“It starts with this my-salary-versus-the-cost-of-childcare math. And somehow, it’s always against the woman’s salary and not the family income as a whole,” said Siran Cao, Entrepreneur and Advocate. How did you factor the costs of parenting into your life? And career? Surprisingly, information about the financial side of parenting remains elusive. And most discover this after having kids. Siran explained, “There is a reason we don’t talk about the cost of parenting. Our social structures aren’t built for dual income households or for women to work.”
Covid highlighted how scarce, expensive and fragile, childcare is. Because it froze the economy. But the cost of care equation, is much bigger than the cost of paying for a nanny or daycare center. Raising children is expensive. And if you add the lost earnings, benefits and professional growth opportunities for women, cumulatively it costs families a small fortune. Planning ahead for almost everything provides better choices. So, why is access to this information so limited?
The Cost of Care Has Become a Gendered Issue
There are many reasons we change career paths after kids. But childcare costs often factor into the decision. As Siran shared, couples tend to evaluate the affordability of childcare against the Mom’s salary, in Mom/Dad partnerships. And they do early, while expecting, during leave or while kids are very young. Yet in most professions, you get promoted and your earnings grow as you gain experience. So, this point-in-time math can cost families quite a bit in long-term earning potential.
Siran is passionate about gender equity. And aims to demystify the financial side of parenting. She said, “What’s been surprising is also really delightful. We’re seeing through social changes and from the grassroots level with individuals, that more and more men, value caregiving. And they are recognizing the set up we currently have doesn’t work.” Amen! She added, “We’re also examining the reasons why caregivers face these issues.” And many of the reasons, have little to do with modern life.
And we Need to Change That Misperception
Siran explained how propaganda, 80 years ago, influenced today’s family structures. “How we now associate care, as the responsibility of one family, hasn’t been the norm historically. There was a push for folks to return to this nuclear unit after World War Two,” she said. And not all families are nuclear. In the US, one in four children lives with a single parent. And most single parent households are led by Mothers. And pre-pandemic, most Mothers contributed to family incomes. So, the ‘Motherhood penalty’ that reduces women’s wages, only widens the opportunity gap for kids and families.
To Reengage Community Care
The desire for more flexible careers pre-dates Covid. Siran said, “Our relationship to the workplace is shifting. We’re moving away from the traditional employer model into building an entire portfolio of work.” The always-on nature of modern work, doesn’t fit with most hobbies, let alone parenting. She explained, “And with the pandemic, we’ve seen more people realize the importance of other people being in your network for caregiving. Hopefully using pods to support each other can remain. Because that’s how we can tackle some of the problems around a lack of community focused care.” There are societies that rely on community care. Through government funded programs or multigenerational living, which was on the rise in the US pre-pandemic.
And Employer Support
Siran’s platform is for parents and their employers. “We are seeing more willingness, from employers as a whole, to see care as essential because of the pandemic. But a lot of the hesitancy around supporting care, comes from employers thinking that they have to provide benefits everyone can use. But 75% of employees identify as caregivers! We need to remember that care isn’t just childcare. It’s eldercare, it’s caring for our family members and that means supporting care is really supporting the employee.” Right. And benefits have never been equal. Why are employers still budgeting that way?
Because Equity Isn’t Equal
Equity is giving people what they need, to flourish. It’s not about each person needing the same things. There are employees that pay the same rate for health insurance but use it at different levels. Like a family of 3 versus a family of 7. Or people with chronic illnesses, versus those who rarely see their doctors.
We’ve seen in our pandemic study how drastically parents’ priorities have changed. And as more workers intend to upgrade their careers, comp or flexibility post-Covid, they want different benefits. Will employers catch on to their needs? Siran said, “We will see as people evaluate their benefits packages in the coming months what it’s going to look like.”
Let’s Talk Money
Siran explained, “Employers currently pay employees based on salary bands, that make sense for your role and experience. But when we actually look into life circumstances, it’s very different for a single worker versus a caregiver, who are in the same occupation and earning the same salary. What they actually have in available funds, at the end of the day, is very different. Which is part of the problem in how we are making family and caregiving an individual problem.” Yes. Although the pandemic created urgency for better systems to support childcare and eldercare, legislative changes will take time.
Because Caregivers Take Home Less
Siran said, “So the fact that we pay for childcare with our post tax dollars, makes it feel more like a higher tax on our parents and on caregivers. It’s not really the way that we should be supporting our future generations.” New initiatives, like national paid leave, child tax credits and the Marshall Plan for Moms offer hope. But make a small dent in the real costs. And the data, about the full cost of caregiving hasn’t been widely available. Yet it can answer important questions. “Where should we as a society start to better support that burden of care? And where do we need employers to step in? We hope to show where we need a better social safety net. It’s something really powerful that our data can do long-term,” Siran said.
More Work Flexibility is an Improvement
“And there is hopefully a growing trend for flexibility to stay and really to change,” Siran said. After years battling ‘face time’ culture, the pandemic has made work-from-home a reality for many. She added, “Instead of flexibility being this thing that, if implemented poorly, only Moms have. Or the caregiving employee has. But the rest of the employees get to have face time at work and see their careers grow very differently. If we normalize that everyone has some sort of life need, that requires flexibility, and allow for it. Then, flexibility becomes something really powerful.” Right.
Siran added, “It would also be powerful if we see child friendly workplaces. We have dog friendly workplaces. Can we actually move in that direction that recognizes the whole employee and not just the part that you normally expect to see in a uniform?”
But Organizations can Help Close Opportunity Gaps
Workers have been giving more and getting less for years. Although productivity and hours have increased, real wages and benefits have been declining. A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows employees work an average of four hours more per week, with the shift to working from home.
Most employers already subsidize costs for employee healthcare and life insurance. So, they’ve had their toes in the water of supporting people’s life events. Why not help pay for childcare and eldercare? And the prevalence of family-friendly benefits shows that savvy employers see the return on investment. As talent wars heat back up, employers will be forced to consider caregiver needs, to remain competitive. Siran said, “There’s a lot that we can do to use information at a higher level. And really shift how employers are thinking about their benefits and employee compensation as a whole.”
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Siran Cao!
Follow her great adventure on LinkedIn and her company’s website, Twitter and Instagram.
Siran is on a mission to close the gender pay gap through the company she co-founded, Mirza. Her background is in Gender Studies from Harvard, but she spent her career in operations and leadership. She built driver support for Uber in NYC, then led the driver support team in the Northeast US before receiving a Master’s in Social Business from LSE.