Plus, why parental leave should be a priority for businesses
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Good morning and happy Monday!

As we enter the thick of open enrollment season, this week we’re running a story about how and why businesses are offering an increase in benefits, especially in the caregiving realm. (Are you or your organization adding new caregiving benefits in 2022?
Let me know!)

Also featured in this week’s edition is an excerpt of a guest opinion piece from Happy Medium founder and CEO Katie Patterson, who argues that offering paid family leave should be a priority for businesses.

Have a great week!

Emily Kestel, Fearless editor

Women-led businesses more likely to offer caregiving benefits as a result of the pandemic, survey says
The Des Moines skyline. Photo by Emily Kestel.
Call it what you want – a "labor shortage" or a "reassessment of work in America" – but companies are finding that in order to attract and retain current employees throughout the Great Resignation, they’re going to have to expand their benefits offerings.

Many employers are planning to increase paid family and medical leave offerings, health care benefits, and child care support, according to the latest Principal Financial Well-Being Index.

The index is a quarterly, nationwide survey of business owners and top decision-makers at companies with two to 10,000 employees. The most recent index was conducted in June and surveyed 501 business leaders of for-profit companies that offer health insurance and/or retirement benefits.

So far this year, more than 34 million Americans have quit their jobs. Labor experts say there’s no single factor driving the workforce behavior, but many point to burnout, low wages, the continuing child care crisis and lack of support as culprits.

What the Well-Being Index findings show

"I’ve watched these Well-Being Index results come in for years, and I would say this one is pretty interesting," Amy Friedrich, president of U.S. Insurance Solutions at Principal Financial Group, said.

The survey found that the vast majority – 84% – of businesses feel comfortable with their cash flow.

"That’s good news because then they can consider investing in their people," Friedrich said.

In this particular survey, Principal asked about benefits that companies have in place, and then asked why. This was the first survey since it launched in 2012 that included questions about caregiving benefits, according to a Principal spokesperson.

They found that one-fifth of businesses increased child care support and caregiving benefits, and concluded that female-led businesses are more likely to have added caregiving benefits for reasons such as improving employee experience or out of a sense of responsibility. Male-led businesses are more likely to have added the same benefits for reasons to attract new employees.

Caregiving benefits include child care, elder care and employee assistance programs, Friedrich explained. Those could look like allowances, subsidies or providing access to resources.

Local perspectives

In the latest Business Record Leaders Survey, 15% of respondents agreed that businesses and organizations have a responsibility to pay for their employees’ child care costs. Fifty-five percent disagreed and 29% said they weren’t sure.

Responses included:

  • "Child care assistance is a great benefit for businesses who can offer it, and will likely lure people away from other businesses. It is a great recruiting tool, but not necessarily a responsibility." - Jessica Dunker, President and CEO, Iowa Restaurant Association

  • "Businesses and organizations have a responsibility to pay their employees fairly. Those employees who choose to have children should be financially able to cover child care costs." - Michelle Book, CEO, Food Bank of Iowa

  • "It is both economically prudent, and ethically responsible, to ensure the evolving needs that people carry with them into the workplace are addressed. Not only is the child care crisis affecting workplace productivity with an increase in unplanned absenteeism, the data today is very clear the caregiving issue disproportionately impacts women – creating a cumulative and long lasting impact related to the gender wage gap, promotability, special projects and travel opportunities, and a gender wealth accumulation gap into retirement. A commitment to gender equality must equal a commitment to addressing barriers that limit equal opportunities."  - Beth Shelton, CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa

  • "Businesses are not responsible for the personal decisions made by their employees. Paying for child care creates an unfair compensation situation when some employees don't have child care expenses." - Daniel McCraine, President, McCraine Associates, Inc.

Caregiving benefits, especially child care, are something that Cassie Sampson, owner of East Village Spa, wants to offer her employees. But she can’t right now for several reasons.

"I would love to be able to add benefits because child care is one of the biggest challenges," she said. "While I would like to add assistance, a big part of our challenge is availability of child care for the hours my employees want to work. … I would love to offer it if there was a way for me to subsidize child care or even subsidize sitters for evenings and weekend hours."

Another reason why East Village Spa isn’t able to offer more benefits is that a lot of the money goes directly toward compensation, Sampson said.

"We pay really well for our industry. Our full time starts at 30 hours a week. We have very few employees that work 40 hours a week and they’re earning a living of somebody that works 40 hours a week."

For now, flexibility in work schedules and a comprehensive health care plan are core tenets of the benefit offerings to the employees at East Village Spa.  

The health care plan offered at the spa covers mental health and therapy services and gender affirming care in addition to the medical and dental plan, Sampson said.

Flexible scheduling and opportunities for shorter days or weeks are something that employees feel is more important and more valued now, she added. That helps mitigate experiences of burnout and stress – something hospitality and service workers are more prone to.

"Scheduling has been the biggest way we’ve been accommodating to employees," Sampson said. "We’ll change schedules as needed because child care changes in an instant."

As businesses across the state and country continue the process of reopening, leaders in the private and public sectors have made one thing clear: The economy won’t fully recover unless women can fully participate.

Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, said earlier this year that in order to address the workforce shortage, we have to figure out how to get more women back to work. "We can do that with family-friendly policies, quality, affordable child care, and work flexibility. It’s going to be essential if we want our businesses and our state to be able to recover and continue to grow."

