America's Child-Care Crisis: 'a Humanitarian Disaster'

BY Emily Nonko | November 23, 2020

As the pandemic drags on with little government support in sight for families with child-care needs, Marianne Cooper, a senior research scholar with Stanford University’s VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab, has faced this nagging thought: “I don’t think America loves its children, and I’m starting to think it hates its parents.”

Cooper, who has long studied women in the U.S. workplace, has now focused on how COVID-19 has impacted working mothers and their families. She spoke in conversation with Bryan Walsh, the future correspondent for Axios, during From Day One’s conference last week what can be done to help working parents during the crisis. Throughout, Cooper delivered a strong argument that the U.S. is in an unprecedented emergency, that women and children bear the brunt of it, and that government and businesses must step up more than they have so far.

Women in this country, particularly women working low-paying, blue-collar or service jobs, have long struggled to balance work with child care. The U.S. is unique among developed countries in its lack of paid family leave and sick leave, a lack of universal health care and few federal safety nets to support families. “What the pandemic has done is laid bare all those challenges,” Cooper said, “And what were challenges are now a full-blown crisis.”

She clearly laid out the stakes: This October, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the workforce than in February, falling to levels the country hasn’t seen since the late 1980s. Economically, women aren’t recovering as quickly as men as they face what Cooper called a “double whammy”: job loss and financial uncertainty alongside closure of schools and daycares.

In the conference on parenting, Stanford sociologist Marianne Cooper, at right, was interviewed by Axios correspondent Bryan Walsh (Image by From Day One)

Women and families of color have been hit the hardest. Cooper shared survey data from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which found that cleaners, nannies and other workers had a jobless rate of nearly 40%. “Among people who were low-income workers to begin with, they're concentrated in jobs that we would call low-quality jobs with low pay, nonexistent benefits, and often dangerous working conditions,” she added. “Those families have always lived very close to the edge and are at a high likelihood of experiencing economic instability.”

Even for working parents with more resources, the child-care situation is far more dire than terms like “work-life balance” can begin to encompass, Cooper said. “I think we're facing what many are just starting to describe as a humanitarian disaster.”

Government has fallen short of providing enough relief to meet the long-term implications of the disaster, Cooper said. The U.S. needs a stronger safety net, particularly to support people who were already living in economic insecurity before the pandemic. She also pointed out many schools and day-care facilities don’t have enough resources to open with new safety protocols, and most school districts don’t have testing capacity for their teachers. “When the government can’t step in or won’t step in in an emergency like this, pre-existing inequalities just grow,” she noted.

In the absence of new government supports, Cooper and Walsh discussed ways that corporate employers could further step up for both the short term and long term. Right now, Cooper said, companies need to frame the situation as an emergency comparable to a war–and set productivity expectations, deadlines and priorities accordingly. Companies also need to push against the expectation that employees should always be available. “There should be collective practices of working that create that space and divide,” she said. One example is a no-email policy for evenings.

Looking further down the line, companies need to think of this as a long-term investment in their employees over a multi-year emergency. “It’s thinking: can we reduce hours, have days off, expand vacation times and be clear about our expectations around productivity?” Cooper said.

Cooper shared some discouraging findings of a wide-ranging survey she led, the Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Company and, which included 40,000 workers. Only half of their employers had communicated their expectations about productivity to their employees in the wake of COVID-19, the respondents said. Some women interviewed in depth for the survey reported their managers hadn’t even asked them basic questions about how they were coping. “That to me shows much more can be done on this front,” she said.

Leadership in a pandemic poses many challenges, but a lot of it boils down to responsiveness, open communication, flexibility and resource sharing. “Sometimes it’s just enough to acknowledge it … to reach out and offer to talk it out,” Cooper said. “Sometimes it’s the little things that can be the difference for people.”

As companies look to managing well through the long term, Cooper mentioned a few important components. The first is not only to set priorities for leadership and management to clearly communicate with employees, but ensure managers are following through. In Women in the Workplace survey, Cooper said, “Something like 70% of employers asked managers to check in with employees to make sure their workload was manageable, but only 40-something percent of employees said that was happening.”

Leaders should also be educated and aware of maternal bias in the workforce, like the idea that a working mom is falling short if she can’t be available to the company all the time. Maternal bias is even more likely to come up now, as many female employees balance child care and other demands from home. Performance reviews should either be paused altogether or take all these challenges in mind, as “the time is ripe” for such biases, Cooper said. She also suggested that companies track parental status alongside gender and race demographics when they assess their workforces for diversity and inclusion.

