On-Demand Webinar - Resetting the Workplace: What It Will Take to Bring Employees Back

Return to office webinar

When offices were forced to temporarily go remote in 2020, many employers were surprised at how easy it was for their people to work at home. Little did they know how hard it would be to bring them back.

But today, as nationwide re-openings collide with a hot talent market, turnover is a real risk. Employees are weighing their options; they’re evaluating their personal work/life equations; and they’re figuring out which employers will support their needs. What can employers do?

Watch, Resetting the Workplace: What it Will Take to Bring Employees Back.

Our expert panel talks about lessons from the last year, why working parents (a third of your workforce) are setting up to be employers’ biggest concern; and what research has taught us about how to move forward.

You will also learn:

  • The reason economists call child care reopening’s make-or-break, and why it should be on your radar no matter where your people are working
  • The impact of shortages, and how they’re making it risky to delay planning until fall
  • Why your most effective answers to child care will need to be both cost effective and able to pivot to meet needs across work schedules and demographics


Maribeth: When I think about the past 18 months, you never thought that we would get to this place where we're almost ready to come back into the workplace, but now there are so many things coming at us again. And we as HR professionals, as employers really have to think about, "How do we reset and rethink how employees are going to come back. Because how they were back 18 months ago is not how that's going to look today. And what are the supports that we are going to provide to them to be able to come back?"

I just want to take a moment to introduce myself and Bright Horizons. I've been honored to be the chief human resources officer of Bright Horizons for the past four and a half years. And Bright Horizons is a pretty cool company, I say that both as the CHRO, and also as someone who, over my past 20-plus years in human resources, have used our services at companies like Cisco System, State Street, Verizon, etc.

At Bright Horizons, we really are a company that provides family solutions to employers, whether that is childcare, backup care, elder care, education assistance, enhanced family support, whatever that is. Our whole premise is, "How can we help employers truly take care of their employees?" So as somebody who has devoted their life to human resources to also be now part of a company that is helping other HR organizations do the very best for their employers is a pretty exciting place to be. But you're not going to, fortunately, listen to me for the next hour. I am being joined today by two of my colleagues who I am thrilled to be working with and who are going to help us this afternoon, kind of, approach this from a few different angles.

And so, I'm joined by Caitlin Codella Low, and Heather Kirkby. And I'm going to pause right now and give each of them an opportunity to introduce themselves and talk a little bit about why they're here this afternoon and why they are so passionate about this topic. I'll start with Caitlin. Caitlin.


Caitlin: Thanks so much, Maribeth. And thanks so much for having me today. As you said, I'm Caitlin Codella Low. I'm the vice president of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. And in that role, I lead our effort on early childhood education, K-12 and career readiness.

For those of you who don't know, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world's largest business organization representing companies of all sizes, sectors, and regions. And the Chamber Foundation is our non-profit affiliate that's dedicated to strengthening America's long-term competitiveness.

One of the issues that we focus on and I spend a lot of time on is early childhood education. And so, I'm going to be talking about that work and how it pertains to return-to-work policies. I'll pass it on over to Heather.


Heather: Thanks, Caitlin. And thanks, Maribeth. I'm excited to be here. And thanks to everyone on the call that's making the time to join the conversation. I'm the chief people officer at Recursion. And we're a tech-enabled drug discovery company based in Salt Lake City. And  the reason I'm here, Maribeth, honestly, is navigating the last year, year and a half of my life, both as a working mother and as a leader, has been possible through a lot of other people professionals and HR professionals that have helped me. And so I, very much, feel a responsibility to give back. We're all in this together. You know, as much as we can all help each other, we make workplaces better and we make the world better.


Maribeth: Yeah, Heather. Thank you. Both, Heather and Caitlin, thank you so much. And, Heather, I couldn't agree more. And another thing I've been doing a lot of talking about, it takes a village. And it has truly taken a lot of us coming together to support each other to get through what this last year and a half has put in front of us.

So, Heather, you've successfully led Recursion through its return to office back in July and opened up an onsite childcare center in concert with your return-to-office date. Can you talk us through how you did that and the strategy you implemented to be successful in that?


Heather: Yeah, absolutely. And I'll start with a caveat that  it's so easy to look in the rear-view mirror and describe the strategy, and it's going to sound like we, sort of, had our things buttoned up. And you know what it was like, right? I mean, there was a lot of scrambling, there was a lot of chaos. That's a reality we're all navigating. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can describe what we did.

