Childcare Benefits: A Reckoning for Working Families

It’s not a stretch to say COVID changed everything—including the way working families think about childcare benefits. Before the pandemic, parents struggled with childcare challenges, of course. But the day-to-day realities grew much worse when the pandemic struck.

After the initial shock of schools and childcare centers shutting down, families were left to figure out how to work from home while parenting. Instead of being at school or daycare, children spent the day side-by-side with their parents. In fact, from February 2020-February 2021, the lack of childcare pushed 2.3 million women out of the labor force. And a very long time passed before these women could return to work (if they have returned at all).

While people in some jobs continued to work on-site throughout the pandemic, many workers had to adapt to the new remote work world. This is where many employees still find themselves today, either working remotely or in some form of hybrid schedule—splitting time between home and office.

Today, childcare conditions have improved slightly, but still are far from ideal. Fortunately for some working families, employers are sponsoring more childcare benefits for those who need this kind of support.

Remote and Hybrid Employees Still Need Childcare Assistance

The benefits of remote work are well documented. However, one drawback is often overlooked. I’m talking about the misconception that people don’t need childcare assistance when they’re working remotely. This notion became prevalent early in the pandemic, and unfortunately, employers still haven’t moved on from this line of thinking.

Picture a typical working mother in a remote or hybrid management role.

Compared to her in-office peers, she doesn’t have fewer deadlines, less ambitious KPIs, or a smaller staff to manage. Nor does she have extra hands to hold her baby while attending Zoom meetings or responding to email messages. There are no extra hours in the day when she can feed or play with a toddler.

The workday is still the workday—even when people perform those tasks at home, surrounded by family distractions and obligations, rather than in an office cubicle.

Families With School-Aged Kids Face Unique Challenges

Contrary to what some believe, childcare needs do not stop once kids start kindergarten. I’m a mother, myself, so take it from me! Parents of 5-year-olds are still in the thick of their childcare journey.

Historically, preschool programs (as well as before-school and after-school care) served as a safety net to support a large, productive workforce. But COVID, chronic underfunding, and budget cuts have left these programs with limited capacity, fewer teachers, and reduced hours. The safety net is frayed, at best.

And now, working parents have the added burden of anxiety about COVID risks.

Previously, when children were mildly ill, they still attended school. These days, we know better. Emergency and backup care are must-haves for working parents who are unable to stay home with a sick child.

Even when parents take precautions, they still face the risk of a COVID outbreak at school that can suddenly change the course of a day, a week, or a month—depending on mandated quarantine periods. This is a lot for working families to handle, which is why employee childcare benefits matter so much.

Throughout the pandemic, working parents have been balancing the risks of depriving their children of social interaction or exposing them to a potentially deadly disease. Some families decide to choose individual or small-group professional care, such as a nanny or nanny-sharing arrangement. But this increases overall childcare costs and isn’t affordable enough for some.

The Trouble With Workplace Childcare Centers

Some employers have tried to help working families fill this gap by investing in on-site childcare centers. While an admirable idea and a substantial financial commitment, these large centers fall short for many employees.

These facilities no longer meet many childcare needs, and simply do not work for remote and hybrid workers. For example, how many working parents would want to commute to headquarters for their kids when they may otherwise be working from home? Working families prefer caregivers who are located close to home—which should be good news for employers who don’t want to dedicate massive budgets to build and maintain large childcare centers.

Childcare Benefits Are Key to Employee Retention

No matter which childcare option families choose, it comes at a price. And it’s hard for people to keep in perspective just how unaffordable it has become.

The national average childcare cost has risen to more than $10,000 per year, per child. That’s incredibly steep. How many working families do you know with two or three kids who also have an extra $20,000-$30,000 lying around?

The increasing cost of childcare forces parents (and mothers, in particular) to make a very difficult choice: Stay employed or quit to care full-time for their children. This has pushed record numbers of women out of the workforce.

The reality facing families is stark and alarming:

Current and prospective employees value family care benefits more than ever. This means employer-sponsored childcare benefits should play a key role in retention and recruitment strategies.

