Why America Needs a 'Marshall Plan for Moms'

BY Sheila Flynn | February 05, 2021

From a widely publicized op-ed in The Hill to last week’s celebrity-laden ad in the New York Times, the proposed Marshall Plan for Moms has been making headlines and simultaneously highlighting some alarming statistics. The numbers reflecting the impact of the pandemic on working women and mothers are staggering: An estimated 5.4 million have lost their jobs since last February. As of September, there were three working mothers unemployed for every father who’d lost a job. The percentage of American women in the workforce is currently the lowest it has been in 32 years.

But those figures come as little surprise to any working mother who’s been weathering the pandemic while juggling the seemingly insurmountable demands of home and coronavirus working conditions.

Reshma Saujani, the plan’s architect and founder of Girls Who Code, knows all too well the challenges being faced by mothers in the American workforce. Their situation was stressful enough even before the pandemic, she said, speaking on a Zoom call from her son’s bedroom in a From Day One webinar with fellow mother and Maven Clinic founder Kate Ryder, also a signatory to the New York Times ad.

But now the demands on working mothers in American society are exponentially worse, and failure to address them will result in devastating setbacks, undoing decades of female progress in the workforce.

“I think the thing that’s so scary is how quickly we lost so many gains,” said Saujani, the mother of two children ages six and one, pointing out that labor participation among women in the U.S. has declined to levels not seen since the 1980s. “That happened in nine months," she said. "That should frighten all of us."

Saujani was speaking from a particularly well-versed place; she started Girls Who Code a decade ago to fix the “pipeline problem” that had contributed to a low percentage of women in tech jobs.

“Ten years later, almost, we have taught over 300,000 girls to code,” she said. “We have 10,000 Girls Who Code clubs across the country. When we started Girls Who Code, almost 18% of computer science graduates were women–and now, in some schools, it’s almost as high as 50%. So it’s no longer a pipeline problem.”

“The work that we’re really focused on is rooting out bias, sexual discrimination, racial discrimination, to make sure that tech companies actually hire these amazing women,” Saujani said.

Yet now, thanks to the pandemic, the challenge is retaining these women in the workforce. “If we’re ever going to solve climate, if we’re going to solve Covid, if we’re going to solve cancer, we need women sitting around the table,” Saujani said. “Women are leaving the workforce now not because we don’t want to work, but because of child care–and because our companies that we work at, oftentimes, don’t respond with the flexibility that we need.”

“And so I, out of anger and frustration and desperation, wrote an op-ed, and it resonated with millions of women who said: I feel seen. And so now we’re going to get it done. Because that’s what we do as moms, right? You know, the fabric of our society is based upon motherhood. As we build America back better, we have an opportunity to build motherhood back better. And I think we should take full advantage of that.”

The conversation on women and work: clockwise from upper right, moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, Kate Ryder of Maven, and Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code (Image by From Day One)

Her proposal for a Marshall Plan for Moms, a reference to the 1948 U.S. government program that spent billions of dollars to help rebuild Europe after World War II, calls on President Biden to implement, in his first 100 days, significant protections for working mothers. But Saujani remains a realist about the blowback and the challenges–as does Ryder, whose company provides health care for women and families. “At the end of the day, your moms are going to pick their children over their jobs,” said Ryder, “and so how do you support the moms who will always make that choice, which I think almost all moms will make?”

She continued: “For moms that have left the workforce but then want to come back, how do you create returnships in a really profound and pronounced way?”

To do that, Ryder said, employers must be “super thoughtful about what flexibility means for their organization and how to really make a leadership-level and board-level imperative to maintain gender equity in the workforce.” If a company has lost a lot of women, she added, it needs strategies to bring them back.

That’s a tall order, she and Saujani agreed–particularly when women were “already facing a motherhood penalty and a fatherhood premium in the workplace,” the Girls Who Code founder said.

“I think the penalty is going to be even greater when we go back, unless we do something about this case and we’re very intentional about rooting out the deepened bias that we have towards motherhood that has also, I think, been exacerbated by this pandemic–because now you really see our roles, doing all the unpaid work.”