And  I'd say one interesting thing is I think we have to remember that these changes we have to lead as business leaders we, sort of, need to treat them as business priorities. And what I mean by that is, like, what are the basics of managing a business priority? You get clear on objectives and so I can explain what our objectives were. You get clear on roles, you get clear on decision-making. It's just that this is in a new context and construct for us. We're not used to business priorities that relate to thinking about moving our entire workforce in or out of space.

So  if I, sort of, click down into Recursion's strategy, the objectives alone are interesting, right, because there's many. And in no particular order because they all really matter, but I'll start with flexibility since it's just so deeply important for working parents and, by far, for us, it was the most important thing that our employees were telling us mattered as we returned to the office.

So we were solving for flexibility. We were solving for productivity which we had seen  some folks actually felt more productive not being in the office. We were solving for culture. We were solving for creativity which we felt we lost by not being in the office. And we were solving for wellbeing and mental health. And I have to mention safety, right? We were solving for safety. So that's a lot of things in a singular priority to solve for, but we talked about all of them in the context of the decision-making.

We got inputs from the market. We talked to a lot of other companies and read a lot about what they were doing. We've got input internally. Simple employee surveys, just to ask them what are their hopes, concerns, and questions. Created space to say, "It's okay to be concerned. Tell us what you're thinking, what you're feeling." Really clear guiding principles, so our values and, specifically, our first value is, "We care," one of our values is, "We learn," and then one of our values is, "One Recursion," and they all played a big role.

And then maybe just a few specifics about how we did it, Maribeth. Very intentionally, and this was in the spirit of the, "We learn" value, we soft launched in June so people could optionally come back. And we learned a ton about what was working and what wasn't. And then did a full return in July after we'd taken a company-wide break for a week.

From a care perspective the core working team was so heads-down in all of the logistics and planning that naturally come up, like, every level of detail, "How do we do food in this environment? What safety protocols do we have in this environment?" that I actually spawned a separate committee just to focus on creating a great employee experience, the welcome-back committee. And so that was, sort of, a learning along the way.

You know, a few other things, and this ties to our "We care" value, I can't stress enough the importance of ongoing communication and being really intentional with words. Everything is a signal to your people. You know, being authentic, empathetic, and some amount of vulnerability.

We did make the decision to require 100% vaccination in our workspace which changes the dynamics a lot. And we also made a really big decision to open our childcare center with opening our offices on the premise that  working parents have had to navigate a lot and we wanted to support them in a significant way through the change. We had put our childcare opening on hold given the pandemic.

I think the last piece, which I won't get into but happy to talk to later, given that we're a biotech, we had a significant portion of the workforce that had been in the lab since the beginning of this whole thing, which created an incredible opportunity for us to really spark empathy in others that were coming back, which I know is...creates anxiety and all of the other feelings, but we reminded everybody that, at our company, the only reason we still had jobs was because our lab workers had actually worked in the labs unvaccinated since March of 2020.


Maribeth: Thank you, Heather. And I know many people, as I am, are thinking, "All right. So what were the challenges?" As we all are thinking about all of those things that you have been putting in place, there had to have been great challenges. And, maybe, Caitlin, we'll start with you. You know, as many employers are thinking about coming back, what are the challenges that you're hearing about? And then, Heather, maybe you can tell us about, since you guys have gone back, what are the ones you faced? Like, mandatory vaccination, was there feedback from employees on that? So, again, we'll start first with Caitlin and then move over to Heather.


Caitlin: Certainly, through many conversations from employers across the country, this is obviously a really loaded question because everyday life for employees changed so dramatically over the course of the last 18 months. And with that, so has their family responsibilities. So  childcare, for instance, is pretty nuanced as it includes infant and toddler care, 4 and 5-year-old care, and K-12  remote learning. If you've ever  had a first grader that has remote learning, they're not logging into Zoom on their own. And  it doesn't just stop with kids. It's also...elder care is included in there as well.

For a little bit of context, which I think is important here is that  for childcare specifically, is that, prior to the pandemic, childcare enabled more than 15 million parents with young children to participate in the workforce. As a result of the pandemic, families are experiencing additional challenges and finding care can be nearly impossible. For any working parent listening and myself included, this is not new news.

In the past year, childcare centers and programs have closed. One in 10 of those that have closed are not returning back to market. And those that had stayed open have reduced their capacity by about 40%. Also important to note that prior to the pandemic, we were not meeting the market demands. Data that was released just before shut down in March of 2020 showed that 1 in 2 working parents say their decision to leave the workforce was due to lack of childcare services or supports. Working fathers ages 18 to 36 are more likely to say they're willing to change a job or career to better manage their work-life demand. One third of highly-educated and skilled women are dropping out of the workforce after having children, and 74% of those say that it's the lack of childcare as the reason why. And then  you layer on top of that the fact that replacing an employee can cost a company up to 150% of a person's salary.

