These family-friendly policies help women thrive in the workplace

Today is International Women’s Day. This day—and its theme, #EmbraceEquity—feels particularly apt given the gender workplace inequalities exacerbated by the ongoing childcare crisis in the U.S.

The total number of workplace absences for childcare-related issues reached a record high of 104,000 in October, spurred in part by a “tripledemic” that amplified worker shortages in the childcare industry. Unsurprisingly, women disproportionately make up the share of absentees, outnumbering men over three times to one for childcare-related work absences in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Besides the productivity hit of absenteeism, employers have additional incentives to make the workplace truly family-friendly. When employers offer on-site childcare, for instance, employee absences and job turnover decrease by 30% and 60%, respectively. At the federal level, the Biden administration recently unveiled new rules requiring that firms accessing some of the $39 billion funding for semiconductor manufacturing offer affordable childcare to workers. And separately, employers that build or acquire in-house childcare or contract with a licensed childcare program can receive a tax credit of up to $150,000 annually.

Offering family-friendly options is not a matter of going big or going home. Employers can utilize a whole continuum of opportunities, including:

– Dependent care FSA—a pre-tax benefit account to pay for childcare services

– Flexibility through remote or hybrid work

– Nursing benefits

– Parental leave

– Paid time off

These benefits aren’t just for office workers, either. The Gap, for example, saw in-store sales and productivity increase by 7% and 5%, respectively, after some stores piloted a shift swap app that improved scheduling flexibility.

Encouraging men to use these benefits is another necessary step toward a family-friendly workplace. Only 5% of new dads took at least two weeks of parental leave, according to 2020 research from Ball State University. “[Making] sure that it’s okay to take up those benefits and there are no drawbacks is really important,” says Ariane Hegewisch, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Providing employees with family-friendly benefits is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers should survey their workforce to determine which policies employees need most. Above all else, just start somewhere, says Sadie Funk, national director at Best Place for Working Parents.

“There’s no one policy you must implement,” she says. Starting these conversations and looking at a suite of implementable policies “provides a key opportunity, not only to support your working parents but to start investing back in your business as well.”

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