The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece about the significant costs of child care, and its effect on families. It told the
horror stories of various women and their experiences with finding safe, affordable daycare. The problem is, affordable daycare doesn't appear to exist.
One woman, an attorney, earns 50 cents in a biweekly pay period after paying for a nanny and private preschool, after a horrible experience with a "safe, affordable" in-home daycare. Yes, you read that right -- fifty cents -- as in two quarters. (Insert many expletives here).
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg addressed this very issue. She argues that women should push through this difficult time (of working to pay for childcare), because, women need to invest in themselves and will hopefully get raises, so the daycare percentage of the paycheck will get smaller. But, when you're in the moment, sometimes it's hard to deal with all that when you could just stay home with your kids.
So, we'll ask again, what can firms do to prevent the brain drain of female talent leaving law firms to take care of their kids?
1. It's a Family Issue, Not a Women's Issue
The first and most important thing is for the firm to acknowledge that child care is a family issue, not a women's issue. With women increasingly becoming the family bread winner, childcare doesn't always fall to the woman -- it often falls to whoever makes less money (that is if it's a two-income household -- some people don't have that choice). If we frame the issue as one that affects families, rather than women, we immediately make it more engaging for men and also show that this issue truly affects everyone.
2. Flexible Work Arrangements
A little flexibility would go a long way at retaining talent. The recently published list of the 50 best firms for women all offered flex time. The ability to work fewer days, or some days from home, would allow lawyers to save on childcare costs.
3. Subsidized Day Care
Firms have lots of perks -- one of them could be subsidizing childcare costs. (Also a perk offered by the Best Law Firms for Women 2013.)
4. On-Site Day Care
Or, your firm could take it a step further and have an on-site daycare facility for its employees.
5. Get Political
President Obama has made mention of pre-kindergarten programs, but there is still a long way to go. We know that the U.S. tends to look at France as if they are snobby and over-civilized, but they have a few things right: wine, cheese, fashion ... and nearly-universal childcare. If anyone knows the power of the political system it's lawyers. Your firm can get involved politically in the growing movement for universal daycare -- it's not a red or blue issue -- again, it's a family issue.
Families have been dealing with the soaring costs of child care for decades, that it's much worse now is not in question. Times may seem bleak, but the fact that we're talking about these issues now, only means that change, and resolution will follow.
Why shouldn't your firm lead the way?