Cooper hopes that in this pivotal historic moment, the U.S. takes a hard look at how it treats families and acknowledges where we could do better. “Once people realize, ‘It’s not my problem to solve, because I can’t individually solve it,’ they begin to put their head up and look around,” she said. “And that's where companies can start pushing on the policy front, which is leading with their own internal policies on family leave, for example, but really, talking and lobbying at the public and federal level to change things for everyone.”

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.


Which Benefits Provide the Best Worker Outcomes–and Return on Investment?

There’s no end to the list of benefits employers can offer now, from pet bereavement leave to baby bonuses and ketamine therapy. But the books have to be balanced at the end of the year, and company leadership isn't inclined to cut a check for anything that doesn’t demonstrate a return on investment. Caught between job seekers who expect competitive packages and the budget-conscious C-suite, benefits professionals have to make tough choices.During From Day One’s April virtual conference on finding benefits that support individual needs without busting the budget, five benefits leaders with decades of experience gathered to discuss which benefits provide the best worker outcomes–and return on investment.Vetting New Benefits OfferingsKimberly Young is the VP of global benefits at HR tech at Amentum, a government contractor for defense, security, intelligence, energy, and environment projects. The first question she asks to vet a new benefits platform is how it will integrate into the company’s existing tech stack; otherwise, the lift to simply implement it may be too great.“The biggest challenge is how to onboard new technology and integrate it with those existing portals related to payroll, your HR data system, and other feeds,” said Young. “Additionally, we look for ease of administration and implementation. The time and resources it takes to invest and implement new technology is high on the list.”Employers have to know that adding a new benefit or platform will be worth the time, says Devin Miller, co-founder and CEO of emergency savings platform SecureSave. The communications component alone can require a lot of time and resources, so “it has to resonate, it has to be easy to administer, and employees have to like it,” he said. “It has to be cost-effective, and then it has to be provable so that you can stand up in front of a management and say ‘this is the impact we’re having.’”Communicating With a Multigenerational Workforce“As benefits professionals, [communication] is an age-old struggle,” said Elizabeth Chappelear, North American head of strategic benefits at life sciences and biotech firm MilliporeSigma. “Employees don’t care about their benefits until they need them, so we have to make sure that when they do need it, they can find it.”Panelists agreed that the familiar challenge of communicating benefits isn’t made easier by the current makeup of the labor force. “This is the first time we’ve had five generations in our workforce, and that means different preferences,” Chappelear commented. Her team is creating home mailers at the same time they’re posting QR codes in the breakroom, hosting webinars and virtual benefit fairs, and building microsites. “We’re constantly challenging ourselves to evolve that communication to meet our employees where they are.”When Carrie Theisen revamped Fannie Mae’s benefits for the first time in more than a decade, communication was one of the first things she tackled. “I start with communication, because it’s just so critical,” said Theisen, who is the lending company’s SVP of total rewards.Theisen began by surveying all employees. She learned that more than three-quarters of employees were happy with the benefits package, but they also found that workers were requesting benefits that Fannie Mae already offered. “That told me that we had a good, solid package, but we just weren’t communicating it well.”Given the size of benefits packages now, total rewards leaders have to be marketers as well. Theisen’s strategy was to create a value proposition and a brand for their benefits, centered around a five-pillar graphic. “Then we looked to add a lot of low-cost benefits that we could implement quickly, then packaged those two things together. The new branding with the new benefits helped build excitement with employees, and it’s become a key differentiator for us.” In fact, their benefits satisfaction score went from 79% to 91% in a single year.Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza moderated the conversation among benefits experts from SecureSave, MilliporeSigma, Spring Health, Fannie Mae, and Amentum (photo by From Day One)For those who need to increase uptake, an immediately applicable benefit can be an easy avenue into broader benefits engagement, said Miller. That starts to tip the scales of the equitable exchange of the benefits–you just got to get them engaged in the process, and finding a broadly based appealing program is an important first step.”Expanding Benefits to Reach an Entire WorkforceBenefits that would have been rare differentiators a decade ago–like mental healthcare access and fertility treatments–are now common features of benefits packages. What’s the next evolution?The next wave is specialized programs for high-touch conditions, says Casey Smolka, head of actuarial analytics at mental health benefits platform Spring Health. By expanding healthcare into specialized programs, employers are able to support workers with often overlooked needs. And it can still be a cost-effective addition, he said. “Everybody has a really solid therapy program, but what are you doing for substance use disorder? It’s a really costly condition, and you may have only a couple of people who need the support, but if you don’t give them the support they need, the cost to your company and to the employee is astronomical.”Some benefits are retention-boosters. Smolka looked at Spring Health’s own workforce and found that those who engage with the company’s mental health benefits have a 22% higher stay rate than those who don’t.SecureSave’s Miller noted that access to benefits isn’t always equally distributed, with white collar workers often “soaking up” the bulk of the benefits budget. Perks aimed at hourly and low-wage workers–emergency savings programs, for example–can be a way to support workers at all levels, from the office to the shop floor.Some panelists acknowledged how challenging it can be to find the right constellation of benefits for some demographics–Young, for instance, is still looking for the right partner to serve Amentum’s LGBTQ+ community. Others talked about having to forgo some popular benefits–like student loan repayment and lifestyle spending accounts–because they’re just too costly.Yet all agreed that the most impactful provisions don’t necessarily have to be budgeted for. Fannie Mae doubled its parental leave from six to 12 weeks, added caregiver leave, catastrophe leave, bereavement leave, grandparent leave, plus added more vacation time and extended flexible schedules.“People want to make more money, they want time off, they want retirement, they want good health care. Those are the table-stakes components,” said Miller. “You want to strengthen those programs, and make sure that people use them and value them, but you really need something that is going to be impactful for your organization.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is an independent journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the BBC, the Economist, the Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | April 10, 2024

