Aaron Merchen Aaron Merchen
Senior Director, Policy and Programs

Published

December 20, 2022

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What’s the best way for employers to support their working parents? Sometimes a little wiggle room can go a long way. For Lauren, a civil engineer in Georgia, it made all the difference in the world.

“The company that I was with [before] was very demanding. We worked about 12 hours a day when I was nine months pregnant. So, I knew that coming back from maternity leave work was going to be challenging. And so that's when I decided to look elsewhere. To have my career has been an integral and huge part of my life, and I take pride in my career. Working women, when they're out of college, they may rise the ranks at the same pace as the men, but as soon as the women started having children, their careers slowed. And that just really irritated me. That was a big reason why I decided to come here, it seemed like it was a really great place that I could gain these opportunities as a woman, as a mother, to go as fast as the men.”

Right now, maybe more than any other time in modern history, working parents are devoting significant amounts of time, energy, and resources into balancing their roles at home and in the workplace. Parents must consider various factors in determining the level and type of childcare solutions that best meet their needs. These factors make up what the Chamber of Commerce Foundation refers to as the 'Childcare Equation.'

Every piece of the equation is vital to making the whole picture work. This equation results from working parents navigating the following factors:

  • Their home environment, including who in the home might be available to care for young children and their physical proximity to a childcare program;
  • The options in their community, including availability of childcare, potential conflicting schedules with older children attending school;
  • Their family composition, including the work schedule of a partner, spouse, or extended family member to share caregiving responsibilities; and
  • Their work responsibilities, including their hours, schedule, and employer flexibility.

The workplace is a huge component of working parents’ childcare equation and likewise employers of all sizes and sectors have begun to reckon with their own calculations.

This year, half of all workers and nearly 60% of parents cite lack of childcare as their reason for leaving the workforce. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey revealed that nearly one in three (32%) unemployed women are not returning to work because they must provide care for a family member. The lack of childcare affects more than just parents. Because of gaps in the childcare system, businesses are unable to fully re-staff their operations, leading to more closures and operating hour reductions across all industries. Absences and employee turnover costs employers anywhere from $400 million to $3 billion a year, according to a U.S. Chamber Foundation study.

Employers have never been more aware of the need for quality, affordable, accessible childcare. While for some employers on-site care may be the perfect solution, the vast majority of America’s businesses will need to find other ways to support working parents to recruit and retain qualified workers.

In the Chamber Foundation’s 2021 Untapped Potential series, which quantified economic loss at a state-level due to childcare breakdowns, a recurring theme that emerged is that what working parents want and need most from their employer’s is flexibility.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Chamber Foundation released the Employer Roadmap: Child Care Solutions for Working Parents. The Roadmap provides senior leaders and business owners with a spectrum of options to support working parents with their childcare needs — and for those businesses for whom its possible, providing flexible hours can be a light lift with massive gains.

Better Communities Collaborative, based in Athens, GA, is a family of companies with around 120 employees predominantly focused on the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Founded by Jon Williams, BCC instituted a policy of full flexibility for its employees so long as it's approved by the employee’s supervisor.

Amy Clark, human resources director for BCC, said that her advice for employers is “to just start with something. Maybe we can’t do the thing that the big companies do, but we can do something small like flexibility that means a whole lot to our employees. Especially coming off of COVID and all that happened. We really have seen a decline in the number of childcare providers...people feel like they have to make choices between having a career and having a family. And we really don't want them to do that.”

To learn more about how and why Better Communities Collaborative instituted a flexible hours policy for their employees, watch the full conversation with Amy Clark and Lauren Garren of W&A Engineering.

Learn more about U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation early childhood education programs.

About the authors

Aaron Merchen

Aaron Merchen

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