Workplace cultures that promote and even reward crazy long hours are doing more than causing baggy, blood-shot eyes and caffeine addictions. They’re also seriously undermining efforts to improve gender equity. That is among the findings of a new report the Bay Area Council Economic Institute released today (April 24) examining how long hours, inflexible scheduling, lack of access to quality early childhood education and childcare and other seemingly innocuous workplace practices can create an environment where women have less opportunity to advance and succeed. The report comes as the #MeToo and TIME’s Up movements are sparking a powerful national debate on gender equity and how both new and old workplace practices may be enabling a culture of inequity.
The report, in particular, explores how workplace policies and practices are often adopted piecemeal and in isolation from each other and how this fragmentation misses the crucial insight that gender equity, family-friendly policies, and early childhood care and education are intertwined. Employers who care about gender equity in the workplace, according to the report, need to understand the importance of high-quality childcare and early childhood education programs in the communities in which their businesses are based. Policymakers who care about providing universal early childhood care and education because of their impacts on child development and learning must also care about paid parental leave and other family-friendly workplace policies.
“We can’t begin to tackle unconscious bias, help women climb the corporate ladder, or close the pay gap until we develop policies and benefits that enable working women—and men—to reconcile the pervasive work-family conundrum” says Dr. Micah Weinberg, President of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. “Long gone are the 1960s where only 20 percent of mothers worked outside the home and the American family included a male breadwinner and a stay-at-home mother. This anachronistic model no longer fits today’s economy and modern workforce where 70.5 percent of U.S. mothers with children under the age of 18 are participating in the labor force.”
The report is the focus of a conference on Tuesday, April 24 hosted by Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Oakland that will bring together leaders from the business, public policy, early education and healthcare communities to discuss strategies to help employers better connect various workplace policies and practices around gender equity, early education and childcare. A separate report by the Rand Corporation will also be presented that looks at how investing early education can pay huge economic dividends.
The cost of not adopting a well-integrated set of gender equity, family-friendly and early education workplace practices and policies is considerable, for employers, for women, for men and families, according to the report. An alarming gender gap in median annual earnings of 19.5 percent continues, with inequalities becoming even more acute for mothers in the workforce. New mothers in their prime career-building years between the ages of 25 and 35 will experience the most significant earnings shock. The analysis shows that mothers are still assuming twice as much unpaid caregiving and household work than their male counterparts, causing stalled careers and lack of opportunity to advance in leadership positions.
The report offers a robust set of recommendations for addressing not only the lack of specific workplace policies and practices around gender equity and families and their connections to each other.
Modernizing employer work models that integrate family-friendly policies is critical to advancing gender equity in the workplace. Generous paid parental leave, more flexible work time, telecommuting, and providing access to affordable early childhood care and education are critical to working families and supporting mothers in the labor force. Important early childhood care and education strategies for employers outlined in the report include on-site childcare, subsidizing employee childcare expenses, providing referral resources, partnerships with neighboring businesses and more.
What Stakeholders Are Saying:
“Currently, the burden of paying for quality early childhood care and education falls squarely on the shoulders of parents and particularly women who are sometimes forced to leave the workforce because they can’t afford quality care. Increased public and private sector investments in this area will not only help businesses retain qualified talent, they’ll be helping to foster tomorrow’s workforce, since quality interactions between teachers and young children are linked to increased acquisition of social and cognitive skills.”
—Patricia Lozano, Executive Director, Early Edge California
“When we think about now people are perceived for taking advantage of the policies that we have, it really is a question of how normal is it. Do you become the outlier when you decide to take the full eight weeks parental leave as a male employee who didn’t give birth to the child? Or are you seen as somebody who’s leading the charge to role model the types of behaviors that leadership said they wanted to have at the firm? And I think that starts with leadership not just endorsing the policies, but taking advantage of it themselves, but also recognizing that when employees do that, it actually is a commitment to the type of employee that the firm wants. It’s not an outlier that shows lack of commitment.”
—Keith Bevans, Partner, Chicago Global Head of Consultant Recruiting, Bain & Company
“We actually give moms and dads both 12 weeks of paid parental leave. We do believe that the father has a huge role to play in the child’s life, and we don’t want them to feel different than the mom. So we give them both that baby bonding time, and we’re seeing more and more dads take advantage of it. We also want moms to ease back into the workforce, and so we give them an additional 4 weeks of part-time so that they can get used to the new childcare arrangement that they have and feel comfortable leaving their baby.”
—Nina McQueen, Vice President – Employee Experience & Global Benefits, LinkedIn
“We believe that it’s an employer’s responsibility in these times to put forward family-friendly policies that provide flexibility, that encourage men as well as women to become caregivers, and to allow people to work remotely at times if that works for the organization. So that with those kinds of policies in place, we’ll truly see women be able to do all the things that men have historically been able to do when it comes to making commitments to their companies and organizations.”
—Jim Wunderman, President & CEO, Bay Area Council