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Working moms need child care, not fun job perks

Kara Alaimo

Bloomberg

 /  Sun, May 12, 2019  /  05:11 am
Working moms need child care, not fun job perks

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Want to work for a company like Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. or Google? You’re hardly alone. Many tech companies offer their employees nearly every perk imaginable, from free meals and booze to on-site doctor and dentist appointments, gyms and haircuts to massages and fitness classes. Everything, that is, except the service that would help moms most: on-site child care.

“Sure, you can bring your dog to work, but you are (mostly) on your own with your baby,” Bloomberg Technology anchor Emily Chang notes in her book “Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley.” “That’s because Silicon Valley companies have largely been created in the image of their mostly young, mostly male, mostly childless founders.” Their food-, entertainment- and service-filled campuses enable and even encourage staffers to spend most of their waking hours at work, which works well for people like the young singles who helped create many tech companies — but not for parents.

Yet Chang writes that many Silicon Valley firms offer other generous perks to help new moms and dads, such as paying for fertility services, generous family leave and the “pregnancy parking” found at Facebook. That’s what makes their lack of child-care options so glaring. Not only would offering on-site day care help parents, but it would also help tech companies recruit and retain top talent and improve productivity.

First, Chang says, it could boost the number of women working in tech. It would also help tech companies retain talent of all genders. Women hold just 25% of computing jobs, according to a 2016 report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology. And they tend to depart after having kids: A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 43% of new moms leave their STEM careers. Of them, 12% switch to other industries. Twenty-three percent of new dads leave their STEM careers (18% for other fields). And 49% of new parents say the reason they left the field is “family related.”

Offering on-site child care would make it easier for parents who are looking to flee these jobs to achieve work-life balance. That would especially be the case for moms who breastfeed. In an industry notorious for its long hours, on-site child care could also let parents check in on their kids during the day or eliminate some of the challenges of figuring out how to pick up the kids on time when they need to stay late at work.

It could also improve productivity. A 2019 study by the Council for a Strong America found that, on average, child-care problems cause parents to lose two hours per week of work time. More than half of parents said it made them late for work, miss work or be distracted on the job.

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Some companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft Corp. and Apple (as well as Bloomberg LP), provide backup child care for emergencies.

In March, a group of 1,800 Amazon.com Inc. workers who call themselves “Momazonians” called on their employer to do the same. While that could help solve the crises parents experience on snow days or when the babysitter calls out sick, it doesn’t help the moms and dads who struggle to find and afford quality permanent options.

According to a 2019 Center for American Progress report, half of American families struggle to find child care that works for them. Part of the problem is cost: According to a 2018 report by Child Care Aware of America, the cost of child care exceeds the cost of college in 28 states. While tech companies may offer higher salaries than other industries, this is still a problem for their workers.

Amazon, for example, responded to media reports of the Momazonians’ demands by noting that its minimum wage is $15 per hour. That amounts to $31,200 a year for a 40-hour workweek — before taxes. Yet the average annual cost of child care is more than $20,000 in most parts of the country, according to Child Aware of America.

While building child-care centers and subsidizing the cost of care would be expensive for tech companies, they would stand to offset at least part of the expense — and regain lost productivity — if it helped them retain staffers and reduce employee absenteeism and stress due to child-care issues. The perk could also help them win the recruiting wars for top talent and bolster their images as good places to work.

Most moms could do without foosball tables and beer at work. But they can’t do without child care. Instead of providing benefits that encourage employees to act like kids, tech companies should offer perks to help staffers care for their children.

Kara Alaimo is an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University and author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She previously served in the Obama administration.