When are we going to show up for working moms?
Women are the center of our economy, care systems, and essential work—yet they aren’t at the center of our policies, programs, and pandemic recovery plans. Over the last two years, millions of women have been driven out of the workforce as COVID-19 lockdowns, homeschooling, and domestic duties including caregiving for children and older adult parents took over. The World Economic Forum reported that the pandemic has undone more than 30 years of progress toward gender parity. There are policy changes and programs that could be implemented to mitigate this impact, yet there isn’t the political will or private-sector leadership commitment to get us there. The nonprofit and care sectors both acknowledge that women and moms are at the center of our work—so we must ask: Why is this so hard to get done? When are we going to show up for working moms?
In her Marshall Plan for Moms and her latest book, Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work, Reshma Saujani has outlined clear recommendations for investing in women as we move toward recovery. They include providing caregivers with a monthly cash payment, aka guaranteed income, for their often-uncompensated work and advancing policies that support affordable and accessible quality child care, parental leave, and pay equity. Women make up almost 80 percent of the care sector workforce. Saujani’s recommendations would help the women who work in this vital sector by ensuring that they receive quality wages; predictable, flexible schedules; and stable, quality care for their children so they can be fully engaged in professionally caring for others.
Philanthropy can help fund these programs, and many are already doing so. Providing unrestricted operating supports to nonprofits is especially important, as this type of funding allows for investment in the staff who are providing services in the care sector. Foundations can also spread the word about the impact that direct cash has on individuals, especially women, when speaking with lawmakers and other funders. Advocating for policies to enhance cash assistance such as the advanced child tax credit and to provide universal child care is another area where foundations can help.
Even before the pandemic, Americans struggled to cover basic expenses, secure quality child care, access paid leave, and maintain stable housing. During the pandemic, government responses including COVID-19 supplemental sick leave, child tax credits that put extra dollars in parents’ pockets, and eviction moratoria helped alleviate—temporarily—some of the most dire difficulties. Now the recovery is just beginning, and it will be a long one without significant investments in women. Policy makers must put the experiences of working moms front and center in their policy, program, and budget plans, and nonprofits and foundations must continue to advocate for such efforts on women’s behalf.
I spoke with Reshma earlier this year and asked her to share three things the philanthropic sector can do now to show up for working moms. One was to raise awareness about the challenges women who are caregivers are facing. Women are the primary caregivers for their children and older parents and also are the majority of workers in the care economy. Together, nonprofits and foundations can work to understand how to provide support and funding to help women stay in the workforce. Child care is often the barrier to staying employed. A recent study by the San Diego Foundation, Workforce, Childcare & Change, confirmed that to address these challenges, working parents are seeking innovative benefits including healthcare and childcare subsidies and flexibility.
Another was for workplaces to shift from programs, like mentoring, to policies, like paid leave, dependent care benefits, flexible work schedules, and paid or subsidized child care. And it’s important to approach this with an equity lens, including being mindful of supporting the non-birth parent’s paid leave and creating stable, predictable, and flexible schedules that still support employees’ ability to be seen, heard, and valued.
We know working moms have said, “Give me predictability and flexibility, and around 80 percent of us will go back to work.” We need moms to come back to work. The longer someone stays out of the workforce, the harder it is to go back. So, America, this is the moment to act.
While we wait and advocate for the rest of America to show up, nonprofits and policy makers must start showing up for moms now! As you know in your roles as leaders, parents, organizers, and humans—they always show up for us.