In her own life, Saujani said, she’s become–on any given day, at any given moment–nanny, tech support, cleaner, cook and mental-health counselor.

“As you’re thinking about a reopening plan, and you’re figuring out the cost of keeping teachers safe, I want you to calculate the cost of lost labor–factor that in,” she said. “Until you really start putting a value on our unseen, unpaid labor, nothing changes.”

“The second thing is, we need to pass policies like affordable day care and paid leave,” Saujani said. “There are some good ideas that are in Biden’s plan right now in terms of bailing out the day-care industry and making sure that low-income mothers, in particular, get a tax credit to pay for child care. But it can’t just be a one-year stopgap. We need real structural change.”

“The third thing is, look, schools have to be open five days a week, period. If we don’t open up schools five days a week, safely, then we’re going to be in the 1960s” in terms of gender equity, she said. “So we should be working on, again: What do we need to do in terms of batch testing, keeping teachers safe, social distancing in the schools?

“And lastly, what are we doing to bring women back?,” Saujani asked, picking up on Ryder’s earlier point. “The vast majority of those working in retail and health care and education are women and women of color. And a lot of those jobs are not coming back. So how do we retrain women for the jobs of tomorrow–and then for women who have left and want to come back?”

To support and retain moms on their workforces, companies need to expand their concepts of job flexibility, said Ryder. Some “leading companies” are doing a commendable job, she said, “telling people that they could keep full benefits, which are really expensive, [and] they could work part-time, so they could work on a reduced schedule.”

At many companies, Ryder said, “if you go down to 25, 30 hours a week, and you work with your managers on that, then there’s no penalty.” Employers should be “really, really clear about what those rules are,” she added. “You really have to get in at a manager level and train them for how to work with their teams and assign some kind of support on how to pick up some of that work if somebody goes part-time.” Oftentimes, she said, there are a lot a good intentions on setting these flexibility policies, but then in some cases employees are “at the whim of the manager–and how was the manager adapting to that? What tools did they have?”

Integral to solving the growing problem, Saujani said, is gathering the knowledge and data to know its true extent. There is a need, she said, “to be specific about who is suffering–what are they struggling with, how do we help mothers at our workplace? What are the things that they need?”

“I think the first way that you actually solve the problem is by being specific and by being intentional, so really getting the data. How many mothers have left? Why have they left? What are the needs that they have? You know, is it about child care? Is it about an aging parent? What would it take for them to actually come back to work?”

She continued: “This point about the motherhood penalty is going to be huge. We already know that so many women are asked, ‘Hey, are you planning on having another kid? How young are your kids? What’s your child-care situation at home?’ [Employers are] already trying to assume that, because we have kids, we’re suddenly not as interested in our careers,” Saujani said.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, “that is simply going to be exacerbated. So in the same way that we’ve been doing a ton of unconscious-bias training, and really trying to root out some of the inherent bias that we have, we’re going to have to do the same when it comes to the motherhood penalty,  because we are going to pay a bigger tax for this, post-Covid,” Saujani said.

“And if we’re not careful, we’re really quickly going to get back to where we were in the 1960s. Before we know it.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this webinar, Maven Clinic. You can watch a video of the conversation From Day One webinar. Please visit our conference page to register for more upcoming events.

Sheila Flynn is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for the Associated Press, the Sunday Independent, the Irish Daily Mail and the Irish Times. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.


