Supporting Employee Caregivers Starts with Better Data

Research has found that 73% of all employees have some type of current caregiving responsibility. However, because the majority of employers don’t track caregiving status, they don’t offer the supportive infrastructure — such as the right benefits and policies — to support this large segment of their workforce. This results in US businesses losing $35 billion annually from failing to attract, support, and retain these crucial workers. The authors offer four recommendations to help close this data gap.

Technology continues to fuel America’s fourth industrial revolution, and with that, data analytics have fundamentally changed how business leaders manage people. Never in history have companies had so much information to shape decision-making.

But as much as corporate America relies on real-time insights, there’s an important data segment missing that if captured, will ensure the US shrinks its massive gaps in gender equity — data on working families.

The White House recently acknowledged this gap. One of President Biden’s first executive orders on his inauguration day was to establish an Interagency Working Group on Equitable Data. And in its October 2021 National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, the administration pledged to “include data collection on factors such as pregnancy and parenting status to identify barriers in education, the workforce, and in other sectors.”

The data we do have proves motherhood bias in corporate America is the strongest and most prevalent form of gender bias in our economy — a self-inflicting blocker to becoming a global talent competitor. Sociologist Shelley Correll’s groundbreaking 2007 study found that women jobseekers with kids were rated as “significantly” less competent, less intelligent, and less likely to be hired, compared to an equally qualified woman candidate without kids. Law professor Joan C. Williams’ recent studies reveal that these negative perceptions of mothers remain prevalent in the workplace. And a Bloomberg Law analysis illustrates accusation filings have been rising since 2016.

Businesses rarely measure motherhood bias within their hiring and retention reporting, or even name it in their diversity and inclusion strategies. And it’s not just moms: employees of all genders who have caregiving responsibilities — for kids, elders, spouses, family members, friends, or significant others — are likely to face bias.

Yet most employers remain in the dark on how many of their workers are caring for others at home. Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Fuller’s research finds company leaders drastically underestimate both the number of caregivers in their workforce, and the impact they have on the company’s bottom line. Fuller found that 73% of all employees have some type of current caregiving responsibility. However, because the majority of employers don’t track caregiving status, they don’t offer the supportive infrastructure — such as the right benefits and policies — to support this large segment of their workforce. According to Fuller, this results in US businesses losing $35 billion annually from failing to attract, support, and retain these crucial workers. Again, it’s not just moms who are impacted. One third of men change jobs when they become caregivers.

Here are four actions business leaders can take to close this data gap:

1. Learn from business leaders who already measure caregiving status.

Companies who have adopted this practice recognize the value of discovering how many of their employees have caregiving responsibilities. Technology security company Cloudfare started tracking this data earlier this year. “We believe caregivers are a critical part (of) the workforce,” said Janet Van Huysse, Cloudflare’s chief people officer. “And like all team members at Cloudflare, we want caregivers to have the careers of their dreams here. We need to look at this data in order to address any gaps in representation and ultimately experience.”

Oyster, a global employment platform, also collects data on caregivers in its workforce. “At Oyster, we have employees in over 70 countries, which means we have to consider the implications of caregiving across many different demographics,” co-founder and CEO Tony Jamous said, noting that the company plans to explicitly look at caregiving status when it evaluates equity across hiring, retention, promotions, compensation, and engagement.

2. Work together with employees to create a holistic measurement vision.

The best way to understand the needs of your caregiving employees is to talk to them. They will help you identify what your culture needs to create an equitable experience for caregivers. Employee surveys are one way to do this. Your company’s parenting or caregiving employee resource group (ERG) is another good place to start.

3. Share your data publicly to build transparency and trust.

EEOC reporting regulations mandate that employers collect data on certain employee segments, such as gender, race, and job class. Recent surveys have found that 73% of Americans want companies to publicly share their diversity data, and that companies who do so outperform their peers in the stock market by 2.4%. The pandemic has made it clear that it’s time to add caregiver status to this list.

4. Advocate for more companies to measure and share their data.

Our organizations, TendLab, and Parents in Tech Alliance, have teamed up to ask employers to take the Tending to Care pledge to track the caregiving status of their employees and address its impact on hiring, retention, promotion, and compensation. Fuller’s research finds “few employers are aware of the magnitude of the career-versus-care challenges faced by employees.” Taking the pledge ensures you’re not operating in the dark.

Just last month, EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows noted an uptick in Covid-19-related discrimination complaints by caregivers, as the agency released updated guidelines on preventing caregiver discrimination.

We can’t fix a problem we can’t see, and we can’t manage what we don’t measure. Companies must collectively begin tracking caregiving status in order to design targeted interventions to retain and improve the productivity and engagement levels of their caregiving employees. The data will reveal that the US cannot compete in a global market when our businesses are at such a disadvantage compared to our counterparts in other countries with invested solutions like subsidized child care and paid family leave.

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