Dear Boss: I didn’t know what life was going to throw my way

by | Apr 18, 2024 | Paid Leave

Dear Boss,

I didn’t think that we could make this work. Shortly after having a little boy, my partner and I got to dive into the scary, competitive, expensive and overwhelming process of finding child care. Fast forward to now, a year and half later, we have only managed to stay afloat as a family because of the flexibility, support and policies in place that met me exactly when and where I needed them. I have to laugh because otherwise I would cry – between 2 year long wait lists for daycares to a nanny being arrested to another losing multiple family members in one year – I am simply grateful to have made it to this moment. What’s hard to ignore is how often people are put in the position to decide to care for their family or stay employed.

Close to one third of caregiver employees have chosen to leave a job at some point because of their caregiving responsibilities. In wages alone unpaid care work is worth more than $300 billion annually for men – and more than $625 billion for women.

Position this with the fact that ~20 percent of our workforce is comprised of family caregivers, two-thirds of working mothers are the leaders of their families and breadwinners for their households, “87 percent of direct care workers are women, 61 percent are people of color, 27 percent are immigrants and 44 percent live in or near poverty” – we have a huge unsupported amount of care that sits heavily on the shoulders of women and women of color. If labor force participation for American prime-age women (25 to 54) was currently at rates similar to those of women in peer countries like Canada and Germany, there would be roughly five million more women in the workforce than there are now. That amounts to an additional $775 billion in added economic activity.

When we talk about caregiving, we’re talking about it at every stage – from providing care to a new child, to caring for an elderly parent – and every possibility in between. That’s why I was not surprised when new research highlighted the return on investment (ROI) for child care – yet, the numbers are still eye popping. Not only did all five companies see a positive ROI on their child care investments, some saw up to a 425% ROI for the business. Additionally, they found that retaining as few as just 1% of eligible employees can cover the cost of those benefits. Employers cannot turn a blind eye to the realities their employees are facing and the impact it also has on their bottom line.

In between the unicorn bosses that help you move mountains to make life work, we see employers who are embracing the investments that lay the foundation for everyone’s success – paid leave, flexibility, paid sick days and caregiving supports. There is no, “back to normal” – a pre-COVID day when child care was plentiful and affordable (that never existed, just an FYI). There is the reality: your colleagues’ kids attending your virtual meetings, your partner falling ill, your caregiving fell through, your dog needs surgery after eating the entire bag of trash and it goes on and on. The problems families and caregivers are facing have always been there, we have to create a new normal and that means public and private sectors investing in policies and solutions that families need to care for themselves and their families. We work to help drive the research and solutions to address these inequities and support women and families. For employers, it’s important to understand your workforce and your community’s needs to ensure your solutions are addressing the problem. With greater understanding of your unique workplace, resources like the National Partnership’s Employer Guide to Gender Equity in the Workplace cover holistic strategies that drive meaningful impact for employees, their families and their employers, MomsFirst employer playbook outlines actionable and practical investments to support parents, and employers can lift up educational resources for their caregiving employees like AARP’s suite of family caregiving guides.

You simply don’t know what life is going to throw your way and you do what you can to make it work and sometimes that just isn’t enough. It shouldn’t be a privilege to be able to have children and also work, it shouldn’t be a privilege to find care to support your child or parents, it shouldn’t be a privilege to keep your job when your family needs you – yet it is. I am now a part of the fastest growing workplace identity group: caregivers, and am more dedicated than ever to make sure that everyone has the caregiving support they need to not only survive, but thrive.