5 Ways to Support Caregivers in Your Workplace Cultures
Two years into the pandemic, women are still leaving their jobs at a historic rate, with 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce. The exodus has plenty of root causes—many in the making for generations—but more plainly exposed and harder to ignore due to COVID-19. Gains in the division of domestic labor made throughout the last few decades quickly evaporated as schools shut down and family members became ill, leaving the responsibility of caregiving primarily to women.
“This is why it’s not a women-in-the-workforce issue; it’s an everyone-in-the-workforce issue,” says Selina Meere, managing director at Trevanna Tracks. “Leaders have to be intentional about making both men and women in the workforce, including themselves, accountable for an equal amount of work at home as their spouse is giving.”
Therefore, the question becomes not how to get women back in the workforce but how to support them once they are there. Here are five ways to support caregivers in your workplace cultures.
1. Give Employees the Option to Complete Work Through Split Shifts
A supportive workplace culture redefines the traditional “shift” for exempt employees. Rather than require one block, say from 9 to 5, allow split shifts to provide the flexibility caregivers need. For example, mothers with school-aged children work a partial shift during school hours (say, 9 a.m.–2 p.m.) and then another after the children have been fed and are settled in for the evening (say, 7–9 p.m.).
“Lack of flexibility disproportionately affects women and people of color because they uniquely hold both caretaking and breadwinning responsibilities,” says Brea Starmer, founder of Lions + Tigers. “Women wonder how they are going to make it all work—integrating caretaking and work in a way that doesn’t sink them in the process.”
Many women feel pressured to make work their top priority to stay competitive while at the same time feeling societal pressure to be the primary caregiver—creating a lose-lose scenario. Policies like split shifts give caregivers the opportunity to accommodate work alongside their other priorities.
2. Encourage Transparency Around Schedules
We’ve all seen the adorable videos online of children running through the background of Zoom meetings. We laugh, but the reality is many caregivers face judgment or reprimands for interruptions to their work.
To combat this, workplaces should build a culture of over-communication with safe spaces for caregivers to connect with each other. At Ruby, for example, we have chat rooms to connect working parents to commiserate and swap solutions, as well as an online resource center with educational activities for kids contributed by our team members.
Leaders and team members should be encouraged to be open about their schedules and needs throughout the day, such as updating their status to ensure they aren’t pressured to respond to messages during time with family, setting up a daily out-of-office response letting respondents know their adjusted working hours and making sure their calendars reflect those same hours.
3. Provide Childcare Options at Work or Stipends
Childcare assistance in this country is lacking, with no federal mandate around paid leave and few companies offering childcare benefits. Companies that provide these types of benefits not only demonstrate an understanding of life outside of work but also provide caregivers with a solution to their most-common necessity.
Especially if split-shift work isn’t an option, consider offering benefits like onsite childcare—whether free, discounted or for certain days—or stipends for daycare, babysitting or after-school care. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic with last-minute daycare and school closures, providing employees with a form of backup care can make a significant difference.
4. Set Up Programs for Women to Learn From Each Other
The one thing I’ve struggled with the most in my career is the expectation that, as an executive, my first priority is work—that I need to take a work call over comforting my crying daughter or that I need to travel over birthdays. Women frequently compete for a limited amount of leadership roles as compared to their male counterparts, forcing many of us to choose work over life in order to advance in our careers.
Instead, companies should create clear and unbiased career pathing options that outline specific qualities and skills needed to move to the next level. This clarity takes the anxiety out of professional development and can reduce tension between employees, especially for those balancing outside obligations.
But these programs must go a step further. “Women are often over mentored and under sponsored for leadership roles,” says Rashim Mogha, founder of eWOW. “Organizations now need to move beyond mentoring and focus on creating coaching and sponsorship programs for women so they don’t just have the required knowledge but also the confidence to use that knowledge in their job.”
5. Engage With Consultants and Freelancers
For caregivers, shifting to freelance work or consulting positions has provided the necessary flexibility to stay engaged in the workforce. Companies that offer former full-time employees the option to continue on a consulting basis retain institutional knowledge while giving employees the time and space to consider their next move.
“A key talent strategy is to build layered organizations with both full-time employees and freelance talent, centering flexibility for women and BIPOC talent,” says Starmer. “Freelancing, entrepreneurship and outsourcing are strategies we see work to build flexibility into work environments, and this model mutually benefits companies that need these specialized skills.”
We know the world of work continues to change, and it’s time the needs of caregivers are not only considered but that this vital part of the workforce has a voice in how things are done.