Final Thoughts

COVID drastically changed employment and childcare. The status quo is no longer sufficient, for both employees and employers. Forward-thinking business and HR leaders are rising to the challenge and supporting working families with employee childcare benefits that make a significant difference in people’s lives. This is a step in the right direction.

How to Develop Leadership Skills When Building Diverse Teams [Podcast]

At this point, it’s well known that building diverse teams of employees offers a competitive advantage to organizations everywhere. It’s hard to argue with the stats. For example, research shows that inclusive teams outperform peers by 80 percent in team assessments. Ethnically-diverse organizations are 35 percent more likely to financially surpass their peers. And companies with more women in top management experience higher returns on investment than those with less.

If leaders want to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), they need to hone their skills to get the best results out of their current employees and attract diverse candidates. Not doing so could mean the difference between the success and failure of their businesses.

Our Guests: Entrepreneurs Rosaleen Blair and Stasia Mitchell

On the latest #WorkTrends podcast, I spoke with Rosaleen Blair and Stasia Mitchell, entrepreneurs with decades of experience in their respective fields. Rosaleen is the founder and chair of AMS, where she was CEO for 23 years, and is a serial entrepreneur, having invested in and advised many organizations, as well as offered coaching and mentoring services to growth businesses. Stasia leads the global entrepreneurship program at EY across 64 countries and has more than 20 years of experience working in EMEIA and the Americas. She brings a global mindset to her work and helps support the global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As the “great resignation” rears its head, building diverse teams should be at the forefront of leaders’ minds. Employees are demanding that leaders celebrate differences and take an interest in the unique needs of individuals. If people give so much of themselves to work, they want to see their work give something back.

“Because of the pandemic, employees have a new expectation for work … They want to be thought of as individuals–human beings–and not just a part of the headcount,” Rosaleen says. “They want to feel commitment from their leaders. This can come in the form of an investment in their growth and skills, career mobility, or even support for their personal wellbeing. Empathy is critical.”

To meet these new employee expectations, employers should be curious, says Stasia, especially when it comes to diversity. Learning about differences can allow your organization to excel.

“Leaders need to be extremely curious, be open to possibilities of solutioning around creating and ensuring collaborative, diverse teams,” says Stasia. “Listening is so powerful. Learn from these diverse groups of people.”

Defining Diversity and the Importance of Role Models

When it comes to DEI initiatives, it’s important that employers make decisions about what diversity means to them. Then, set goals to achieve.

“I think we all agree that people are the foundation for any great organization,” Stasia says. “We all need to be ready to define what diversity means to us as organizations, and stick to that definition. Stay accountable, make it measurable. The most important thing is we’ve got to make positive progress together.”

One great way to begin building diverse teams is to show people that opportunities are open to everyone. In the case of women’s equality, Rosaleen suggests encouraging women to lean in and take projects across global initiatives and activities. This allows women to see themselves in roles they wouldn’t have before. Organizations can give female employees opportunities to represent organizations externally too–which allows them to build their profiles and create strong networks.

“From my experience, role models are key. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” Rosaleen says. “Celebrating the success of female role models and creating the space to ensure that all voices are heard is important.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by EY, one of the largest professional services networks in the world. You can learn more about building diverse teams by reaching out to Rosaleen and Stasia on LinkedIn. Also, on September 1, 2021, from 1:30-2:30 pm EST, don’t miss the #WorkTrends Twitter chat with Rosaleen (@rosaleenblair) and Stasia (@Stasia_EY). During the chat, we will tackle topics like innovative management techniques, diversity of thought, and more.

Millennial Women Encouraged to Close the Leadership Gender Gap

Much has been written about how Millennials are changing the way we work and do business. While the pace of that transition has been dramatic in some areas, we still lag in others. For example, many young women still feel they need to make more sacrifices than men to get to the top.

For many, it just isn’t worth the effort—and the result is that relatively few women want to be number one in their organization. But that might be about to change. Initiatives are being introduced to change that mindset for young women who are preparing to enter the world of work.

The Gender Ambition Gap

While many Millennial women want a fulfilling and diverse career, they don’t necessarily equate that to reaching a top job. Consider a 2013 survey by Zeno Group of 1,000 women—all Millennial post-secondary graduates in the U.S.—which explored their views on ambition in the workplace.

