Gender equality: why we need to talk about unpaid care

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Women have more unpaid care responsibilities than men, so before we can truly achieve gender equality in the workplace, organisations need to take this into account.

Globally, women on average do more than three times the amount of unpaid care work done by men, rising to more than five times in poor rural areas.

There is not a single country where men and women do equal amounts of unpaid care work and in some regions women do as much as 80–90%.

If women participated in economies identically to men, it would add as much as $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

At the current rate of progress, women will have to wait 108 years to close the gender gap with men.

Why businesses have a role to play

When unpaid care and domestic work falls disproportionately on women and girls, it is a source of business cost and risk – affecting employee turnover, productivity, quality and security of supply.

If addressed thoughtfully and proactively, it can be transformed into a source of business benefits and competitive advantage, with positive impacts on employee recruitment, retention and engagement, brand differentiation, consumer loyalty and sales.

There is growing evidence that business leaders and managers understand that the unequal and heavy share of unpaid care and domestic work carried out by women and girls is an issue which matters for the effective (ongoing) operations of their firms.

Research into imbalance has revealed that 77% of workers say that paid family leave could sway their choice of employer.

In a study of more than 1,500 employers, 70% of those offering improved leave policies reported an increase in worker productivity.

Businesses benefits of addressing unpaid care

  1. Talent acquisition and retention: policies like paid parental or family leave and flexible work arrangements enable employees to manage unpaid family and household care responsibilities. Businesses with these policies can find it easier to attract and retain workers.
     
  2. Productivity and employee engagement: employers can improve workforce performance and engagement by taking a holistic view of workers’ lives, including their care giving and household responsibilities, and helping address aspects that cause employee distraction, fatigue and absenteeism.
     
  3. Supply chain resilience and diversity: businesses that encourage employers in their supply chain to address unpaid care work issues can help build stable and diverse sources of supply, contributing to their ability to mitigate risk and serve customer needs.
     
  4. Revenue and business growth: developing products and services that address the causes and consequences of unequal unpaid care work can contribute to business growth.
     
  5. Customer acquisition and loyalty: businesses that sell consumer goods and services can differentiate their brands, win new customers and cement customer loyalty by challenging the dynamics that underpin unequal unpaid care work, such as gender stereotypes in advertising.

What businesses need to do

Commit

Employers should make an explicit corporate commitment to help reduce and redistribute unpaid care responsibilities.

Act

It's important to focus on actions that make the most impact, such as using progressive advertising that avoids negative gender stereotypes and challenges cultural norms.

Progressive advertising (for example, showing men doing tasks stereotypically associated with women and vice versa) is 25% more impactful with consumers, drives purchase intent by 18% and improves credibility by 21%.

Including employees with care responsibilities in the formulation of workplace policy and in the design and evaluation of programmes will provide an invaluable source of knowledge and expertise

It's also imperative to recognise and support employees with care responsibilities by shouldering some of the costs involved (for example subsidising childcare costs, providing paid parental leave) and supporting working patterns that are compatible with care responsibilities. These include flexible working hours, no mandatory overtime, and providing spaces for breastfeeding or pumping.

Another way to support unpaid care work responsibilities is to distribute time and labour-saving products.

Finally, by including employees with care responsibilities in the formulation of workplace policy and in the design and evaluation of programmes you will provide an invaluable source of knowledge and expertise and will ensure the employer remains close to the challenges they face.

Advocate

While individual companies can have meaningful impacts on their own, there may be beneficial shifts to be made in public policies that govern workers’ rights and conditions across industries.

These can shape the provision of childcare and elder care facilities, or influence investment decisions in the provision of basic services like water, sanitation and energy.

Advocating for public policy change and targeted public investment requires a multi-stakeholder approach to better understand and articulate the case from community and industry points of view.

Interested in this topic? Read Four reasons why you should consider the needs of your employees with family and caring commitments.

About Leena Nair

Leena Nair

As the CHRO of Unilever, I am responsible for the human capital needs of our organisation whichoperates across multiple regulatory and labour environments. I am passionate about leading ourglobal people agenda that spans across our 160,000+ employees in over 100 countries. Myagenda ensures that we have the right people, in the right roles, with the right capabilities andmindset to deliver high business impact that enables Unilever to meet its ambitious goals todecouple growth from its environmental footprint whilst increasing its positive social impact. Asthe first female CHRO at Unilever, my personal goal is to build an inclusive environment where allmembers of our diverse society can contribute and succeed in equal measure.

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