The coronavirus pandemic revealed many weaknesses in U.S. infrastructure, one of them being caregiving policy. When schools across the country closed their doors, nearly 75 million children were suddenly stuck at home. And with quarantines limiting contact to close family members, the burden of caregiving was largely shouldered by mothers—many of whom were juggling full-time jobs.
But 24/7 motherhood is a full-time job, and that’s a lot to balance. According to a report from Harvard Business School, a third of all U.S. employees have left a job during their career to handle a caregiving responsibility—a statistic made much more dire by the pandemic. The National Women’s Law Center reported that women have lost more than three decades of progress in labor participation in just one year, and just the first month of the pandemic erased a decade of gains following the Great Recession.
In an effort to rewrite the story, the Time’s Up Foundation is partnering with a coalition of nearly 200 companies to better support working caregivers. Major names include Spotify, Pixar, Levi Strauss & Co., Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, and Care.com.
Together they’re forming the Care Economy Business Council, with the goal of reshaping workplace practices and cultural norms that force women to choose between flourishing professionally and tending to family. Members will also advocate for public policy that offers federally funded family and medical leave and affordable child and elder care.
“Monolithic solutions built for a 9-5 era must be replaced with flexible care options accessible to all regardless of where, when or how a family lives and works,” Care.com CEO Tim Allen said in a statement. “More than [$11 trillion] of unpaid care work is done annually, primarily by women and women of color, and the lack of care solutions is driving them from the workforce. To stem that tide and fuel female workforce participation, the government and business communities must work together to drive the change we need.”
For businesses, it’s not just ideological; it’s a matter of cold, hard cash. During the pandemic, nearly 50% of manufacturing companies struggled to reassemble staff—whether furloughed or new hires—because workers had to stay home to watch their kids. And when employees are denied caregiving benefits, employers pay hidden costs in turnover and absenteeism, impacting the broader economy. According to a Time’s Up report, a $77.5 billion annual investment in paid leave over 10 years would translate to 22.5 million new jobs and $220 billion in new economic activity.
“Sadly, we saw millions of women downshift their careers during the pandemic as daycares and schools were closed or disrupted,” Christy Pambianchi, the chief human resources officer at Verizon, said in a statement. “Together, we can build a brighter future with a caregiver framework that works for all and allows women to reach their full potential, personally and professionally. Because when women rise, so does the world.”