Workplace Connections

Gender Equity, Family-Friendly Policies, and Early Childhood Care and Education

Two major areas in which employers can provide crucial work-family support are (1) family-friendly policies that increase flexibility and provide paid parental leave, and (2) providing affordable access to quality childcare and early childhood education.


This report was prepared by Pamela Winter, Senior Advisor, and Camila Mena, Research Analyst at the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. The Economic Institute wishes to thank the sponsors of this project, whose support enabled its development; its advisors, who provided guidance and reviewed its working draft; and the many contributors who provided information and insight.

Business executives and policymakers have been working hard to advance gender equity in the workplace, which is essential for maximizing the resilience, innovation, and profitability of the private sector. Other private and public sector leaders have emphasized the need for policies that are family-friendly so that employees can better manage their dual responsibilities of breadwinning and caregiving and hence be more productive and engaged with their jobs. And a growing coalition has fought for increased funding for and access to early childhood care and education, with the understanding that before the age of five is actually the most critical time for brain development. Children are at great advantage or disadvantage on their paths to success as productive and prosperous members of the workforce long before formal schooling begins.

Often, however, the campaigns to improve public or private sector policies in these areas occur in isolation or are inadequately connected to each other. This is unfortunate. The fragmentation of these efforts misses the crucial insight that gender equity, family-friendly policies, and early childhood care and education are intertwined. You cannot have the first one without the other two.

Employers who care about gender equity in the workplace need to understand the importance of high-quality childcare and early childhood education programs in the communities in which their businesses are based. Policymakers who care about providing universal early childhood care and education because of their impacts on child development and learning must also care about paid parental leave and other family-friendly workplace policies. The positive impacts of these policies are not limited to the retention of employees; they also promote better outcomes for children. These are the very same children who will eventually be the adults entering the workforce in 20 years. And having had access to quality early childhood education is essential to healthy brain development which sets them up to thrive in their lives and careers.

For employers to make progress on all of these critical issues, they must pay attention to these connections and should take the actions recommended in this report.

Action: Support the Well-Being of Employees

Making workplace gender equity a reality requires employers to drive change across a number of areas, including advancing women’s leadership, eliminating barriers to women’s employment, reducing unconscious bias, ensuring equal pay for equivalent work, and changing the culture of work so that they can unlock the potential of people and teams and support the well-being of all employees.

Action: Implement Flexibility

Advancing women in leadership and addressing the gender earnings gap require understanding how women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caregiving work is stalling their careers. Most of this unpaid caregiving is related to having children, but the need for eldercare is also increasing as a result of our country’s aging population.

Action: Offer Affordable Access to Childcare

Fostering gender equity requires family-friendly workplace policies and especially affordable access to quality early childhood care and education. Investment in making quality early childhood care and education affordably accessible to working parents pays off for two generations at a time, because it is also investment in improving children’s life outcomes.

Action: Demonstrate Leadership Support

The gender equity issues of managing unpaid work and paid work responsibilities aren’t just women’s issues: they are challenges for men as well. Changing the culture of work involves encouraging men to value caregiving and utilize benefits such as paid paternal leave. Employers can take leadership in implementing family-friendly practices in their own workplaces, demonstrating their support for workplace flexibility that includes paid leave and utilizing it themselves, as well as advocating at the federal, state, and local levels for more effective policies on paid leave and early childhood care and education.