We are humans and need to be treated as such. That’s why paid parental leave should be a priority.
It’s not lost on me that I’m sitting down (finally) at 7:59 p.m. on Tuesday (this blog’s due date) to write it. And like clockwork, the second I sat down, after working all day to run my companies followed by a Pinterest-inspired homemade pasta night with my 8-year-old son for some much needed and requested quality time with him, my 2-year-old (who I thought was fully asleep) starts crying and I need to go check on him. Be right back …

OK, got the pacifier back in and we’re set up for success (hopefully). Also, note to self, wean 2-year-old off the pacifier.

The mental load of a mother is unmatched and often referred to as "invisible labor." For women who want to be in the workforce, we’ve come so far through the years. I am so incredibly grateful for the women before us who pushed our gender to the position it’s in.

As a woman who started my own company in the Midwest at 27 years old, I took this for granted. It wasn’t until I was in the trenches that I realized my own grandmother was born during a time where women weren’t allowed to vote. We often have to look backward to see how far we’ve come.

Today, many women have progressed not only to working 40 hours per week in full-time jobs outside the home, but also filling incredibly demanding roles – managers, C-suite, and "always on" positions. So we’ve pushed through and earned our seat at the table, except now we’re just responsible for more tables (dining room and conference room), and it feels really overwhelming and often very lonely.

Beyond feeling these emotions of the mental load, as women, we also take on the physical demands of childbearing, labor and giving birth. We’re called birth warriors, then we’re sent home with a newborn, often just 48 hours after giving birth or having major medical surgery. We have to immediately transition into the full-time caretaker of a completely helpless tiny human whose sleep schedule is completely backward.

When we have any other type of surgery, we’re given significant time to heal and not be responsible for a newborn. Mothers are asked to go through all of this, and then are often within days pushed back to working outside their home again. All this is after nine months of the physical demands of pregnancy and working jobs during all of it.

Why are we having any conversations other than fully supporting women to be paid during this traumatic time? But here we are, fighting for the right to be treated with basic human decency.

The U.S. ranks last among industrialized countries relative to employee benefits like health care, paid leave, vacation days, unemployment and retirement. States can raise their standards from federal minimums.

When I started my company I didn’t have children. I was only 27 and living blissfully unaware of the mental load the former female colleagues who were mothers had the entire time we worked together.

I did, however, know that the company I worked for before I started Happy Medium had me on a 100% commission plan, and I knew that their maternity leave plan was to not pay you your commission. Even if you had pre-sold everything and placed the orders, you would not get paid on them. You were put on short-term disability at a fraction of what you were owed and the company actually profited from you being out. They would then ask the other sales reps to manage your clients for three months and pay them $0 on it. Nothing. The money you sold was just going directly to the company, and people were forced to work on it for free and you were not paid what you were owed.

I didn’t know what it was like to have a baby yet, but I absolutely knew this was not OK. So when I started my own company and eventually started to need to build company policies, it was never a question in my mind if we were going to pay the women on our team 100% for 12 weeks’ maternity leave. Eventually, we evolved it to be even more inclusive and supportive of our families by adding in fathers and adoptive parents to this benefit.

I am a firm believer if my small company can find a way to do this, many more can as well. Yes, it’s hard and sometimes complicated, but I consider it a basic human right – so we make it happen, no questions asked.

We’ve come a long way, but in the progress chain of events, we seem to be at the point where women can be anything, anywhere, and we’re expecting them to be everything, everywhere. That doesn’t work. It makes for frazzled mothers, which often makes for frazzled children and co-workers. Then the mothers blame themselves for not being able to do it all, and we slightly tell them they shouldn’t have to, but our actions do not support our words.

So how do we make it better? It’s unfortunately become very clear our country is not going to prioritize this. I don’t understand how women aren’t marching and demanding paid leave, but we’re not there yet.

What we can do is localize the support. Work to use our newer presence in the C-suite and leadership roles to change our company policies. This is a huge priority for me and I’m always happy to do what I can to help other leaders see the way. We can no longer ask this much of women. We are humans and need to be treated as such.

Left: Iowa women's wrestling coach Clarissa Chun. Photo credit: Stephen Mally/ Center: Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson. Right: Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
In the headlines
Being herself: Deanna Strable-Soethout
Strable-Soethout, 52, describes her professional life in three chapters. After finishing college at Northwestern University, she started at Principal in 1990 as an actuary. In the mid-1990s, she ran various product lines within Principal's insurance businesses and was named president of U.S. Insurance Solutions in 2015. In 2017, she became chief financial officer.

Through each chapter, she watched as other women leaders copied the styles and personalities of men. They didn’t let their guard down. Strable-Soethout wanted to bring her full self to the executive level, to not change who she was to fit someone’s else’s ideal.
Worth checking out
‘Am I even fit to be a mom?’ Diaper need is an invisible part of poverty in America (The 19th). What we see in the shameful trends on U.S. maternal health (New York Times Opinion). How child care became the most broken business in America (Bloomberg). Questions to ask a new person instead of "What do you do?" (Girls Night In). Most state lawmakers earn low salaries. It affects who can afford to be one (The 19th).
Last week, we shared two stories of fearlessness from audience members, as well as their opinions on confidence, leadership and risk-taking. Their responses show courage and strength in all of life’s moments, whether they be relatively small or big.

Submit your own story to be featured!
Lifting the Veil is out now

Our sister publication, dsm Magazine, has just published its annual Lifting the Veil issue, which focuses on mental health.
Take a look at the e-edition here.

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