The Heart of Care
What does it mean to be female in relation to care?
Our culture tells us that women, by virtue of their gender, have some innate skill to care and nurture. Heck, if you Google “synonyms for female” nurturing is on the short list! Do we possess a unique gene from our genetically male counterparts or are we told from the moments we can understand that this is our role?
Some facts to kick us off
When someone in a family unit becomes ill or disabled, it is to females that we look and expect care. Besides consistently messaging to women that this is their role in life, it can also prevent them from participating in basic liberties and rights such as education, the workforce, and even realizing optimal health. The constant juggle of multiple responsibilities simply doesn't leave enough time to devote to studying for school, completing work projects, or starting an organization to make a difference in the world. Is the lack of female representation in C-Suite roles, politics, or other decision-making positions because we are less capable, or because we are trapped by society’s definition of what we should be.
Painting a Picture
If we were asked to paint a picture of the typical person with a caring role, it would represent the following:
A 49 yr old woman of color, working FT, who is part of sandwich generation.
We SHOULD add a cape because these women are freaking heroes. They are working, shopping, cooking, medicating, performing medical tasks, paying bills, making appointments, going to appointments, helping with homework, answering emails, making phone calls, coordinating schedules and people, scheduling each moment of each day to fit everything in, all while being everyone’s companion (i.e. a supportive life partner, mom, and daughter).
And it works! Research indicates that family care partners help their loved ones recover more quickly and avoid or delay institutional care.
What’s the value of this work? It is estimated that the economic value of all this unpaid labor is $670 million! So per usual, women are giving away their time, talents, and labor…for free, even though there is a clear HIGH value on what we’re contributing.
How are female care partners doing?
Family care situations come with a considerable amount of strain, specifically negative effects on physical, mental, and social health. Why? Elderly care needs are incredibly complex and ever-changing in nature and are often out of the care partner’s control. Additionally, care needs are persistent and require a high level of vigilance, meaning care partners never get a break. Unfortunately, the strain family care partners feel isn’t addressed. We provide a high level of care for our loved one(s), yet our own high-level needs are predominately left unmet.
What does this look like?
Decreased quality of life
Tough emotions to deal with.
I was very interested in this. The same themes repeated themselves in article after article. So I did my own research using one-on-one interviews with female care partners to their aging parents, as well as focus groups and a survey. What did I find? More of the same!
These women are struggling with BIG emotions
They were completely unprepared for what care actually looks like. These were professional women, who had found a way to engage in a career and raise children and now they were also caring for aging parents and they were blindsided with how much it entailed. They all felt their past lived or learned experiences weren’t providing much insight into how to tackle the path in front of them. The juggle was more than they could manage and the answers they needed weren’t easy to find.
What does all this have to do with money? (that is what we do here right?)
Care causes significant financial pressure on women.
The intense juggle diminishes women’s ability to meet the demands of their position and they may either decide to leave the workforce or can get pushed out, thus removing financial security.
Many women reduce their work hours, which can lead to taking unpaid time off and contributing to reduced income.
Family care partners are often handling the financial aspect of care. They’re shopping for care and figuring out how to pay for it. They’re watching their parents’ saved funds deplete and then, especially without solutions, they begin funding care themselves. Thus, their incomes are spread thinner and their savings are dwindling.
This is why Employee Benefits and FMLA are important!
Women carry the lion’s share of care in our family units. Women are contributing members of the workforce. If supported well, the intensity of the juggle diminishes and women can realize full lives that are satisfying and physically and emotionally healthy. Perhaps, the lack of support and coordination is creating the intense juggle when it doesn’t have to exist.
What if we did this instead?
We create care-friendly work environments that recognize care as part of the life experience. Care isn't treated as if it happens in isolation to someone’s career, but alongside their work. What would this look like?
Onsite childcare and adult day care
Shift from time-based work policies to project-based ones, adding flexibility in when individuals accomplish their work.
Inclusive health benefits that cover family members.
Savings accounts to use on care supplies.
Expansion of FMLA to include multiple life experiences.
Access to financial consultation to plan for life events and stages.
Access to mental health services.
Access to coaches and guides for life stages (parenthood, caring for aging loved ones, sickness, etc.)
Policies applicable to all to promote all individuals to engage in and access supports, so women aren’t the only ones expected to participate in major life events that include care.
We're doing many of these things already. It wouldn't take much for most workplaces to get close to this picture.
How are YOU supporting the people in your spheres that represent the heart of care?
- Helping them find the support they need.