Developing Crucial Competencies Among Managers to Enhance Inclusion

To improve workplaces, leaders need to reevaluate how they are growing their managers and provide the proper support. In a From Day One webinar, Lydia Dishman, senior editor of growth and engagement at Fast Company, spoke with leaders about the strategies they’re taking to address skills gaps in their companies, especially those related to boosting workplace inclusion.Self-aware leaders display a higher level of confidence and empathy, resulting in stronger teams and effective leadership. Yet despite most leaders believing that they exhibit self-awareness, research shows only 10-15% of leaders are self-aware.The disparity comes from the challenge of displaying vulnerability, Khalil Smith, vice president of inclusion, diversity, and engagement at Akamai Technologies, says.“​​We need to be given at least an opportunity to have some of that autonomy to say, “I think that I can be better here or here,” Smith said. “It’s not a bad thing to say, ‘I do struggle with giving difficult feedback and that's not something that’s going to hold me back.’ This is different from being externally assessed because it builds the self-awareness that we need,” Smith said.By showing empathy for others, leaders can cultivate a safe work environment for others to grow, which can be a win-win situation for companies and employees. Singleton Beato, global executive vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at media group, McCann Worldgroup, says empathetic leaders can reap the benefits of a stronger team.Amanda Grow of ETU, Singleton Beato of McCann Worldgroup, Diana Navas-Rosette of Microsoft, and Khalil Smith of Akamai Technologies spoke in a panel moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company (photo by From Day One)“Being self-aware allows one to understand how to present constructive and corrective feedback in a way that isn’t demeaning to someone,” Beato said. “Doing so safely helps employees to feel that they have the support of the manager and helps them to be aware of not only whatever the correction needs to be but also to feel empowered to make that correction.”Leaning on Newer Learning MethodsWhen compared to traditional learning methods, researchers found immersive learning like VR training to yield better results and also positively impact employees’ performance. Amanda Grow, director of customer success at learning company, ETU, says learning simulations can also provide opportunities for employees to learn skills that may be difficult to learn in traditional settings.“One of the key elements in learning simulations is teaching people how to work through situations that they don't feel comfortable in,” Grow said. “Simulations have the ability to bring some of that emotion to life and make you feel uncomfortable or make you feel anxious.”During these simulations, employees dealing with challenging emotions have an opportunity to self-reflect on their emotions in a safe space, Grow says. “We want to teach people how to reflect and understand their internal processes,” Grow said. “That's going to be valuable if we want employees to improve their self-awareness.”Research found employees who have personal development opportunities are more engaged and have higher retention rates, showing how learning can play a large role in how employees perceive their work and growth.Whether it’s through traditional learning modules or providing a safe environment for employees to learn, leaders play an instrumental role in bridging the gaps. Diana Navas-Rosette, general manager of global diversity and inclusion solutions, communities, and activation at Microsoft, says that Microsoft is leaning on newer technology to offer personalized learning opportunities.“Simulations stand out as probably one of the most innovative solutions that we have in our portfolio right now. They are immersive and allow learners to practice the skills realistically and safely,” Navas-Rosette said. “A learner navigates through a simulation and then gets a report at the end that tells them what they did well and where they have areas of opportunities for them to grow. Employees can always come back and practice if they want to, allowing it to be a continuous relationship with a solution for them to build that skill set.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | May 21, 2024

