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Employers can help economic recovery by offering child care benefits

March 24, 2022, 5:26 PM UTC
The pandemic has illustrated the indisputable need for child care regardless of whether parents are working from home or in the office.
Jessica Christian—The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

Employers across industries are re-evaluating their employee value proposition and benefit offerings and are looking to deploy creative solutions to ease labor challenges.

Child care is having a renaissance and should be an essential part of a company’s overall recruitment and retention strategy.

Employers looking to create equity in their workforce need to plan and be purposeful about inequity in their benefits.

Women are already up against barriers and biases in the workplace that aren’t traditionally experienced by men. Although women hold 56% of college degrees overall, they are currently underrepresented in roles of the future (like data science, software development, and engineering) and make up only 25% of the STEM workforce.

Women are also up against deep-seated perceptions created by outdated gender roles. Our own research found that 69% of working Americans admitted that working mothers are more likely to be passed up for a new job than other employees, and 41% view moms as less devoted to their work.

Mothers walk out

While the pandemic rattled the U.S. economy, it is no secret that women have been hit the hardest. They shouldered more of the childcare, remote learning, and household responsibilities, making it difficult to balance with their careers. As a result, 2.5 million women chose to leave the workforce in 2020 alone.

Two years later the women’s workforce participation rate has not recovered, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report finding that 275,000 women left the workforce in January, leaving the women’s workplace participation rate at 57%. A record low, unseen since 1988. Now, those that want to reenter the workforce must face employer bias against large gaps in service on their resume.

We should all be saddened to see an entire generation of progress erased in two years. The impact of women not returning to the workforce is massive. History tells us that there is a positive relationship between a country’s per capita GDP and women’s labor force participation rate. Our post-pandemic economy won’t fully recover until women can come back and make up a significant portion of the workforce.

So, what is going to bring them back? Working women have been clamoring for workplace child care for decades, and the demand is larger now than ever.  

According to a recent Bright Horizons survey, disruptions in child care arrangements is a top cause of stress and unplanned work absences for employees with young children. In fact, 62% of working parents say the continuity of in-person schooling or childcare is essential to their ability to work. 

As we celebrate women’s achievement and pursue a world that is equitable and inclusive, let’s take a look at the essential role employers play in providing the appropriate support– in other words, the “soft infrastructure”– that will bring women back to the workforce and allow our economy to rebuild.

A child care renaissance

The pandemic has illustrated the indisputable need for child care regardless of whether parents are working from home or in the office. Working parents find great value in the continuity of care for their children. It allows them to be fully present at work without the worry of who will be caring for their children week to week. Parents also recognize the social and emotional benefits experienced by their children when they have routines.

The good news is that progressive employers are taking note of this. We have seen an increase in employers–like Podium and Recursion Pharmaceuticals–investing in onsite child care. Although it seems counterintuitive with so many people still working from home, forward-thinking employers are realizing that the more attractive they make their job site, the more employees will want to come to the office and the more they will build culture.

Working parents who have access to worksite child care think of their employer as not just a place where they go to work, but also where their child goes to school, which for most parents is a refreshing sigh of relief.

Other large employers–like McDonald’s and PayPal–are supporting employees with backup care services that working parents can lean on when their regular care falls through, including last-minute child care, virtual tutoring for school-age children, babysitting services, and virtual camps.

Child care is as much a workplace and employment issue as it is a family issue. For employers looking to attract and retain women, offering child care and additional relevant support is key.

Employers should look across their policies and practices and ask themselves if they are truly committed to enhancing the role of women in the workforce. Our economy depends on it.

Priya Krishnan is chief client and experience officer at child care provider Bright Horizons

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