Where to Start: Making the Workplace Inclusive of Neurodiversity

It’s estimated that 15–20% of the global population is neurodivergent in some way, and growing awareness of diagnoses has people curious. They want to learn more about the term, what it means, and how they can support people who identify that way.Neurodivergence describes so many different experiences, but generally, people who are neurodivergent process information differently than most individuals. This includes people on the autism spectrum, people with learning disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome.Millette Granville is the VP of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at digital learning platform 2U. She’s seen the appetite in her company and has been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm. “We have over 200 employees that are actively engaged in our abilities resource network. They were really, truly ready to get started building the community. I was not as prepared for the thirst for knowledge from our people, from leaders, as well as our employees about what exactly we need to do to make sure we are supporting our employees.During From Day One’s February virtual conference on getting to the next stage of diversity and belonging, Granville and her industry colleagues gathered for a panel discussion on neurodiversity in the workplace and how they’re changing their organizations to be more inclusive of neurodiverse needs.Neurodivergence can describe so many different diagnoses, experiences, and needs. It can also be invisible. “Neurodiversity is hidden in plain sight all around us,” said Hal Lanier, client engagement leader at accessible tech company TextHelp. So how does a workplace become inclusive if the needs can be hard to identify?An Inclusive Interview ProcessSome leaders begin with the hiring process. Monica Parodi, VP of talent acquisition at The New York Times, said she’s starting at the beginning, using tools to comb their job descriptions for noninclusive language. They’re also adding details about the hiring process to the company’s career pages so candidates can prepare in advance and avoid uncomfortable surprises.The panelists discussed the topic "How Companies Are Embracing Neurodiversity in Innovative Ways" at From Day One's virtual conferenceOnce candidates get to the interview stage, they’ll see other changes. “We know that the first 30 seconds [of an interview] are really uncomfortable for a lot of people who are neurodivergent. So we take that space and say, ‘we’re going to ask very structured questions to everyone, and we’re going to limit small talk,’” Parodi said. “We’re also making sure panelists understand neurodivergent behaviors and don’t penalize candidates if they don’t make eye contact, if they’re writing questions down, if they’re pausing, or if they’re asking you to repeat questions.”Building a reputation as an employer that is supportive of neurodivergent employees doesn’t happen by accident, she said. “There’s not one single place that you focus on; it’s weaved into every single part of your process in business and brand.”Designing Learning Opportunities with Neurodivergence in MindLearning and skill development programs often designed for the neurotypical employee are also getting a revision. Joshua Crafford is the VP of leadership learning and development at financial institution Synchrony. He said that his experience as a person with learning disabilities shapes his work. Crafford uses his personal point of view to design better learning experiences, often asking himself, “how would I have to learn the material?”For instance, Crafford talks to his audience to understand their learning styles, he teaches concepts, not just rote memorization. “It’s designed to be simplified. It’s built for all learners, divergent and neurotypical. We make sure that people can interact with the information through discussions and gain others’ perspectives.”At aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman, VP of talent management Jackie Reisner considers use cases when creating and evaluating skill development and training programs. Who’s going to be using it? Can you involve them in the design? Can you ask them what does and doesn’t work about the programs?Perhaps most importantly, does everyone have to complete the training in exactly the same way? Because neurodivergence represents non-traditional ways of processing information, it represents many different learning styles.“This is something that we have to be more open-minded about: there’s got to be more than one way to get to the goal,” said Reisner. When and how the training is delivered should be flexible and adaptable by the learner. The goal is that everyone learns, not that everyone completes the training in the same way.“I know from a compliance perspective, that feels challenging, because you want to just check ‘yes, everyone in my company took ethics training,’ Reisner said. “But if you can get more models, more ways people can get to that end state, then you’re going to see so much more success.”Don’t Assume, AskThe challenge for many who are neurodivergent is that they will prefer not to disclose their diagnosis at work–and others may not know they’re not neurotypical. That’s why many leaders are making these changes and accommodations available to all employees–not just those who openly identify as neurodivergent. No one should be forced to disclose neurodivergence if they don’t want to. “An individual should not be required to disclose to get assistive technology,” said Lanier of TextHelp. “There are a lot of organizations that make our product available for everyone.”The best practice is to simply ask employees what they need, panelists said, and be open to creativity. “Companies come up with all these accommodations, and it looks like a list to choose from. That can be great, but you have to remember to ask people what they need as well,” said Reisner. “At the end of the day, we have to ask, ‘how can we make your life easier? What are you seeing as challenges in the workplace, and what would be the ideal state to make this workplace a great place for you to work regardless of that neurodiversity status?’”At 2U, Granville leans on the neurodiversity resource networks for ideas and policy review, also considering parents and caregivers who are responsible for neurodivergent family members. “We rely on good communication and connection,” she said. “If leaders have questions, they can lean into our resource groups, myself, or our DEI team and also HR to make sure that we’re guiding people in the right direction, and doing what's best for them, not what we think they need.”To Lanier, it’s a matter of psychological safety, and high-performing teams feel free to be themselves. “Is it safe to take risks and be vulnerable and be fully known?” he said. A workplace that is psychologically safe is welcoming to all, neurodivergent or not.Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the BBC, the Economist, the Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | March 29, 2024

