Time's Up CEO Tina Tchen Talks the Care Economy Business Council How companies can help formalize caregiving.

By Caroline Tell | Photo by Stocksy

We’ve heard a lot about the “she-cession” resulting from Covid-19, where droves of women left the workforce as schools closed and childcares shuttered. In less than one year, women lost 32 years of progress in labor force participation and 22 years of progress in pay equity. To combat this crisis, TIME’S UP and its advocacy partners joined forces to mobilize influencers, press public officials and galvanize private employers to advocate for urgent relief for caregivers, and build a durable and equitable care infrastructure over the long term.

The Care Economy Business Council is a first-of-its-kind, high-powered business constituency group focused on rebuilding the country’s care infrastructure, recognizing and supporting caregivers throughout our economy, and championing gender equity within the private sector.

At the helm of this game-changing initiative is Tina Tchen, president and chief executive officer of TIME’S UP Now and the TIME’S UP Foundation, who’s overseeing the organizations’ plans to change culture, companies, and laws in order to make work safe, fair, and dignified for women of all kinds. We sat down with Tina to discuss how the private sector can play a role in formalizing childcare and how proper caregiving leads to a better, stronger economy overall.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to Time’s Up and launching the Care Economy Business Council?

I’ve been a single working mom for my entire career and have been working on working family issues for a long time, including under the Obama administration. We ran a “working family agenda” and only had limited success in getting it through Congress. It lost to Congress after the first two years, but we did a lot with executive orders and with regulations and corporations. 

Since that time, I’ve been really aware of the need to help companies do better and address workplace issues. Also, companies can make changes in their workplace settings overnight if they want to, without waiting for Congressional access. When I came to Time’s Up, we felt strongly that we need to help companies get better. Caregiving has always been on the agenda. At Times Up we come from sexual harassment as our founding, but we’re working for safe, fair and dignified work. We need true representations of workplaces up and down the work scale that are all fully represented. That kind of equitable workplace makes workers feel safe. So to do that, we need to break down structural barriers that keep workers from fully participating. Caregiving is always on that list.

How has Covid-19 affected your work?

Around a year ago, as this pandemic was taking hold, we saw great numbers of women excluded from the workplace or struggling as front line workers to hold down jobs as schools closed. Daycares were closing, access to elder care was ending. It became clear to us that caregiving had to jump to the top of our list of the barriers we needed to address. It became more clear over the course of the last year. We saw lack of care in black and brown caregiving and an absence of caregiving in so many sectors. For so many black and brown caregivers, there’s a lack of support. Most of them work for well below $15 an hour without PPE. It became clear we needed to address caregiving to build the economy back. It rose to the top of the list. We realized companies didn’t have the resources or information to address caregiving as something they could do for workers. 

We need economic public policy members and employers to recognize caregiving as part of their responsibility. It started in the pandemic without some sort of national paid family leave. Now for employers, the pandemic has changed that. We know that employers and public policy leaders have a stake in this. They can’t field work shifts on a manufacturing floor. Or even in a c-suite, they need to be focused on women in leadership  because employers are now losing workers and losing a talent pool because of caregiving. 

How has that idea changed over time?

10 years ago, employers didn’t see it as their responsibility. 250 companies are now willing to sign up. 50 companies joined in the last week alone. This is something they have a stake in and have to learn how to do it better. They’re asking themselves, as a small business, how do we do it? As a business running 24 hours, how do we do it?

How do they do it?

No one paid anything to join, there’s not any fundraising. It’s an exercise in building a community of business leaders to commit publically to helping build a care economy, where we address caregiving needs to workers and to publically associate with it. We need public kinds of investment in affordable child care, paid leave and support for caregivers in a formal labor economy, while also committing to learning and doing more for their own workers. There’s no one standard. Not every solution fits every company. There are those beginning their caregiving journey and those with well established policies in place. It’s a long term effort. We’ll be at this for two years at least. Our goal is to provide business leaders with resources and tools and policies.

What are some challenges or hurdles you anticipate facing in accomplishing everything that the council has set up to do?

I have been surprised, and pleasantly so, by how quickly people have taken this up. I’ve been at this for a long time. Not so long ago, I couldn’t find any company willing to speak out publicly on employer responsibility for caregiving. Now we have 250 companies, JP Morgan, Verizon, Lyft, Pixar – national brand names down to small mom and pop popcorn shops and ice cream stores. Small businesses are willing to be part of this sea change. Businesses have to realize it’s an investment in their workplace. If we want to compete globally, we need to exist in places where national leave policy is already in place or that there are structures for affordable care. We need to build that for US businesses to be competitive globally and to build and retain and bring back workers. It’s talent that business leaders can’t afford to lose. The number of women in the workplace is at the lowest number since the 1980’s. We’ve wiped out three decades of progress. 

To what do you attribute this total LACK of care as a supported nationwide initiative?

It’s a uniquely American view. We’re one of two countries without paid leave. It’s a unique history. You have to unpack it and go all the way back to slavery and domestic workers. People didn’t pay for slaves. In the New Deal, domestic workers were left out of the New Deal labor protections because domestic workers are predominately black and brown and aren’t viewed as real workers to pay for. Our country never saw caregiving as an industry or profession. 

Further, anti-poverty programs of the 1960’s and 1970’s paid women to stay home as opposed to going into the workforce. The last time a childcare bill was passed, President Nixon vetoed it because he thought it would lead to the “Sovietization of American society.” Somehow childcare centers would be un-American. To provide affordable childcare destroys the patriarchal vision of the American family. You see echoes of it in some of the opponents to the caregiving bills they’re proposing. “We shouldn’t be paying people to be outside the home!” That rhetoric is creeping its way back into public discourse. 

The reality of American families lives goes far beyond that rhetoric. Two-thirds of American kids grow up with a single parent or in a household where both parents work. Whether via employer or public sector, this will make our economy better. The analysis with the Biden-Harris proposal is that it will earn our country $700 million over 10 years. That’s two million new jobs per year, and $220 billion of economic activity. Clearly investments that need to be made as part of infrastructure is getting the economy working again. 

What are the next steps for the council? How does it hope to implement change?

The long range goal is to put the US back with the rest of the world and create a set of public policies at the state and local level that’s supportive of caregiving. Having a regulatory regime that helps businesses create care more easily. Also making it easier to have employers working with their own employees to understand their caregiving needs and the variety of ways to meet that. We need a robust caregiving workforce. The business is powered by minority women providing this care. In the future, a lot of innovation can take place in this space. We need new policies to work together on and advocate in the public sector for what we need created.