A new report from Oxfam looks at Why unpaid care by women and girls matters to business, and how companies can address it
There is growing evidence that business leaders and managers understand that the unequal and heavy share of unpaid care and domestic work done by women and girls is an issue which matters for the effective (ongoing) operations of their firms.
Some companies have already taken practical steps to address the issue by supporting employees along their value chain, for example with workplace policies that enable care responsibilities to be met, and by innovating with products and services that meet evolving consumer family and household care needs, thereby simultaneously creating business value.
At a ‘big picture’ macro, society level, experts have determined that current patterns of unequal unpaid care work are holding women back from full participation in the labour force, and so acting as a significant barrier to unlocking the economic boost that would come from achieving gender equality – estimated to be as much as 26% of global GDP/US$28 trillion.1
Recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work by women and girls can benefit business at the individual firm level too. Analysis of what business is doing and why (examples of which are shared in this paper) suggests there are a number of areas where firms can create business value:
Talent acquisition and retention
Businesses with policies like paid parental or family leave and flexible work arrangements enable employees to manage unpaid family and household care responsibilities, and find it easier to attract and retain workers.
Productivity and employee engagement
Employers that take a holistic view of workers’ lives, including their caregiving and household responsibilities, and that help address aspects that cause employee distraction, fatigue and absenteeism, can improve workforce performance and engagement.
Supply chain resilience and diversity
Businesses that encourage employers in their supply chain to address unpaid care work issues can help build stable and diverse sources of supply, contributing to their ability to mitigate risk and serve customer needs.
Revenue and business growth
Developing products and services that address the causes and consequences of unequal unpaid care work – for example, time- and labour-saving devices – can contribute to business growth.
Customer acquisition and loyalty
Businesses that sell consumer goods and services can differentiate their brands, win new customers and cement customer loyalty by challenging the dynamics that underpin unequal unpaid care work, such as gender stereotypes in advertising.
Oxfam and Unilever have joined forces to share complementary learning and insights gleaned from working on unpaid care and domestic work with communities and consumers around the world, and with businesses and brands to share emerging good practice and evidence.
Together Oxfam and Unilever are urging businesses to take unpaid care work seriously as a business issue and take three simple steps:
Strengthen existing corporate commitments to gender equality, women’s empowerment and the Sustainable Development Goals with an explicit ambition to help reduce and redistribute the responsibility for unpaid care work.
A clear and specific commitment to address unpaid care work as it affects women and men throughout the value chain – ideally with senior executive buy-in – helps create legitimacy and direction for action in relevant parts of the business, and sends an important signal of intent both internally and externally.
Target action on unpaid care and domestic work where it can have the biggest impact for women and girls, and for the business. For example, implement family-friendly employment practices, ensure advertising portrays women progressively and, where appropriate, invest in the design, production and distribution of low-energy time- and labour-saving products which are affordable and accessible.
Prioritising action based on potential impact makes the most effective use of corporate resources and sets the stage for demonstration effects both within the company and in the business community at large.
Collaborate with other companies, industry associations, government and civil society to marshal evidence and resources for policy-level change.
While individual companies can have meaningful impacts on their own, there are beneficial shifts to be made in public policies that govern worker rights and conditions across industries, that shape the provision of childcare and elder care facilities, or that influence investment decisions in the provision of basic services like water, sanitation and energy. Advocating for public policy change and targeted public investment requires a multi-stakeholder approach to better understand and articulate the case from community and industry points of view.
I am very happy that there is a crèche here. God willing, one day I will be married and have children and won’t need to leave my job, because there is a nursery available.”
Maram Abu Lomdi, female tailor, MAS Kreeda al Saf-Madaba (garment manufacturer), Jordan
My wife’s work is less flexible than mine; she cannot drop a day’s work if our child is sick. Compared to my previous employer, where we had worries about what to do if childcare failed, now [with my flexible workplace] we have peace of mind, which makes me more productive. I can deliver my best at work.
Male senior manager and occasional crèche user, Safaricom HQ (telecoms company), Kenya
Job-sharing has allowed me to continue my career in a role I find challenging, while giving me the flexibility to have the time for my son. For our team, they have the access to two people’s different experiences.”
Senior Customer Marketing Executive, Unilever Australia and New Zealand
1 McKinsey Global Institute (September 2015) ‘How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth’. www. mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/how- advancing-womens-equality-can-add-12-trillion-to-glob-al-growth
Man-Kwan Chan, Influencing Advisor, Women's Economic Empowerment and Care, Oxfam
Katja Freiwald, Director, Global Partnerships, Unilever