October 31, 2020

Melinda Gates says the economy is built on the backs of womens unpaid labor and if Congress wont do something to fix it, the US wont be able to fully reopen

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  • Speaking at Thursday’s 2020 Texas Conference for Women, billionaire philanthropist and investor Melinda Gates spoke out about how political and corporate leaders need to address childcare and eldercare in America. 
  • She said the US economy is “built on the backs of women’s unpaid labor” and that leaders need to embrace the moment and come up with solutions. 
  • Gates previously told Politico that order to reopen the economy, Congress must grant workers more paid sick leave days and more days to care for family members. 
  • She also called on business leaders to change corporate policy, including adding flexible working hours for employees and onsite childcare. 
  • This post is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

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Melinda Gates spends most of her time anticipating some of the world’s biggest problems.

Before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Gates, who is cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of incubator Pivotal Ventures, and her husband Bill, were sounding the alarm on global pandemics and the need for more research.

Now she’s doubling down on warnings that the US economy can’t reopen without fixing what she calls the country’s “broken” system of childcare and eldercare. 

“Our economy is built on the backs of women’s unpaid labor. That is just the truth in this country and in all countries. But we don’t recognize that unpaid labor,” Gates said, speaking at the Texas Conference for Women on Thursday. 

And not addressing care in America has some dire economic consequences. 

Just yesterday, a McKinsey and Lean In survey of 40,000 employees found that an astonishing one in four women is considering leaving the workforce or scaling back their careers due to feelings of exhaustion and burnout. Many cited childcare and at-home duties as a major driver. 

“We need to use this moment,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to say ‘How do we want to change society?’ ‘What do we expect? What bills need to go through Congress — not just for stimulus, but for the long term.'” 

Without federally mandated leave of any kind for workers, including days to care for a family member, much of the burden falls on the backs of women. Research shows that mothers perform about 60% of childcare: 7.2 hours per week for fathers versus 13.7 hours for mothers. And women are more likely to leave the workforce to care for family members. 

In a May interview with Politico’s Anna Palmer Gates put it simply: “If we want our employees to come back to work, we’re going to have to address caregiving.” 

A recent Business Insider report found that the pandemic is set to close some 40% of US childcare centers for good, as many depend on daily enrollment fees that are no longer coming in. This will impact millions of American families.

A 2019 report from the Committee for Economic Development said that about 11.8 million (58.7%) of children under age five participated in regular, weekly care arrangements with a non-parental provider. Economists said these potential closures could prove catastrophic for the careers of American women.

Business leaders can fix this problem, starting with their own corporate policies.

To address the looming problem, Gates is calling on Congress to make change, specifically by legislating more sick leave days and days to care for a loved one. 

“My message to Washington is we have to look at all employees as caregivers. We are caring for those at home. And this hidden cost that our economy is built on the back of is finally visible to all of us,” Gates said the interview with Politico. 

The private sector, too, has a role to play. 

“I would say to business leaders, think about what you can do,” said Gates, who suggested having more flexible work hours and considering on-site childcare.  

“You can make this happen,” she said.