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#BeBoldForChange on International Women's Day

Employee benefits and public policy won't close the gender gap on their own. 

Unsplash.com photo via @punttim

Would it surprise you to hear that most women, all around the world, would prefer to be working but balancing work and family is their biggest obstacle? Probably not.

Now, what if I told you the men in their families felt the same way? Would you be surprised then?

These findings, from new research Gallup and the International Labor Organization released in time for International Women’s Day, illustrate a few of the challenges and opportunities around gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. They also illustrate one of the great ironies of the gender gap.

According to the report, seven of 10 women would prefer to be at a paid job. But we know only about 50 percent of women are in the global workforce. Not a single country in the world has completely eliminated the gender gap on economic participation. And, by some estimates, it could be 170 years before the global gender gap is closed.

So why aren’t women participating in economy on equal footing as men? And what can we do about it?

In the vast majority of countries, the Gallup and ILO report found, women say balancing work and family is the biggest obstacle keeping them out of the workforce. Here in North America, people are most likely to cite unequal pay (30 percent), followed by work-family balance (16 percent) and unfair treatment/discrimination (15 percent). Lack of access to affordable child care is another key inhibitor.

Not a lot of surprises here. In fact, there’s quite a bit of momentum building around these issues. From social media campaigns to the war for talent to the Presidential Election, equal pay, child care and work-family conflict have been elevated in our national conversation.

As a tech company whose mission, at its core, is about helping families manage all of their care needs, Care.com has a rather unique vantage point to observe the challenges and opportunities around many of these issues.

As an employer, we were among the first 28 companies to sign the White House Equal Pay Pledge in 2016.  As a marketplace where millions of families find care and millions of caregivers find jobs, we have seen firsthand the codependence between care and work and published the Care Index, a first-of-its-kind comprehensive report of the cost, quality and availability of child care in the United States.  Through our enterprise solution, Care@Work, forward-thinking companies provide family-friendly benefits that help working moms (and dads, and pet parents) find the work-life balance to be more present, productive and engaged on the job. 

Our research, products, policy work and CSR initiatives are grounded in the belief that care and work-life balance are not a soft issues or women’s issues … they’re economic imperatives. The ability of our workplaces and policies to reconcile work and family is key to ensuring the growth and competitiveness of our companies—and our country—in the global economy.

At Care.com, we believe in equal pay for equal work. We believe that family-friendly benefits, like paid family leave and backup care, have been proven to be effective ways to attract and retain female talent and drive positive business outcomes. We believe parents are best able to work—and support their families—when they have access to quality, affordable child care. 

We don’t believe employee benefits and public policies will be enough to close the global gap … in the U.S. or elsewhere.

We’re treating the symptoms of a larger systemic issue – laying the groundwork for change, but not moving fast enough. Women comprise nearly 50 percent of the American work force, but they earn just 79 cents to a man’s dollar. Female labor force participation has stagnated and even regressed, threatening to undue the gains of middle income families and GDP growth that corresponded with the steady increases from early 1970s to late 90s or early 2000s. In the tech industry, where women hold only about 30 percent of jobs, gender disparity is particularly troubling.

So how can our industry #BeBoldForChange? By shifting our attitudes to think about women in the workplace the way we think of them outside of it: as equals.  

As I’ve written before, challenging traditional assumptions about gender—and gender roles—will be vital to achieving the kind of systemic change to that we need to close the gender gap. To #BeBoldForChange, we promote STEM education among girls and encourage boys to envision career paths free of assumptions of what success, work-family responsibilities and business leaders should look like.

The good news is we’re on the path. More than 100 companies have signed the Equal Pay Pledge, and programs like Care@Work are improving female talent retention. Perhaps best of all, our young people are already thinking this way.

For our Millennials and Gen Z employees, our daughters and our sons, it’s never occurred to them to see gender as an obstacle. If we can #BeBoldForChange, we can give them workplaces where they won’t have to.

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