If you have been paying attention to the shocking lack of childcare options for working families in the U.S.—some 126,000 already underpaid caregivers have left the industry since the pandemic began in 2020—you may (or may not) be shocked by how we really got here.
The actual story starts where America itself starts: chattel slavery.
“I mean, this, the history of separating families, of forcing labor, is clearly embedded in all of our systems,” says Mary Ignatius, a social worker and statewide organizer of Parent Voices, a parent-led organizing effort fighting for affordable childcare. “And so when you look at slavery, and you look at enslaved African women losing the right to mother their own children, but forced to mother and nurture the children of their slave owners, under brutal conditions, right, and with no pay, with no dignity, with no autonomy…. And then you follow that history.”
Ignatius is one of many voices featured in Where’s My Village, a new, limited-series podcast that explores the childcare crisis in the U.S. and the people who are trying to fix it. And for the last year, it’s been a labor of love—pardon the pun—for me and my Fortune writing colleagues Maria Aspan, Beth Kowitt, and Megan Leonhardt, along with writer/producer Alexis Haut, editor Nicolle Vergalla, and executive producer Megan Arnold.
We followed the history to explain the current lack of safe and affordable childcare options, and then we followed the innovation to find the people who understand the essential role that childcare must play in keeping women in the workforce while sustaining an inclusive, sustainable, and robust economy.
To do this, we sought out a wide array of voices—mothers, childcare workers, researchers, public policy experts, government officials, corporate leaders, and entrepreneurs—and looked to identify breakthrough ideas, intractable barriers, and common themes. We also plumbed unique bespoke solutions born of true need created by migrant and Afrocentric communities, looking for best practices in spirit, design, and execution.
We’re enormously proud of what we’ve produced.
Join me for the first episode, where I go looking for a cogent explanation for the mess we’re currently in—come for the racism, stay for the patriarchy, and the chance to once again blame Richard Nixon—and set the groundwork for the solutions we explore in later episodes.
Guests for episode one include Ai-jen Poo from the Domestic Worker’s Alliance, C. Nicole Mason from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, Julie Kashen from the Century Foundation, Dr. Anna Danzinger Halperin, Mary Ignatius from Parent Voices, and some childcare workers and moms who are speaking for themselves.
Episode two is also available, where Beth Kowitt talks to lawmakers and experts to dig into the essential role of government and investigates how one New England state and a city in Kansas are finding both the political will and the financial resources to provide reliable, affordable childcare to their residents.
In upcoming episodes, Maria Aspan reports on the employer revolution in childcare, Megan Leonhardt explores startups and private investment, and we end with me learning about community-based solutions—along with some big, surprising takeaways.
At the end of the day, what hangs in the air is a very big question: The pandemic has changed the public conversation about childcare, but has the conversation changed enough for the system to change along with it?
You can find Where’s My Village wherever you get your podcasts. Please listen, subscribe, share, boost, and comment—and let’s take on the system together.
This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla.
Speaking of changing the world, Fortune’s annual Change the World List has dropped. Now in its eighth year, it remains an encouraging affirmation of purpose in action, and a chance to learn how the “creative tools of capitalism” can be successfully applied to address pressing social issues to the benefit of people and the planet. For those keeping score, the top five are PayPal, Alibaba, Walmart, Discovery, and Qualcomm, but dig more deeply into the lesser-known names for fascinating stories, including 18 smaller companies—like a green-energy architect and two fast-blossoming vertical-agriculture growers—who are taking on purpose as part of their core mission. As always, thanks to the Shared Value Initiative for their partnership.
Happy Indigenous Peoples Day. When this column was still young, the debate about how to think about the Columbus Day holiday was quite new. Quoting myself from 2107, the second Monday in October was then becoming an opportunity to “wonder collectively whether a holiday devoted to Christopher Columbus reflects the country we are or want to become.” Now, as the day has become more widely adopted, some of the benefits of a new, shared cultural reflection seem to be (I hope are) taking root, whether via land acknowledgments or other events near you. Parents, care providers, and educators might continue the moment by “unlearning Columbus Day myths” courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Learn more about the origins and why it matters below.
