Supporting caregivers starts with better data

The research found that 73% of all employees have some type of current caregiving responsibility. However, because the majority of employers don’t track caregiver status, they don’t offer the supportive infrastructure — like the right benefits and policies — to support this large segment of their workforce. The result is that American businesses are losing $35 billion a year due to their inability to attract, support and retain these essential workers. The authors offer four recommendations to help fill this data gap.

Technology continues to power America’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, and with that, data analytics has fundamentally changed the way business leaders manage people. Never in history have companies had so much information to shape decision-making.

But as much as American companies rely on real-time information, an important segment of data is missing that, if captured, will ensure that the United States closes its huge gender equity gaps – data on working families.

The White House recently acknowledged this shortcoming. One of President Biden’s first executive orders on the day of his inauguration was to create an Interagency Fair Data Task Force. And in its October 2021 national strategy on gender equity and equality, the administration pledged to “include the collection of data on factors such as pregnancy and parental status to identify barriers in education, labor and other sectors”.

The data we have proves that maternity bias in corporate America is the strongest and most pervasive form of gender bias in our economy — a self-inflicted barrier to becoming a global talent contender. Sociologist Shelley Correll’s groundbreaking 2007 study found that women looking for jobs with children were seen as ‘significantly’ less competent, less intelligent and less likely to be hired, compared to a female candidate equally qualified without children. Recent studies by law professor Joan C. Williams reveal that these negative perceptions of mothers remain prevalent in the workplace. And an analysis of the Bloomberg Act shows claims of pregnancy discrimination have been on the rise since 2016.

Companies rarely measure motherhood bias in their hiring and retention reports, or even name it in their diversity and inclusion strategies. And it’s not just moms: Employees of all genders who have care responsibilities – for children, elders, spouses, family members, friends or significant others – are likely to deal with prejudice.

Yet most employers don’t know how many of their workers are caring for others at home. Research by Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Fuller reveals that business leaders dramatically underestimate both the number of caregivers in their workforce and the impact they have on business results. Fuller found that 73% of all employees have some type of current caregiving responsibility. However, because the majority of employers don’t track caregiver status, they don’t offer the supportive infrastructure — like the right benefits and policies — to support this large segment of their workforce. According to Fuller, this translates to $35 billion in annual losses for American businesses due to their inability to attract, support and retain these essential workers. Again, it’s not just mothers who are affected. A third of men change jobs when they become caregivers.

Here are four actions business leaders can take to fill this data gap:

1. Learn from business leaders who are already measuring caregiver status.

Companies that have adopted this practice recognize the value of finding out how many of their employees have caregiving responsibilities. Tech security firm Cloudfare began tracking this data earlier this year. “We believe that caregivers are an essential part (of) the workforce,” said Janet Van Huysse, chief human resources officer at Cloudflare. “And like everyone on the Cloudflare team, we want caregivers to have their dream careers here. We need to look at this data to fill the gaps in representation and ultimately workplace experience.

Oyster, a global job board, also collects data on caregivers within its workforce. “At Oyster, we have employees in over 70 countries, which means we have to consider the implications of caregiving across many different demographics,” said co-founder and CEO Tony Jamous, noting that the company plans to explicitly consider caregiver status when evaluating fairness in hiring, retention, promotions, compensation and engagement.

2. Work with employees to create a holistic view of measurement.

The best way to understand the needs of your caregivers is to talk to them. They will help you identify what your culture needs to create an equitable caregiver experience. Employee surveys are one way to do this. Your company’s parent or caregiver resource group (ERG) is another good place to start.

3. Share your data publicly to build transparency and trust.

EEOC reporting regulations require employers to collect data on certain segments of employees, such as gender, race, and job category. Recent surveys found that 73% of Americans want companies to publicly share their diversity data, and companies that do so outperform their peers in the stock market by 2.4%. The pandemic has made it clear that it’s time to add caregiver status to that list.

4. Advocate for more companies to measure and share their data.

Our organizations, TendLab and Parents in Tech Alliance, have partnered to ask employers to commit to following Tending to Care’s commitment to track their employees’ caregiver status and address its impact on hiring, retention, promotion and compensation. Fuller’s research finds that “few employers are aware of the magnitude of the career challenges in relation to care that employees face.” Making the pledge ensures that you are not operating in the dark.

Just last month, EEOC President Charlotte Burrows noted an increase in complaints of Covid-19-related discrimination by carers, as the agency issued updated guidelines on prevention discrimination of caregivers.

We can’t solve a problem we can’t see and we can’t manage what we don’t measure. Organizations must collectively begin tracking caregiver status in order to design targeted interventions to retain and improve the productivity and engagement levels of their caregiver employees. The data will reveal that the United States cannot compete in a global marketplace when our companies are so disadvantaged against our counterparts in other countries with invested solutions like subsidized child care and paid family leave.


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