The survey revealed that:

  • Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) had ambitions other than a leadership role.
  • Just 15 percent aimed to “be the #1 leader of a large or prominent organization or startup.”
  • Nine in ten respondents agreed that female leaders have to make more sacrifices than men.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) felt those sacrifices aren’t worth it.

The study suggested that Millennial women see a career as something of a juggling act, with three-quarters expressing concern about their ability to balance personal and professional goals. It also showed that family responsibilities influence career goals; Millennial moms are six times more likely than those without children to say a career is not that important.

Many women also described lack of self-confidence, skills, or education as career blocks—despite completing a four-year university or college program.

This feeling is reflected in another more recent study: When recent post-secondary graduates were asked how well equipped they were when it comes to leadership skills and qualities, the 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey revealed a gap between genders.

  • Just 47 percent of women want to be number one in their current organization, compared to 59 percent of men.
  • Women want to reach senior management (57 percent), but they’re still outnumbered by men with the same ambition (64 percent).

Respondents were also asked how well prepared they were to manage their careers upon graduation. As this chart from the study shows, women felt on par with men when it came to financial, economic, and general business knowledge—and, in fact, felt better prepared with general business skills. Leadership skills, however, proved to be an altogether different story: Just 21 percent of women rated their skills as strong, compared to 27 percent of men.

2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey

A Fresh Approach to Leadership

In an article for Huff Post Business, women’s rights advocate Tabby Biddle suggests leadership training has traditionally been designed for a male audience. For most of history, she points out, “There has been an assumption that leadership belongs to men and that leaders are men. If the leader was woman, she was expected to act like a man, but be ‘feminine enough’ to be likeable.” Whatever that means.

This is what Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College in New York City, refers to as “the double bind.”

“The double bind is a real thing,” she told Biddle. “It’s absolutely what women face in many circumstances. Not all, but many. Certainly in those in which they are a minority in a room.”

That focus on leading like a man isn’t just ineffective. Kolbert said it also misses the strengths women bring to the table.

To rectify the imbalance in leadership education, the Athena Center has launched a new initiative: Athena CORE10. The program—a combination of on-campus seminars, webinars, and workplace workshops—is based on 10 key attributes the program designers say all leaders, male or female, need to cultivate.

These attributes include:

  1. Ambition: Owning and projecting power, expertise, and value.
  1.  Vision: Finding, defining, and motivating others with purpose.
  1.  Courage: Taking bold, strategic risks.
  1.  Communication: Listening actively, as well as speaking persuasively and with authority.
  1.  Entrepreneurial Spirit: Being imaginative, flexible, and persistent.
  1.  Leverage: Optimizing the use of key resources.
  1.  Collaboration: Sharing diverse strengths and perspectives, and building effective teams.
  1.  Negotiation: Bridging differences to come to a beneficial agreement.
  1.  Resilience: Learning and bouncing back from adversity and failure.
  1. Advocacy: Standing up for yourself and others.

In addition to the core program, Barnard College is encouraging organizations to think differently about their own culture of leadership. As Kolbert explained, “We talk a lot about changing the capacity of women to lead, and changing the culture of the organization. Both things have to happen simultaneously.”

To spur this, the college launched the Global Symposia series in 2009. This annual conference brings together female leaders from around the world to discuss issues that are important to them, and to inspire young women.

It’s past time to have more women in leadership positions. But to get there, we need to give young women stronger support at the beginning of their careers. It will be interesting to see if initiatives like Athena CORE10 help reset the balance, and adjust perceptions and expectations women have in the workplace.

Are you seeing more female leaders? Are they the younger Millennials? Or the older ones? Do you think GenZ women will be more aggressive when it comes to tackling leadership roles when they begin to enter the workforce en masse? I so want to hear your thoughts on this matter. I’d also love to hear about your own experiences—whether as a young woman starting your career, as an established female leader, or as an educator preparing young women for their careers.

Additional Resources on this Topic:

4 Ways for Millennial Women to Prepare for Leadership Roles
How Millennials Are Reshaping Work
The 4 Things Your Company Needs to Do to Advance Women — Lead!

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This article was originally published on MillennialCEO on 1/21/2016