Inequities in Employee Caregiving: Why Care Support Needs to be on Your Organization’s DE&I Agenda
Serving as an informal caregiver to an aging, ill, or disabled family member or loved one can be an immensely heavy burden to carry. Managing care duties while juggling work, family and personal life can often push caregivers to the breaking point. It’s a role made even tougher in the shadow of COVID-19, which has forced caregivers to take on even more hours and care tasks.
Indeed all informal caregivers share a universal bond—of compassion, selfless dedication, and service. Across the U.S., an estimated 66 million unpaid caregivers spend an average of almost 24 hours per week caring for their loved ones. Caregivers provide all types of assistance, everything from helping with medical/nursing care and activities of daily living (ADLs) to managing finances and giving emotional and mental support.
While all caregivers share similar experiences and challenges, we need to recognize that the care experience impacts different demographic groups in unequal ways, and that data shows women and people of color often have significantly greater hurdles to overcome.
Women and people of color face a more difficult journey as a caregivers
The U.S. Census expects that nearly 70% of Americans who reach 65 will be unable to care for themselves at some point without assistance. This impending “Silver Tsunami” will directly affect all companies, as more of their employees will provide informal care. One research point indicates that upwards of 75% of caregivers are female. Approximately 61% of caregivers work full-time, with another 15% working 30 to 39 hours per week. And according to Harvard Business School’s recent study, The Caring Company, nearly three in four employees identified as having some type of caregiving responsibility.
Companies need to recognize and address the rising demands placed on their employee caregivers, as they represent a major part of their workforce. Leadership and HR also must understand the added dimension of employee caregiving as a diversity, equity & inclusion issue. Because of the special challenges that women and people of color face as informal care providers, companies must recognize and address this topic head-on. Leaders and HR decision-makers should work proactively to identify caregivers, and then provide the programs, education and assistance necessary to support them. The goal—creating a more empathetic and inclusive “culture of care.”
Women disproportionately bear the burden of caregiving, as well as experience a greater impact on their job and careers
There are substantial gender differences when it comes to informal caregiving, with women being more profoundly impacted than men in many ways. Studies have found that women caregivers report having higher physical and mental strain, greater burden, and increased psychological distress while providing care.
The caregiving role disproportionally falls on the shoulders of women. On a percentage basis, 3 in 5 informal caregivers are women (61 percent to 39 percent). According to AARP, women also assume primary caregiving responsibilities at higher rates than males, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified this disparity. Women spend more hours per week on caregiving duties, and this time commitment increased by 50% since the start of the pandemic.
Women leave their jobs and careers at a higher rate than men. Additionally, they are forced to leave the workforce at disproportionately higher rates than males. Since the start of the pandemic, AARP reports that 2.1 million women have left the U.S. workforce, and a substantial percentage have left to become caregivers.
Noted author and speaker Deb Boelkes, whose books include Women on Top: What's Keeping You from Executive Leadership, says, “In many families, the lowest-wage-earning spouse chose to voluntarily resign to care for their at-home children or other family members.” She adds, “Many women found juggling business responsibilities with homeschooling, child care and elder care simply wasn’t worth the effort or the income to justify staying in the job.”
Even in situations where the woman is the primary breadwinner, many times they are the one who leaves the workforce to tend to family caregiving needs.
Women feel less supported and have access to fewer resources. Financially, women caregivers have fewer resources and get less support than their male counterparts. Across the board, women caregivers surveyed feel that they receive less help from organizations than their male counterparts in terms of support and resources. Women caregivers are also more likely to be in the low-income tier (household income of below $50K/yr.) than male caregivers (56% vs. 36%, respectively).
As the true magnitude of the emerging caregiving crisis becomes clearer, companies need to recognize the special concerns and added pressures that female employee caregivers have. Retaining and supporting women employee caregivers, from entry-level to the C-suite, needs to be a top priority and a diversity issue that demands attention and action.
BIPOC caregivers face a unique set of challenges
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) face their own unique set of challenges when it comes to caregiving. Today, roughly 40 percent of caregivers self-identify as a racial or ethnic minority, and in line with U.S. demographic shifts, this percentage will continue to grow. The breakdown of U.S. caregivers according to race is as follows:
- 62% identify as white
- 17% identify as Hispanic (non-white, non-Black)
- 13% identify as Black
- 6% identify as Asian-American
Minority caregivers’ experience can be more challenging, as they face longer hours, more difficult care situations and overall poorer health due to their personal sacrifices in providing care.
BIPOC caregivers are typically younger. In fact, on average, African American caregivers are nearly a decade younger than white caregivers (53.5 years to 44.2 years). Beginning the caregiving journey earlier in life can have longer-term ramifications down the road, including negative health impacts, fatigue and burnout.
African American caregivers provide more hours of care per week. On average, they shoulder a greater weekly care workload in terms of hours (31.2) as compared to white (21.2) or Asian American (24.1) caregivers.
African American and Hispanic caregivers are more often in high-intensity care situations than either white or Asian-American caregivers. Some attribute this to the systemic economic disparities that make it financially difficult to afford care in a formal setting, thus resorting to providing in-home care under more difficult circumstances.
Bridging the gap to meet the unique needs of diverse caregivers
With the rising number of employee caregivers across the U.S., businesses and organizations need to recognize and embrace them as a vital part of their workforce. To this end, flexible policies, programs, and resources around caregiving and care support will be instrumental. Companies who wish to remain competitive in workforce recruitment and retention must explore new ways to foster a sense of community and champion the skills and experiences that their workforce gains from the human experience of caregiving.
Beyond this, companies need to focus on the growing subset of women and BIPOC caregivers, closing gaps and helping create equitable opportunities. By providing culturally tailored programs and specialized support, leaders and HR decision-makers can nurture a positive culture where all employee caregivers feel equally connected, supported, and empowered.
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