As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, childcare is among the toughest challenges for parents and employers alike.
Prior to the pandemic, about half of U.S. families reported having trouble finding care for a young child, according to the Center for American Progress. That number shot to nearly two-thirds this past spring as childcare centers closed and other in-home caretakers were told to stay home during lockdown orders.
“Now more than ever, children have come to the forefront,” says Shadiah Sigala ’06, as she holds her two-year-old on her lap during a PCM interview conducted via Zoom.
She speaks from personal experience as the mother of two young children, but also as the co-founder and CEO of Kinside, an app that assists employers offering childcare benefits. When an employer partners with Kinside, its employees can use the service to browse and find reliable childcare options for their families.
Sigala’s impetus for her newest entrepreneurial effort was inspired in part by her own experience with motherhood.
“I had a kid while co-founding my former company [Honeybook.com]. I now had a baby, and then my family leave period ended. How do I do this as a working mother? So I instituted the first family-related benefits, policies and organizational structures at the company, which was undergoing a big baby boom. As a company executive I asked myself, what is the experience like for my employees? And how do we show that we’re paying attention to this? So definitely, this was born out of personal need and our employees’ needs.”
Sigala says the pandemic has exposed the fact that the childcare system in America is both fragile and under-resourced. “To give context, about two-thirds of households in the U.S. are dual working households where both parents work,” she says. “On top of that, working mothers take on a larger load of childcare. Working mothers average 22 hours of childcare per week, on top of their full-time jobs.”
The pandemic has only made things worse.
“It really doesn’t matter if you are a frontline worker, an hourly worker, which is usually who suffers the most silently, or if you are middle management or an executive at a company. We’re all in this together,” she says. “And this is usually where we find an inflection point—where those in power and influence experience a pain point and they feel compelled to fix it.”
So what are employers doing to alleviate the challenges of childcare for their employees? “They realize that this is literally impacting their very bottom line,” says Sigala. “On top of productivity losses, it is estimated that about one in five working parents is saying that either they or their partner are considering leaving the workforce. Imagine that 20 to 30% of your employees are experiencing this? That is a significant portion of your employee base.”
“The most obvious incentive is that employers are offering subsidies for childcare for the first time, especially those employers who have employees that are essential and on the front lines. For example, we’re seeing many health organizations, who employ our nurses and doctors, folks who are absolutely essential. In order to keep them going, their employers are offering a childcare subsidy.”
Other employers are making their parental benefits more robust. That can mean anything from maternity or paternity leave to support for new parents who are returning to work, including childcare.
Sigala points out that working parents, and particularly mothers, are not only caring for children but sometimes caring for multiple members of their family, whether they live with them or not.
“Employers are really looking at this very holistically. We’re finding that suddenly they want it al,l or at least more, when it comes to family benefits. Whereas before, they were considering adding one new benefit; now they’re considering several, ranging from mental health to fertility to childcare. And whereas these benefits used to be considered perks, organizations are strategically moving their energy and efforts of family benefits into the ‘essential’ bucket.”