How to Provide Fertility Benefits Without Breaking the Bank

Infertility impacts one in every six couples who are trying to conceive, according to the World Health Organization. “That number is staggering,” said Jenny Carillo, president of Ovia Health, who spoke in a recent From Day One webinar.“We’re seeing the average age of people who are trying to initiate their family building efforts increasing,” she told moderator Lydia Dishman. “People are now trying to conceive in their 30s and 40s, when they’re becoming less fertile.”However, a new report from Ovia Health suggests only 15% of employees have access to fertility benefits. “This benefit is very difficult to justify in terms of return on investment, and the reason why is that it’s crazy expensive,” said Arturo Arteaga, the senior director of total rewards at VCA Animal Hospitals.However, employees now see providing fertility benefits as their employer’s responsibility, says Kim Duck, VP of global benefits at News Corp. “I think it’s ramped up very, very quickly, where it used to be nice to have and now it is expected,” she said.That discussion began in the United States, but Duck said she was surprised how quickly it spread to global employees. “It’s just exploding everywhere,” she said. The Case for Fertility BenefitsOffering fertility benefits can be a difficult decision for employers because it serves only a small group of employees, says Arteaga. “You have to balance providing that benefit for a few or think of something else that can impact more people,” he said.However, 80% of the employees at VCA Animal Hospitals are women, so “it is something we need to do,” Arteaga said.Lydia Dishman of Fast Company moderated the panel on providing fertility benefits without breaking the bank (photo by From Day One)Even if a company offers fertility benefits, employees who use them still need to spend a lot of their own money to access care, says Arteaga. “But just imagine if you didn’t have the company helping you,” he said. “It’s just impossible for the majority of people.”For companies with difficulty recruiting new employees, fertility benefits can be a big advantage, says John Von Arb, VP of total rewards for Essentia Health.“We rely on our benefits as an employer of choice, and things like that encourage and incentivize individuals to come to us or to stay with us as we move forward,” he said.Fertility Benefits and the Continuum of CareHistorically, women’s reproductive health has been viewed as fragmented stages, such as conception, pregnancy, post-partum, and menopause, says Carillo.However, “the reality is this is a continuum of one’s life, and these periods of one’s life are connected to one’s whole health,” she said. “So, if we think about it from a whole health perspective, we’d like to anchor to the thought of prevention. And when you think about prevention, you’re able to really think about what preconception care looks like.”Carillo said helping employees be in a healthier place so they can conceive naturally is cost-effective compared to assisting them with fertility treatment costs.Providing benefits for young families doesn’t end after conception, says Duck. Some News Corps business units offer 20 weeks of parental leave that is gender agnostic.Essentia Health offers childcare support for mothers returning to work. Von Arb said this support is not just for day-shift employees, but also for those on the evening and overnight shifts. “All of those go with the broader context of family benefits,” he said.Talking to Employees About Fertility BenefitsInclusive language and inclusive perspectives are critical when talking to employees about fertility benefits, says Carillo. It’s important to be inclusive to men and the LBGTQ+ population seeking these treatments.Sometimes the male half of a heterosexual couple is only tested for infertility after healthcare providers have exhausted all the options for the woman in the relationship, says Arteaga. “I think that’s a cultural shift we have to change,” he said.Fortunately, younger generations are more open than older ones when it comes to discussing infertility, according to Von Arb. “Nothing is off the table,” he said. “I do think that it becomes a little easier for us to address some of these issues as we move forward, and frankly to communicate them a little more effectively, as there’s not a taboo around them.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Ovia Health, for sponsoring this webinar.Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa. 

