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Care Work, PTO and Better Capitalism

Ms. Shamsa Belgrave is currently a sophomore at Swarthmore College with a growing awareness that America’s current form of capitalism is damaging to so many because we’ve collectively allowed it to be overcome by damaging ethics. She’s exploring the potential that America’s form of capitalism can be reformed if not transformed to a more equitable system by revamping its underlying ethics. We're pleased to share our platform for her voice to be heard.

In a previous post, I illustrated some of the ways in which care work has been undervalued, and briefly discussed a few policies enacted by major corporations to ensure that their business practices don’t perpetuate inequality. Let's further discuss what policies conscious of care work look like, and their crucial role in creating economic mutuality and a better form of capitalism.

Care work is a responsibility that typically falls on women. This includes tasks such as taking care of children or elderly family members, managing expenses, and much more. On average, women dedicate 4.5 hours per day towards care work with millions balancing the responsibility of labor both inside and outside of the home. (See the excellent Oxfam-Unilever Business Briefing on Unpaid Care and Domestic Work.) Even though millions of women have jobs and careers alongside family work, many find that the policies and laws meant to offer support are often inadequate.

Image Credit UN Women

Federal law allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and the United States is, embarrassingly, the only OECD country that lacks a national paid leave policy. Ten states and the District of Columbia, however, have adjusted their state laws to provide paid time off (PTO) for employees, thus providing meaningful benefits to those workers and corporations. This leaves it to employers in the remaining states to make the decision whether or not to provide employees meaningful support when life happens, support such as paid medical and family leave under some conditions.

Taking a step back, I’m curious about the exercise of that decision-making authority. “How many C-suite denizens and profitable business owners hold themselves to the same family and medical leave policy as they enforce for their employees?” Do these decision-makers forgo their salaries when life happens, and they need to be out of the office for medical or family leave? I’m curious. Do you as an employer provide that kind of level playing field in your business? I’m really curious. To provide that kind of level playing field would be nice evidence of an ethic of mutuality.

Economic mutuality entails mutual benefit for both employers and employees, and PTO is an easy to implement example. How does PTO benefit employers? There’s ample data available that shows PTO offers benefits for employers, particularly increasing the likelihood of higher-quality candidates applying for company positions, which further increases competitiveness for the company itself. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of workers surveyed say that an employer offering PTO could favorably influence their choice toward that employer. This illustrates that people prefer and seek out jobs where the employer displays an ethic of mutuality.

Companies with policies that place value on healthy work cultures see better results in profit and employee job retention, with more than 70% of companies with paid family leave reporting boosts in productivity and positive impacts on morale (See the excellent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report Why Paid Family Leave is Good Business). At the end of the day a business must be profitable or that business soon sees its end of days. I understand that. I also understand that profitability and PTO are not mutually exclusive.

Speaking specifically to women in the workforce – how does PTO benefit them? Many find that company policies force them to choose between their career and their families. The implementation of care work policies such as PTO allows for further humanity in the workplace. Studies from BCG show that 93% of women who take PTO are more likely to be working one year after the birth of a child than those who are not offered the same resource. By creating an environment respectful of care work, we put into practice an ethic of mutuality between female workers and the organizations they work for.

But care workers aren’t only women. A flaw, born of individual and cultural biases, that is often present in PTO and other care work related policies is that they naturally enforce the responsibility of care work onto women. It’s necessary that when instilling policies, such as family leave, that there’s a gender-neutral approach that reflects the diversity of families we see today.

For example, Johnson & Johnson has adopted policies that ensure that caretakers, regardless of gender, are able to take paid time off for their families. The company saw a lack of support for fathers who wanted to dedicate more time to their children and chose to expand their company policy to ensure that every worker be provided the opportunity to be with their loved ones. This includes workers’ families who’ve recently adopted, parents who’ve had children through surrogacy, and more.

There are other benefits to adopting policies that are conscious of care work for employees and employers alike. A national PTO is ideally the direction that we’d want to head towards; however, many companies and organizations have already seen the necessity in having various policies that place value in the work done by caretakers regardless of gender. As we collectively work to instill economic mutuality and create a better form of capitalism, implementing PTO for all employees is a crucial step toward this socially critical goal.

What about you? Share your story, question, comment, idea, disagreement -- yes, we welcome disagreement for the sake of mutual benefit! -- with us at We will give a thoughtful response.

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