When the pandemic began to shutter schools and child care centers in early 2020, parents working at the Patterson Law Group in Fort Worth, Texas, were allowed to work from home from the get go. Importantly, they also received a child care subsidy from their employer to help pay for care in their own home. At nearby PMG, a digital marketing agency, employees received a $500 stipend to set up a home workspace and paid time off beyond government minimums. And at Whitley Penn, an accounting firm with several offices in Texas, leaders encouraged parents to set work schedules based on the needs of their children, even if that meant starting work later in the day.
These are just a few of the efforts of a group of business leaders in the Fort Worth area to create family-friendly policies in the midst of the pandemic, a trend that experts hope will endure even after COVID subsides. About 300 companies are participating in The Best Place for Working Parents initiative, a multi-city effort in Texas to help companies adopt policies like onsite child care, parental leave and flexible hours that benefit employees with children. The initiative started before the pandemic but program director Cheraya Pena said she has been pleasantly “shocked” at how businesses adapted and stepped up to help employees due to Covid-19. “The effect of the pandemic on some of this work has been to push the workplace policies five to ten years down the line,” Pena said. “Businesses that would never, ever consider work from home or more supportive health care benefits or onsite childcare… are now doing it because of Covid.”
Research shows that supporting parents in the workplace can have a positive impact on retention and productivity and also can help close the gender wage gap. These policies could be critical to mitigate the disastrous impact the pandemic has had on working parents, especially mothers. In September 2020, 80 percent of the more than 1 million people who left the workforce were women. Since the start of the pandemic, 400,000 more women than men have left the workforce and a 2020 report found 1 in 4 women are considering leaving their jobs or reducing their workload.
In Los Angeles, Chriselle Lim has had several companies reach out to her in anticipation of the launch of her brainchild BumoWork, a shared co-working space with childcare services opening this spring. She said many organizations have expressed a desire to subsidize childcare for their employees or offer access to BumoWork as a benefit. And while Lim says she believes that childcare should be viewed as a necessity rather than a perk, she’s heartened by the interest. “I think one thing that the pandemic has really revealed is what is necessary for working families,” Lim said. “Now that we’ve been in this pandemic for over a year now, I think it’s safe to say we know what works and what doesn’t.”
In Texas, Pena said recent polling of business leaders across the state has shown that some workplace changes that started during Covid may become permanent, such as an increase in health care benefits and the ability to work remotely. More than 80 percent of employers surveyed by The Best Place for Working Parents said they plan to maintain increased flexibility policies after Covid; and 16 percent are considering launching child care policies through either onsite care, back-up care or by offering payment assistance. “I imagine some of the policies that were [created] in more of an emergency response might go away,” Pena said. “But I think more and more employers are starting to see that…some of these policies actually can increase productivity and job satisfaction.”
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This story about family-friendly policies was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.