Mary Pieper | May 10, 2024

Skills-Based Hiring: Getting Started and Overcoming Common Objections

It’s never been easier to put skills-based hiring into practice. The tools and the resources are there–and the potential benefits are abundant. And yet, some leaders and hiring managers are skeptical.“One of the major positives about the skills-based approach is that it adds more science and rigor to the hiring process,” said Christopher Rotolo, vice president of global talent at Mitek. Adding science, Rotolo says, adds objectivity, which can remove some of the bias and “increase the validity of the whole hiring process.”“The fact is that over 60% of people don’t have a college degree. But that hasn’t stopped employers from benchmarking candidates that way,” said moderator Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth and engagement at Fast Company. Dishman moderated a panel of leaders during From Day One’s recent webinar about Skills-Based Hiring: Getting Started and Overcoming Uncommon Objections.Unconscious bias can easily creep into the hiring process when looking at a candidate’s resume, which can reveal indicators like elite educational opportunities, prestige, race, and even generational wealth, none of which are necessarily predictors of career success. Hiring almost exclusively on skill can help employers dial into what really matters.Rather than focusing on degrees, says Amanda Richardson, CEO and head of people at CoderPad, “You have to dissect the role into the skills that are needed, working with the hiring manager and people who are currently in the role. The most important part of the conversation is not just ‘What are the skills?’ but ‘What does good look like?’” This approach requires more in-depth conversations between hiring managers and department leaders to get a stronger sense of not only what success looks like, but how previous successes can be communicated during the interview process.“I find that taking a practical approach [means] literally saying, ‘What does a great answer sound like? Does this person really know what they're talking about?’” said Stacey Olive, VP of talent acquisition and employer branding for Medidata, Dassault Systemes.“Because there’s not an empirical objective test for everything, we really have to go based on our conversations with people.” This means hiring managers need to prepare upfront so they can infer if they’re hearing “flowery language” merely alluding to past success, or if a candidate actually has lived experience that will be beneficial to the role.Focusing on skills-based hiring isn’t just a great way to reduce unconscious bias, it can also make the hiring process quicker. “A little bit of upfront work on understanding and aligning on the skills and the level of the skills needed will actually make a much faster hiring experience,” Richardson said.Semoneel Bamboat, VP and global head of diversity, inclusion and talent acquisition at Capri Holdings, shares that while her organization has a rubric within which they score talent competencies on a scale of one to five, her team does not let the skill scoring fully dictate the conversation.“While we have numbers and rigor around it, nothing is set in stone,” she said. “The purpose of that really is so we can cast this wide net. We don’t want to be that specific, because we don’t want to then lose sight of someone that might not fit that exactly.” Skills-forward hiring should be used to identify previously untapped candidates, not a blanket way to eliminate unusual or creative choices that could be an interesting fit.Richardson adds that getting too technical in the taxonomy can overwhelm the conversation, especially as hiring managers try to parse the subtleties between junior and senior versions of the same role. “I've seen the situation where developers start arguing about the nuances of ‘What does it mean to be very proficient versus mildly proficient?’ And I think you can lose the forest for the trees pretty quickly.”Copying and pasting old job descriptions when looking to fill a role is no longer enough. Instead, there should be periodic check-ins to make sure descriptions are up-to-date as the nature of the work, and therefore the role, continues to evolve. Part of this can be solved by shortening and simplifying the job listing. “It tends to be a lengthy laundry list of desires and needs. Instead, employers should aim to distill it into ‘What is the required skill for success?’” Olive said.With an eye toward DEI, Bamboat’s organization uses short external job listings with neutral language, keeping the more elaborate and specific job description for internal use only among the hiring team. “We take a lot of the details out to be able to cast that wide net,” she said.“We never want to post the exact job and be very specific about those requirements, because we feel like we’re decreasing our talent pool.” Bamboat shared the well-known study that showed women tend to only apply for jobs where they feel they will fit every single benchmark. Shortening the list of requirements can make it more inclusive. Once candidates make it to the interview phase, the hiring manager can discuss the specific details from the full listing to gauge if it’s a fit.In conversation moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, the panelists discussed the topic “Skills-Based Hiring: Getting Started and Overcoming Common Objections” (photo by From Day One)Pamela Rodas, global senior director of talent acquisition at Telus International, hires for a company with more than 3,000 types of job profiles, all of which are changing rapidly as her organization embraces hybrid workplaces and remote opportunities. In turn, she and her team must change how they assess skills. For example, her newer sales development hires may not have been exposed to an in-person environment where they could hone their technique. Therefore, she finds herself hiring more for soft skills or what Dishman prefers to call power skills, especially as the post-pandemic corporate environment has higher than ever expectations. “All of our clients want to go faster. So forget about skills, do you know how to do the job and do it in less time?” Rodas said.Trying to identify those more amorphous qualities, like being a fast learner, in a candidate can be a challenge. Panelists offered two solutions. The first is reviewing case studies. “To identify these characteristics that lead to outstanding performance, you study what those outstanding performers do,” Rotolo said.The second, is conducting actual testing during the hiring process. “Work simulations can be helpful, whether that means programming together for two hours or sitting and doing a sales demo. What are those real-world experiences where you can actually test the proof points?” Richardson said. Just having a great conversation in an interview is not necessarily enough.But the interview process can still be helpful if you are asking the right questions. “The research still says that behaviorally based questions are the most valid. And there’s really two types: ‘Tell me about a time when’’ past experiences, or situational questions,” Rotolo said.Rodas believes it’s also important to have an honest conversation about the nature of the role and pay attention to the applicant’s response. “The recruiter can [now] spend more time with the candidate talking about how they would endure the type of workload we’re going to put on them. In any type of business today, that’s worth 10 times more,” she said.This also means asking the right questions internally too, to ensure there is no unconscious bias at play and that a candidate’s competency is still at the forefront. “We have an opportunity now to ask [hiring managers], ‘What's the basis of your decision?’” Olive said. “You have to understand and politely point out where you think you see bias happening.”Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | March 19, 2024