How To Keep Women In The Workforce During The Pandemic



We may be losing some of our best leaders to caregiving duties, and the pandemic is sending us backwards when it comes to gender equality.

Women’s careers often take a backseat when caregiving duties rise, and women are more vulnerable to job loss during an economic downturn. The research shows that pandemic is hitting women hard on both fronts. 

Women are more than twice as likely as men to say they handle more than 50% of the caregiving and education responsibilities and 34% of working families are still without childcare coverage, according to Cleo’s State of Working Parents Study. A recent FlexJobs survey reports that 80% of working mothers said they took the lead on remote learning versus 31% of working fathers, and 40% of working parents have quit or reduced their hours since the pandemic began.

Without normal school schedules to rely upon and a lack of affordable childcare options, women may be burning out or leaving the workforce altogether. Here are examples of some trailblazing women who are offering innovative childcare solutions that help working parents to remain on the job.

Reimagining what education looks like

“I didn’t want children to be home by themselves, trying to do their remote learning on their own because their parents had to work,” says Kathleen Gardiner, operations director of Out of the Box Drop Off Program in Marcellus, New York. Gardiner created the program as a temporary solution for the hybrid learning model happening in New York due to the pandemic. 

She had previously been working for the state as a child care licensing inspector before leaving to care for her mother. “The community needed a fast solution, so I found a way to fill the childcare gap for working parents without needing to get a state licence, which could take up to 90 days, by creating the drop-in program where I didn’t have to maintain enrollment paperwork. That was the loophole.”

The providers at Out of the Box work with children to do their remote learning so that “when parents pick up their children, they can focus on spending time together and just being a family rather than having to do school work at night,” says Gardiner.

The program alternates remote work and regular brain breaks, including a large amount of outdoor time, regardless of the weather. “The kids get to go outside into the vastness, take a break from their screen, and be active. They have these amazing little brains; studies show they do their most growth by the time they are 10, and we have them sitting inside on computers. Being outside together reconnects you to nature and other people. You can’t do that when you’re in school five days a week. We can look at this as a beautiful opportunity to reimagine how we approach our lives, our schooling, our jobs.”

Connecting parents with at-home care in your community

Jessica Chang, co-founder and CEO of WeeCare,  the largest home childcare network in the United States, discovered there was a childcare shortage, with the demand being high and the supply of providers being low. The former VP of marketplace at a tech company found the solution to be licensed at-home daycare, and decided to help parents find affordable options and help licensed at-home childcare providers market their services and manage their businesses through the use of technology.

“For providers, we are a business in a box. Providers can focus on childcare, we focus on business,” says Chang. “For parents, we help them match to a provider in their community, manage payments, and send daily progress of what kids are doing on an app to their phone.” 

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a significant increase in parents looking specifically for in-home childcare through WeeCare,” says Chang. “The vast majority of parents contacting WeeCare are specifying that they are looking for small class sizes of less than 10 kids to limit exposure.”

WeeCare launched a partnership with LA City to support essential worker families by providing discounts, 24/7 call support, and immediate placement services.  The company is also using technology to help keep families and childcare providers safe, such as with the tech-powered temperature checks through their Fever Free app.

Creating community childcare hubs

Lauren Kennedy, co-founder of Neighborhood Villages, a non-profit in Massachusetts that advocates for child care policy reform and operates community-based programs to push for systemic change, is making it her mission to address the shortage of affordable childcare in the U.S.

“Inadequate access to affordable child care threatens family economic stability, stifles upward economic mobility, and weakens opportunity for labor force participation, particularly for women,” says Kennedy. In addition to its policy work, Neighborhood Villages is helping to strengthen the childcare capacity by bringing new teachers into the field of early education and care, supporting child care programs, and helping to transform early learning centers into neighborhood resource hubs to support families with young children.

“Due to Covid-19, women are disproportionately unemployed—and Black and Latinx women are losing their jobs faster than white women. Women’s labor force participation is already backsliding significantly,” said Kennedy. “One thing that has been somewhat of a silver lining is that [the pandemic] is really shining the spotlight on childcare and caregiving. All of a sudden, work has flooded into the home, and we’re seeing up close and personal what so many families have been juggling for a long time. We’re seeing the imperative of solving the childcare crisis.”

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