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What 6 CEOs are doing to support working parents

Between the rise of the Delta variant and uncertainty over school reopenings, countless parents are still struggling to balance work and caregiving.

What 6 CEOs are doing to support working parents
[Photo: William Fortunato/Pexels]
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In a new survey of working parents, family benefits startup Cleo found that in nearly 50% of families, at least one parent had taken a step back in their career during the pandemic—whether that meant cutting back on hours or leaving their job altogether. These challenges have more acutely impacted working women, who tend to shoulder the majority of caregiving and childcare responsibilities. Amid the rise of the Delta variant and the uncertainty around school reopenings, balancing full-time work with caregiving is no less challenging now than it was 18 months ago.

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We talked to six CEOs at companies that have adopted hybrid or fully remote models, in part to be more inclusive of working parents. Here, they share some of the other things they’re doing to help accommodate parents—and working women, in particular—as the pandemic continues:

Kasey Edwards, founder and CEO of Helpr:

Childcare belongs alongside vision and dental in the benefits package. The care breakdowns we saw as a result of COVID-19 weren’t fresh or unique; they happen every day for working families.

Our services at Helpr are global, so we know we have to stay strong at home to help make space to support our caregivers world wide. We’ll stay in our home offices practicing flex work with lots of backup care for the team and support our global employers with safe, equitable, and practical child and adult care.

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During the pandemic we expanded our policy to 100 hours of backup care through our Out Of Network care support, and will practice flex work indefinitely.

Bianca Padilla, cofounder and CEO of Carewell:

We transitioned to being fully remote so our team can be close to family, whether that means young children or aging parents. One of our employees has a new baby who frequently joins Zooms from her mom’s lap. Instead of trying to hide the fact that there’s an infant in the house, we’re all messaging her to put her daughter on camera so we can see her. This was a company truly formed for families, by a family.

I never want anyone to feel bad about saying “I’ll be offline for a few hours today because my child has a play at school.” COVID has blurred the line between work and “life.” I don’t want to offer work/life balance, because that insinuates that one of the two is suffering or that there’s a natural imbalance. I want to offer work/life integration. I hire smart people who get their work done and do it really well—whether that’s from behind a desk or in a hockey arena watching their kid’s game. We all have lives and families, so we’re flexible and allow people to work when and where it makes the most sense for them.

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Li Haslett Chen, founder and CEO of Narrativ:

We’re building a work culture that focuses on outcomes versus hours worked or meeting time. This enables all employees, including working mothers, to have the flexibility to balance all their priorities and demands on their time. As far as benefits, we started providing (and will continue to provide post-pandemic) employees with a $500 stipend when they start at Narrativ, in addition to a $50/month benefit to help manage the unique demands of working remotely. Our remote-first model also gives working parents more flexibility to balance childcare, and we also offer 12 weeks paid parental leave and generous contributions toward benefit coverage for families.

Sara Mauskopf, CEO and cofounder of Winnie:

One of the biggest reasons our work environment is so appealing to parents is the flexibility we offer our employees. It’s very normal at Winnie to have children pop into video calls and for employees to block time on their calendar for daycare drop-off. We also use our own product to support our parent employees in their childcare search. Each of the founders has three young children and many people on the team are parents. When employees need to find new child care arrangements, we make sure they can do so easily with Winnie and if not, we use that as an example to make our product better for all parents.

Sarahjane Sacchetti, CEO of Cleo:

I’ve continued to see discussions around returning to “normal” and going back to the way things were. The reality is that if we go back to a pre-pandemic state for working parents, we’ve failed. Companies shouldn’t be aiming to return to as it was pre-pandemic. The pandemic highlighted disparities and issues that have existed for centuries, including the lack of employer-led support for working parents, lack of diversity among leadership teams, and more. Employers that are removing the support they granted during the pandemic (from remote work to expanded backup care subsidies) should expect a mass exodus in the coming months as their employees seek out workplaces that lend comprehensive and holistic support to their parent communities.

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At Cleo, our focus on providing holistic, personalized benefits for working parents impacts not only our workforce, but working parents across the globe at companies like Pepsi, Salesforce, Pinterest, and more. We’re committed to making a meaningful dent in solving the longstanding gap in employer-led support for working parents, and our internal efforts reflect what we’re encouraging other employers to implement.

We provide support to our employees in a variety of ways, including: a culture of flexibility and embracing the realities of parenting at every level—executives normalize caring for their families, from pick up and drop off, to real time parenting or home schooling; access to all of the benefits and services we offers our Cleo members; free membership to UrbanSitter, Ginger, and Headspace; children’s programming—parents and their children can join for story time with the authors via Zoom; and flexible PTO so we can use the time we need when we need it, plus a culture where leaders encourage and expect employees to take time off.

Carolyn Childers, CEO and cofounder of Chief:

Supporting women executives is foundational to what we do. From our inception, we made sure that our workplace policies were designed for women. We offer a 12-week parental leave policy that is fully paid by Chief — not by insurance subsidies. As an employee at Chief, you don’t have to pay into an FMLA or disability insurance in order to take your parental leave. The amount of time that you have worked at a company shouldn’t determine when you have children. Additionally, knowing that there is a severe drop-off in women re-entering the workforce after having a child, we provide a flexible, self-designed return-to-work onboarding program with an executive coach. Our health, vision, and dental coverage is fully paid by Chief for employees and dependents with zero premiums.

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During the pandemic, in addition to policies, we’ve tried to be empathetic and supportive as much as possible. We’re clear with staff that there is absolutely no penalty for prioritizing childcare when needed, and our senior leaders are modeling that. I’m just as used to working with my cofounder Lindsay as I am with her five-year-old, Max. We’ve made sure that hours can be flexible, staff is supportive, and that we’re always available to discuss any policies or individual needs that parents have had over the pandemic.

We plan on continuing to do that as we adjust to the future work environment. Parenting and working has never been an easy balance, and while it became more apparent over the last year, we intend to continue to be thoughtful about how we support our staff who have children and caregiving responsibilities.

About the author

Pavithra Mohan is a staff writer for Fast Company.

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