal details about people’s lives along with photographs, even videos.” What could go wrong? They might violate fair housing laws when they reveal buyer's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or familial status. Oregon has already legislated against the practice.
USA Today

As R. Kelly gets his overdue day in court, thank the documentarians Long-form journalism for the win, particularly in complex cases of justice denied. This piece examines the power of non-fiction media to bring light to the issues surrounding R. Kelly’s victims, Dylan Farrow, and Britney Spears. These stories were made for this moment, says cultural critic and filmmaker Dream Hampton, an executive producer on Surviving R. Kelly. Social media, an informed younger audience, and the power of the survivor voice made the difference. "American history isn't history until there's a movie about it," Hampton told NPR. "I was packaging Surviving R. Kelly for people who probably didn't read beyond the headlines. ... That's what I thought I could bring to it. There's something about a visual [of] someone unpacking their story."

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz.

On background

Remembering the doctors we never had  A 1910 report changed the way medicine was taught. The Flexner Report established— or seized control of — certain medical school standards, and eliminated certain established programs, like those housed in historically Black colleges and universities. What would the world look like if students at those HBCU-based medical programs had been able to get trained over the years? A new study published in JAMA attempts to answer just that. Prepare for a broken heart: “If the 5 closed historically Black medical schools had remained open, the steady expansion and rapid expansion models indicated that these schools might have collectively provided training to an additional 27 773 graduates and 35 315 graduates, respectively, between their year of closure and 2019.” What influence would they have had?

A black village was razed to make way for Central Park It was called Seneca Village, and it grew to span the blocks between 82 and 89 streets on what is now the western edge of the park. It was founded in 1825 and became a refuge for the nominally free men and women who lived and worked there; half of the residents owned their own homes. Three churches, a school and dozens of homes were demolished, lost in a court battle that didn’t last long. Researchers from Columbia, CUNY, and the New York Historical Society have been pushing to excavate, with some efforts beginning in earnest in 2011. To understand more about the black experience up North in the 1800s would be a gift to history. It can’t have been easy. Said Mordecai Noah, founder of The New York Enquirer, “the free negroes of this city are a nuisance incomparably greater than a million slaves.” 
Bushman blog

Let’s make the workplace safe for grief  Grief is more than just a temporary condition. It is a form of invisible disability, causing people to spiral into anxiety, depression, become withdrawn or scattered. And now, more than ever, there’s a lot to grieve. And yet, there are few companies that have clear policies or positions for bereavement, and fewer if the person who has been lost is a friend or more distant relative. “The take all the time you need,” approach can do more harm than good, suggests Jennifer Moss, of Plasticity Labs. She offers several tips on becoming a more responsive workplace, and all of them involve an authentic willingness to confront the truth. It helps grieving people feel less alone. “It’s critical for business leaders to make understanding grief part of other trainings that employees get on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and so on,” she says.

Mood board

"Copy on paper"—how 1935. School is looking pretty different these days...
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

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