How to Create and Sustain a Growth Mindset to Nurture Talent

When Dr. Mary Murphy was working on her PhD at Stanford, she was mentored by Carol S. Dweck, best-selling author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, a book that covers the potential of individuals. Now a social psychologist, Murphy has taken the mindset concept a step further and for over a decade has studied how the “fixed” or "growth” mindset affects not only individuals, but groups of people. Murphy discussed research from her book, Cultures of Growth: How the New Science of Mindset Can Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations, and how it can help teams during a fireside chat at From Day One’s March Virtual Conference.Those with a fixed mindset, Murphy says, believe in being born with skills that can’t grow any further. While those with a growth mindset believe they can learn and grow into new abilities. When talking about teams, organizations, families—there is a similar mindset culture.In a fixed mindset culture, or a “culture of genius” as Murphy called it, the focus is on the star performers. The opposite is a “culture of growth” where there is a focus on continuous learning so anyone can grow and contribute. And it’s that culture of growth that organizations need.Idea SparkIn 2005 during her PhD program, Murphy clearly recalled when this group application of mindset sparked. She was at a grad student seminar supporting a friend, where a professor voiced his opinion about what the fatal flaw of this student’s work was. Another professor chimed in and disagreed, saying the fatal flaw was something else. In essence, it was a battle of which professor was right.“I saw what it was doing to my friend,” she said. “All of a sudden, he lost focus. He wasn’t able to answer questions.” Unfortunately, the experience was so painful that months later he hadn’t continued his work.Two weeks later, in a different seminar, she witnessed something else. Rather than critiquing the students about what was wrong, the professors offered ideas on how to grow the project. The effect was clear. “The students were able to respond totally differently,” Murphy said. “They were able to actually engage in the brainstorming, answer the questions, and they left motivated to dig in.”Reflecting on those two experiences or environments, she realized how much a group can impact an outcome. The harsh approach was not motivating at all. On the other hand, the mentality of growth and how we can all contribute really turned things around for the better.Dr. Mary Murphy discussed her new book Cultures of Growth: How the New Science of Mindset Can Transform Individuals, Teams, and Organizations in a fireside chat moderated by From Day One co-founder Steve Koepp (photo by From Day One)Murphy presented the idea to her new mentor, asking what if mindset is more than just internal? What if it’s baked into culture and influences the cultivation of talent? She blinked a few times and said, “No one's ever thought of mindset this way. But we should do it together. And that began 15 years of work on reconceptualizing the mindset, as not just in our head, but also as this cultural feature.”Time to StudyNow with 75 studies in her back pocket, Murphy has seen firsthand just how deep mindset goes. Murphy and Dweck looked at the mindset of teachers and faculty members in K-12 and college and how they practice that in the classroom.“We look at how that impacts student experience. We’ve created apps that actually measure student experience in the moment looking at their sense of belonging, whether they think their teacher has a growth mindset, belief for them or not, their sense of self efficacy, their trust of the teacher.”What they found was that even if a student has a growth mindset, when set into a fixed mindset culture, they won’t have the opportunity to benefit from their growth mindset. The group trumps and stilts their progress.  