In her recent article “Occupy (Working) Motherhood,” Deborah Siegel makes the compelling case that our society still has a long way to go to support mothers who work, especially when it comes to affordable, quality childcare.
To understand the roadblocks that stand in the way of improving the state of childcare, you have to look no further than a comment left by a reader in response to Siegel’s article. The commenter explained,
By “affordable,” I assume you mean “subsidized by others outside my family.” Thanks, I’m spending enough on my own kids (and my wife chooses not to work outside the home) without having to subsidize your parenting choices.
In other words, if you have a child and you work, then you need to shoulder the entire expense of that child’s caregiving. And if you can’t, it’s not my problem because I don’t directly benefit from a system of affordable, high-quality childcare.
While it’s understandable how someone could reach that conclusion, the truth is that people who don’t have children or don’t use high quality, affordable childcare do in fact directly benefit in ways that aren’t necessarily apparent.
We need to do a much better job of explaining these “WIIFMs” or the “what’s in it for me” impacts if we wanted to make progress in this area.
So here are the “WIIFMs” I’ve observed over my 15 years in the trenches helping hundreds of organizations develop strategies to address work+life fit challenges. Hopefully they will encourage support because everyone will understand that they do benefit in the following ways:
WIIFM #1: Your colleagues with children aren’t distracted by breakdowns in care which benefits you. A few years ago, as part of a broader work-life strategy review and update for a Fortune 500 company, we conducted an ROI study of the organization’s childcare center system. The truth was that management was getting pressure to cut this benefit that was seen as unfairly favoring parents over other employees.
As I analyzed the data from our surveys, I wasn’t surprised by how much parents said their productivity and engagement increased from having the consistent, high quality care the center offered. What shocked me was how much their coworkers said they benefited by having more focused, less distracted colleagues.
Once all of the calculations were finished, we estimated that the ROI for the center annually was approximately 125%. Not bad. Needless to say, the centers stayed. The bottom line is that you benefit when the parents you work with have support.
This doesn’t mean that the alternative answer to try to minimize the number of parents in the workplace through discriminating hiring practices. First, people are going to keep having kids. Second, you will lose many of your best and brightest employees and coworkers. The better option is to support the creation of high quality, affordable care options either in house or in the community. It’s the gift that will keep on giving to everyone.
WIIFM#2: The parents who provide important services that you count on will be able to show up and do their jobs. You can’t get a stronger “WIIFM” than that. I was at a conference a couple of years ago where a team of researchers from Cornell presented their study of the impact of a grant in New York City that created a system of high-quality, in-home childcare providers. The grant also subsidized the cost of care for parents who were home health aides and guards in the New York City school system.
I wish I had a link to the study itself but here are a couple of the findings that stuck with me:
- By training and licensing the in-home care providers, they created well-paying jobs that in many cases allowed the providers to expand and improve the services they offered.
- The parents who had access to the affordable, high-quality care reported major improvements in a number of job performance metrics including fewer absences, less tardiness, more engagement on the job, fewer incident reports, etc.
In other words, because they had consistent, reliable care for their children, the guards in the schools were to show up more regularly and do their jobs better. This directly benefits you if your child goes to that school. He or she is safer. Home health aides were able to show up to care for you aging parents or your ailing spouse. This directly benefits you because you are able to go to work.
WIIFM #3: A high quality, affordable system of support will be there if you need it (and there’s a good chance that you or someone you love will need it.) Building a system of high-quality, affordable childcare doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years. Thankfully organizations like the United Way through its Success by Six initiative, as well as community advocacy groups like Long Island’s Early Years Institute are leading the charge even in the face of ongoing government cuts to funding. But as Siegel points out in her article, their efforts haven’t been able to make a difference for many parents.
Maybe you don’t need high quality, reliable child care today. And perhaps you never will. But that can change overnight. Over the years, I’ve met parents who, through an unexpected shift in circumstance like illness, death or divorce, find themselves needing care only to realize how hard it is to find. I’ve met grandparents who never had to access child care themselves, but now have a daughter struggling to provide for her family as a single mother without consistent, reliable support for her children.
Maybe the lack of affordable, quality care childcare doesn’t mean anything to you today, but you and those you love directly benefit from the insurance of knowing it’s there should you ever need it.
Many priorities are vying for limited resources on the local, state and federal level. However, in the debate regarding the need to create a system of high-quality, affordable childcare, the position that, “I don’t need to support it because I won’t use childcare and I won’t benefit” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. You do benefit. We all benefit. Now, the question becomes, what are we going to to to make it better…finally? What do you think?
If you haven’t already, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.