The Chamber Foundation conducted a bunch of research during the pandemic last year. And we found that two thirds of working parents had changed their childcare arrangements due to COVID-19. And nearly a year into the pandemic, the majority have yet to find a permanent solution. Parents are leaving the workforce due to lack of childcare at faster rates than employers anticipated. And 11% of working parents have already turned down a new job or a promotion because of lack of childcare. Half of parents who have left the workforce since the start of COVID cited childcare as the reason why.

So I would say that in short, there's a lot to consider. I think Heather hit the nail on the head when you say flexibility is key. Employees are dealing with a slew of issues. And  childcare is one of them. I think it's an important one of them. But  flexibility is key in terms of thinking through what a return-to-work strategy might be.


Maribeth: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, Caitlin, so much. And  those are staggering numbers. And so, Heather, I would love to hear  how you have faced the challenges. As well as, I think you mentioned that you also made a decision to open up your childcare sooner rather than later. To Caitlin's point, I think that would be interesting for the audience to hear as well.


Heather: Yeah. Thank you, Maribeth. And, Caitlin, the data, it's just...I mean, my kids are 6 and 11, like, it just feels so personal, right? It's just, it's a struggle. And I think, especially when my kids were young, it just felt like an unsolvable equation and now it's even harder.

So some context on the challenges. I will say, personally, and in the context of Recursion, one thing that really mattered to me was that we seize this moment of opportunity to do things differently. You know, the research has been telling us for years that working parents, and working mothers in particular, need more flexibility to grow their careers, advance in their careers. And I will tell you, I don't even think I personally had the creativity to think about what that flexibility looked like until I was forced to be home for months and quarters and see that, all of a sudden, I could be not frantic in the morning and I could sit down and eat breakfast with my kids and go to my 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. meeting. Like, I just...

We are so stuck in this notion of, like, 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday, and then nights and weekends, like  industrial-era working norms on steroids, that, for me, these declarations of, "We'll come back two days and we'll come back three days a week," even that construct implies that the day looks the same, you know? And so what I wanted to bring to Recursion with this idea that our days could look very differently. Like, and I'm living it right now. Like I'm driving into the office at 10:00 a.m. because I had a slow breakfast with the kids and then I took a meeting. And then I'm driving in and I'm avoiding the commute.

So, I mean, I think a challenge for employers is, if you look at the data about the talent markets right now, employees have more agency and options than ever. So if you're telling them to come back three days a week and they don't like that, there are alternatives and people are leaving on account of those things. And, like, think about how radically different the world is relative to 12, 24 months ago when no one even questioned coming to the office 5 days a week, right? So I think you have to be aware of that challenge.

I think another thing I would share is, leading up to coming back, the anxiety is so high, and what we found was, once people got back in the office and were able to reconnect, that the upside for wellness, and creativity, and mental health was almost instant for most of our workforce. And so it's like  if you were to plot, like, collective workforce anxiety, high, high, high, high, high, high, high up until the moment you do it, and then afterwards, like, it, sort of, got to, like, quickly, to a much better place against the backdrop of a company that's cared about culture a lot from the beginning, which I presume is true for most people in this call.

Maribeth, you asked about vaccinations. You know, in our case, we're a biotech, like, our mission is to decode biology. And so  our CEO had a very candid conversation about our fundamental belief system as a company of science and how that's related to the vaccines and how that, therefore, is related to our expectation that everyone is vaccinated, barring medical or religious issues. So  that's been, on some level, a relative non-issue. And many people have been grateful to know that the workplace is a safe place  which, now that we're here, right, now that there's a Delta variant, it's even more so. Yeah, I think...

Oh, and the last thing about opening the childcare  we wanted to, with great intention, and this goes back to our first value, "We care," help our people transit into this new model of working, which we knew was going to be a big and a hard change, and support them in as much as we could with the things that we knew were hardest for them. And so I mentioned the flexibility but childcare is another big part of that. And we just felt that we didn't want to open the office without opening the childcare at the same time. And given how Bright Horizons is so at the tip of the spear in terms of safety, and COVID, and understanding all the things and protocols, we had a high degree of confidence in that partnership and being able to do it well and safely which was really important to us. And  employees were delighted that we were able to do that.