In the National Study of Learning Mindsets, a randomized control trial of more than 12,000 students around the country underwent a growth mindset program to see how it would impact their grades and if they’d be willing to take challenging courses. As expected, it had a positive effect. Their GPA was higher and more of them enrolled in the challenging courses than the control group. They also looked at where the program didn’t work.“The answer was two places,” Murphy said. “It was with teachers that had more fixed mindset beliefs or engaged in fixed mindset practices, then giving students that personal growth mindset. The effect was zero. It had no impact. It wasn't even a small impact – it had no impact.”The other place it didn’t work was when peers didn’t engage in challenge seeking, then students were less likely to want to work hard. But when there were teachers and peers who relished a challenge and supported each other, the growth mindset helped students flourish.Organizational CultureWorking with companies of all shapes and sizes, Murphy saw similar results. The mindset of a team at large has a huge impact on creativity, collaboration, and innovation. In one study in particular, they looked at the difference between a psychologically safe environment and a growth minded environment. They found that psychological safety is the baseline for any other growth to take place.“Psychological safety just means that you're willing to speak up when something’s gone wrong. But growth mindset culture really is being vigilant about how to improve what you’re doing, your interactions with others, the outcomes and the strategies that you’re trying. You’re proactively looking for improvement opportunities.”In fixed mindset cultures, they search for the narrow genius prototype to come up with all the answers. When in reality, a growth culture would open up the spectrum of recruiting, looking more at positive values. As Murphy says, a growth culture helps organizations naturally look for more diversity. “What’s most important is the extent to which people are willing to develop, grow and learn.”Changing Company CultureIn her book, Murphy goes over four common mindset triggers which can help individuals understand where people are on the fixed to growth spectrum. In turn, those who work with those individuals can help them shift. For example, one trigger is praise. If someone else gets praise, how does the person react? Are they happy for them, or are they jealous, thinking they are less than? One way to help foster a growth mindset is how praise is given. Rather than a “good job!” which doesn’t offer helpful feedback, Murphy suggested managers repeat what the person has done so well, so they can replicate that and others can encourage.When Satya Nadella first came to Microsoft as CEO, he described Microsoft as everyone thinking about their own silo. He read Dweck’s book and wanted to help Microsoft become the first growth minded culture and company. Kathleen Hogan, head of talent, asked how things needed to change so they could recruit and onboard people that would help shift the company’s culture. She implemented changes, but success didn’t come right away. Some bragged they had the biggest growth mindset in the room. “She had to really talk to people about what a growth mindset actually looks like. And to bake that in to some of the incentive systems and also some of the mentoring and sponsoring and support systems so that people could take on challenges could make mistakes, and actually get points for the learning and the growth from those mistakes and the communicating of those mistakes across the company, so that the whole company can learn at the same time more rapidly.” That’s when things picked up. Slowly but surely, the culture was changing. It became okay to make mistakes, but putting out ideas and taking risks and being open to failure became the norm. And that’s how they got cloud computing. Was the culture change worth it? No doubt about it.Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter.

Carrie Snider | March 28, 2024