By: Meiko Takayama, Founder and CEO of Advancing Women Executives
After 17 years as the primary caregiver in our home, my husband went ‘back to work’ this summer. When he accepted the offer, we sat down and, among the many conversations, had to discuss the logistics of after-school pick-up for our kids. We’re lucky, though. If necessary, our teenagers can take a Lyft or Uber and fend for themselves until we get home. If they were younger and, if we didn’t live in an urban, rideshare happy city, we would have to confront the reality that school gets out at 3 and our work days don’t end until much later.
Then I came across this article, and as I read it, my blood began to boil. It begins by setting the scene in a small town in Connecticut, where parents camped out overnight to secure their child’s name on a waiting list for a town-sponsored after-school program. The article explains that the program can’t meet the demand for after-school care because of space and budget limitations and further indicates that this is a problem across the country; "this mismatch between school and workday, a relic of a bygone era and outdated family norms, has left parents and school districts scrambling to find a solution."
And while there has certainly been progress in getting more women to the top, many companies still have no female senior executives - this is large in part due to a lack of affordable and convenient childcare options. A recent analysis from Childcare Aware America showed that in 28 U.S. states, childcare costs more than college tuition. And because mothers are 5.5 times more likely to handle household obligations than men, when childcare is too expensive, women end up being the parent who leaves the workforce to take care of the kids.
And we wonder why it’s taking so long to get more women CEOs.
Why are we looking to the already underfunded school systems, community resources, and stressed parents who are trying to make ends meet scramble to find a solution when companies may hold the key? It’s time for companies, especially large corporations with the budgets and size, to set an example and offer childcare options and more flexibility for in-person hours.
What if companies were to provide:
Onsite, subsidized childcare for newborns and toddlers (these 24 Fortune 100 companies are already doing this. Congratulations to our AWE client companies Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, Prudential Financial, and Cisco Systems for making the list!);
Transportation for school-aged children to the parent’s office and onsite care options including tutoring and recreational activities;
Summer calendars that coincide with the school calendar, that give parents the option to work from home or work remotely so they can spend more time with their family while their kids are out of school;
Budgets for breastfeeding mothers to travel with their newborn babies (including travel costs for a support person) so they can still travel for business, and in turn, continue to accelerate their career. Or at least pay for the mother to overnight ship her breastmilk home;
Benefits that cover the cost for an employee’s family to join them on business travel if the employee is going to be gone for more than a few days. (Including airfare, hotels, meals, childcare). Shout out to AWE client company, McMaster-Carr for already doing this!
A Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) – companies incentivize and base performance reviews on results rather than monitoring the number of hours or days in the office that the employee works. If goals are met, no questions are asked about when or how employees work.;
We actually implement ROWE at AWE, and it’s the workplace policy that I am most proud of because it allows employees like our Managing Director, Yael Utt, to walk her boys to school every day and stay home with her toddler on the day she doesn’t utilize a nanny share, or our Executive Coach, Brandon Maslan to be actively involved in raising his daughter, which allows his wife to have the space she needs to focus on her career and be an incredible mother.
If not ROWE, then work from home options for mothers transitioning back after maternity leave who may not want to leave a new baby with a caretaker or who may not have the financial means to do so; and
Half-day options so parents can pick their kids up from school and finish their workday from home. To take it a step further, imagine if companies incentivized parents who utilize flex-work to participate in programs at their child’s school?
You may be thinking, but companies aren’t in the business of helping employees become more involved parents, and you’re right, they're not. But it benefits companies – and in many cases even contributes to increased productivity and profits – to support and encourage work-life balance. Not only are worry free parents more focused, but one of the biggest struggles they face (working mothers in particular) is not being able to “do it all.” And while companies certainly can’t turn parents into superheroes, they can give them an extra hand by way of childcare options and more flexibility for in-person hours.
Just a couple of days ago, The Wing - the women’s focused co-working and community space - announced that they are expanding the SoHo location to include, The Little Wing, an affordable and convenient child care program for moms who use the space. “If a company in just its second year of existence can begin to tackle the problem, it would seem logical that larger businesses could look harder at solutions they offer parents too.”
It’s amazing to think about where we can take modern workplaces, if only we have enough creativity to think outside the template we’ve followed for decades and more confidence to trust that the “risk” will be worth the reward. We already know that when employees feel valued, they work harder. In a market where even basic parental support sets a company apart, imagine the competitive edge employers can gain by offering comprehensive support such as flexible in-person hours or on-site childcare. It’s not just the key to solving the after-school problem, it’s the key to attracting and retaining top talent. C’mon corporate America - it’s time to step up your game!