My son calls me ‘Aunty’
Shazia, a mother to a toddler, migrated to Dhaka to work at a garment factory. “When I visit my village, my son calls me ‘Aunty,’” she says, with tears in her eyes. Separated from his mother for long periods of time, the son barely knows her.
I met Shazia last year at the factory where she works. She feels conflicted about leaving her son in her mother-in-law’s care. “Sometimes I think about quitting my job and going back to raise him myself.”
Shazia is not alone. The more parents we talk to in focus groups, interviews and surveys from Bangladesh to Fiji, the more it becomes clear that they share similar stories. Parents report feeling stressed and guilty, taking time off from work or being present but not productive, quitting due to lack of family-friendly workplace support, and low levels of awareness and trust in available childcare options.
The Global Childcare Crisis
Less than half of 3- to 5-year-old children in developing countries participate in some form of early childhood care and education. This figure drops to 17% in low-income countries. Good quality, affordable childcare is often scarce and misaligned with parents’ needs, values, work hours and income levels. Informal care often locks a parent, usually the mother or another female family member, out of the paid job market. While men are three times more likely to be in leadership roles worldwide, women are three times more likely to do unpaid care work. In countries such as India and Pakistan, women are 10 times more likely to provide unpaid care. If women got paid for their care work, it would add an additional $10 trillion to the global economy. In the United States alone, the childcare crisis is costing parents, employers and the economy $57 billion a year.
The “Why” - Making the Case for Childcare
We know that access to good-quality, affordable childcare can result in a win-win-win for families, employers, and economies — now and in the future as the world of work evolves. The Tackling Childcare report by the International Finance Corporation, the part of the World Bank Group that focuses on the private sector, shows employers that providing childcare and related benefits can help attract and retain a diverse, skilled and productive workforce. This evidence is further supported by IFC’s new research in Sri Lanka where companies have realized a range of benefits through childcare, from achieving a nearly 100% maternity return rate to strengthening relationships with buyers, investors and consumers.
Childcare can also support women’s access to more and better jobs. Evidence from Latin America and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries suggests that access to subsidized childcare can have a positive impact on women’s employment. Most importantly, children who have access to good-quality early childhood care and education are more likely to finish school, escape poverty, and be healthier and more productive as adults.
Governments should take the lead when it comes to providing childcare for families. The OECD’s latest report outlines policy options for addressing unpaid care work in four areas: infrastructure, social protection, public services and promotion of shared responsibility in households. Where government support is inadequate or lacking, private sector employers can step in to ensure that their employees and their families are happy, healthy, and productive by instituting family-friendly policies.
Following the publication of IFC’s Tackling Childcare research, we launched a Tackling Childcare Advisory Program. The program works with a growing number of forward-looking companies that believe that childcare and family-friendly workplaces are good for employees and the business. For these employers, offering such benefits is not just about profits but about creating long-term value and building sustainable businesses on the foundations of diversity and inclusion. The top five ideas for employers to move from “why,” or the business case, to “how,” or the implementation, include:
- Assess Parents’ Needs: Employers can start by asking their employees, women and men, what they need. This can provide valuable information on parents’ preferences about cost, quality, demand, access, scope and eligibility. In Bangladesh, we completed a childcare-needs assessment and developed a childcare strategy and action plan for one of the country’s largest banks. In Sri Lanka, we are exploring a workplace childcare consortium in the tourism sector and rolled out a demand survey covering more than 4,000 employees in Colombo’s hospitality sector.
- Review Business Goals and Resources: One size does not fit all. Employers can choose from a range of less to more resource-intensive options (see graph) and select the most feasible option based on their business goals, resources and employee needs. An on-site daycare is often not the only solution. Good practices include community-based solutions, consortiums with other employers, tie-ups with care providers and partnerships with the government complemented by other family-friendly benefits such as paid leave, flexible work, safe transport and breastfeeding.
- Understand the Enabling Environment: Companies are often constrained by inadequate policy frameworks and care supply. Recognizing the benefits of childcare, 25 of 189 economies studied by Women, Business and the Law have policies mandating companies to provide or support childcare, including in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, India, Iran, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine. Yet, quality and safety standards and implementation guidelines are often lacking.
- In 2017, India amended its Maternity Benefit Act requiring employers with 50 or more employees to provide childcare. IFC surveyed nearly 300 Indian employers to gauge their readiness to comply with this new law and then conducted multi-city, public-private roundtables to share survey findings and discuss solutions with key stakeholders. Issues around safe transport and lack of information on quality and compliance monitoring came up in discussions, and state-level governments have since taken steps to address some of these concerns. IFC is now replicating this research in Bangladesh, Fiji, Myanmar, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan to fill this knowledge gap for employers and stakeholders to better address care demand and supply barriers.
- IFC also launched the Global Tackling Childcare Working Group (GTCWG) of more than 30 organizations, including Goldman Sachs, the International Labour Organization, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Kidogo, the OECD, Oxfam, Plan International, UNICEF, the LEGO Foundation and the Government of Paraguay. GTCWG’s aim is to create a global guidance note and toolkit for companies to implement childcare and ensure quality, health, safety and financial sustainability, especially in countries where such guidance is limited or lacking.
- Communicate Widely and Seek Input, Internally and Externally: Soliciting the feedback of employees, sharing good practices with peers and seeking guidance from experts are key to the success of family-friendly initiatives.
- Start Small and Measure Progress: Companies can start small by piloting programs and offering them to all parents, mothers and fathers. The childcare strategy should be integrated into broader corporate objectives, such as diversity and inclusion for business growth. Companies can also set baselines and establish metrics to assess impact over time.
Amplifying the Voices of Parents
The courage it took for Shazia to relay her story and discuss her challenges did not go unnoticed. Toward the end of our discussion, the shy Shazia transformed into a vocal proponent of family-friendly policies, inspiring others to speak up and providing ideas that her employer could implement to unlock the full potential of its workforce.
Companies do not have far to go in search of solutions. Often, all it takes is asking employees what they need and then following up with action.