ESG wins a round. While it’s tempting to read this piece about the failure of an “anti-woke” bank for the very rich as an entertaining bit of personality-driven drama, it may be more useful to see it as a positive moment in a broader conversation about how big companies are increasingly aligning their businesses to consider environmental, social and governance, or ESG, and the backlash that’s still finding its footing. In this episode, a group of A-list money types, including Peter Thiel and Ken Griffin, backed a new bank called GloriFi, an institution for people who don’t want their money wasted on climate change mumbo jumbo, “Plumbers, electricians, and police officers…[who] are fed up with big banks that don’t share their values.” These all-American values include “capitalism, family, law enforcement and the freedom to ‘celebrate your love of God and country.’” It’s not going well. The company is nearly out of money, beset by strife, and struggling to make even basic things work, like a credit card made out of spent shell casings, which interfered with security chips and was too thick for payment terminals.
The Wall Street Journal
Ye’s social media accounts locked after antisemitic posts. Both Twitter and Instagram have suspended the artist, after problematic posts including “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” on Twitter, (likely a reference to the military readiness scale known as DEFCON, and then, “You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.” The Black Jewish Entertainment Alliance, which launched last year, was one of a handful of organizations that weighed in. “Ye’s recent statements about the Jewish community are hurtful, offensive, and wrong,” they said in a statement. “They perpetuate stereotypes that have been the basis for discrimination and violence against Jews for thousands of years. Words like this tear at the fabric of the Black-Jewish relationship.”
A new (old) racist talking point has dropped. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala, has come under fire for saying that descendants of formerly enslaved people were “pro-crime” and, further, that reparations were a strategy to take power and resources from white people. He made the remarks at a rally for former President Donald Trump. "They want crime because they want to take over what you got,” he said, referring to Democrats broadly. “They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that," Tuberville added. "Bull****! They are not owed that." In a statement, NAACP President Derrick Johnson called Tuberville's comments "flat out racist, ignorant and utterly sickening," while promoting a “centuries-old lie about Black people that throughout history has resulted in the most dangerous policies and violent attacks on our community."
When people resist change. I sorted through my files looking for some research that pre-dates both the pandemic and the current racial “reckoning,” and that dealt with the human impulse to resist change. This from Tony Schwartz and Emily Pines, writing on behalf of The Energy Project, a leadership development consultancy, helps frame the issue in traditional behavioral terms. Specifically, what happens when a business is “disrupted” with a new crisis or opportunity, requiring leaders to suddenly show up differently. “[I]f employees have long been valued and rewarded for behaviors such as practicality, consistency, self-reliance, and prudence, why wouldn’t they find it uncomfortable to suddenly embrace behaviors such as innovation, agility, collaboration, and boldness?” What they don’t get explicit about is how this plays out when the disruption is related to identity and equity. But you can connect the dots.
Witnessing the lives of refugees to see who they really are. This project called 1000 Dreams provides a platform for refugees living across Europe to tell their own stories through photography, interviews, and storytelling. The goal is to move the narrative around the refugee experience beyond stereotypes—“invading hordes” or “helpless and hopeless victims”—into restored personhood. “Many [media stories] overlook the deplorable conditions in which refugees live in Europe,” while others fail to reflect the huge diversity within the refugee experience that can negatively impact public attitudes and policies. Forty refugee storytellers were trained, mentored, and given photography equipment which they used to create these intimate portraits. Stop by and meet a Syrian drag queen living in Germany, a lonely but determined political asylum seeker from Zimbabwe living in Ireland, and a Sudanese refugee living in the U.K. who is slowly finding her way. “I was a very unconfident person before, but this time,” says Misaa Osman. “I just feel like I'm very strong and very confident.”
“This is a workforce that works paycheck to paycheck, there's no job security, there's no access to a safety net or benefits. And so we had meetings via zoom with domestic workers. And I'll never forget the one meeting where one of our members held her phone up to the Zoom screen to show us that there was literally one cent left in her bank account. And we were only two weeks into the pandemic.”
—Ai-jen Poo, co-founder of the Domestic Worker’s Alliance, to Fortune.