Maribeth: Yeah. Well, Thank you. Thank you, Heather. And I just want to go back to one of the things you said because I've been thinking a lot about this lately. And it, kind of, goes to this whole reset and rethink. The way of working is just changing.


Heather: Yeah.


Maribeth: And for companies that think we are ever going to go back to a 9:00 to 5:00, or 9:00 to 6:00, or... You know, look, there are some jobs that, I understand, have defined and need to have defined, but for many workers today, that is not going to work. And we've heard from a lot of...you know, I've heard from a lot of working parents  working mothers in particular who have said, "Look, I've got this figured out now from home and it's working really well. And I can manage." And we know that women take a greater amount of the mental load, and we do a family study every year. And we saw in 2020 how that greatly increased for women who are with a partner and part of a working family, that their mental load has increased. And women are saying, "Look, I've got this figured out from home. I'm not sure I will be able to do this so well if I'm sitting in an 8:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00 kind of environment."

But to your point, Heather, I can walk the dog, I can take the kids out, I can do this, I can do that, I can get the laundry, and I've still just put in four hours of meeting.


Heather: Yeah.


Maribeth: You know, and so I think we learned to work in a whole different way. And I'll also share that, personally, I am a high extrovert. When this all started, I was like, "Oh, my God. There is no way I will ever be able to work from home." Like, it just made me shake. I've got to tell you guys, I really liked this. My work and my life are integrated in a way they never have been before. And I don't feel as though I'm overburdened by either. But I feel like they're both working in unison together. And you just go, "There's really something positive to this."

So it's interesting now for work...fortunately, I do not have any young children at home anymore, but for working parents, if we can then help them take care of their family needs, childcare needs, etc., whether they're in the office or whether they're at home, that's going to be key.


Heather: Totally agree, Maribeth. I want to plug a brief comment. If you're an HR people professional out there and this is, sort of, resonating with you, but you might be struggling to influence within your organization, and I've talked to several people in that boat, I mean, I want to say two things. One, this is our moment. Like, this is our moment as people professionals to influence the systems and the construct of work. And I would encourage you to find all of the ways that you can influence, seek to understand different perspectives that you might need to shape to get to where you think is going to be the right place for your company.

You know, I have a deep, trusting relationship with our CEO, my manager, and we had hours, and hours, and hours of conversations about all of this. At the deepest philosophical place, we were completely aligned as we are on  all things culture. How it manifested into policy and communication, that first brush looked different. And I felt really strongly that I did not want to tell our people to come back two or three days because I felt there were so many layers of unintended messages with a message like that.

So, ultimately, I can't remember if I mentioned, but we've asked people that work on site to be in the office at least 40% time, and we talk intentionally about over any arc of time, so 40% over the month, 40% over the...you know, you don't need to think about it in a week. And  we've got employees that have  gone away for a month to work somewhere else. And so, really doubling down on that flexibility that working parents so desperately need.


Maribeth: I love that, Heather. And I agree with you fully, this is our moment. You know, work is changing and HR is changing. And we have an opportunity to truly lean in and be great guides, and great coaches, and counsel for the business and truly be business partners. I agree, this is our moment. Caitlin, I'd love to hear what you're seeing from your perspective from different  companies around these kinds of topics.


Caitlin: Yeah. And  I would just echo what Heather said. I think what's really, really interesting is we have the...the Chamber Foundation released a report in 2017 called "Workforce of Today, Workforce of Tomorrow" and it really digs into just the, sort of, multi-level support and opportunity that's given if you really dig into childcare as an issue. And just that it's a support for our workforce of today that is direly needed, but it also sets up a workforce of tomorrow, not to at all say that children are widgets, but that giving them the earliest and best start on  their academic career actually just  sort of, pays for itself in spades down the road.

And  what was interesting, and I bring up that report for a reason to say that we had released that report, and part of our communications around it was that we traveled the country...we went to 17 different cities to talk about the report and talk about this with companies, HR professionals, and C-suite leaders. We partnered with our chambers of commerce across the country to talk about the importance of early childhood as both a work support and as just quality early childhood is so important. And what was interesting is in the years leading up to COVID, we spent the vast majority of my time, I spent just convincing others that this was a real worthwhile venture. Whereas after COVID, almost immediately after COVID, I had people reaching out to me saying, "Remember when you came and had that conversation about childcare? I'm really interested in figuring out where do we go from here. And how do I help my employees now? You know, what's possible to do, especially in  sort of, the challenges that we're seeing in the midst of this crisis?"

You know, and I will say that it didn't just, sort of, start and end with childcare, right? Like, that was a lot of times, sort of, the gateway into supports, but then realizing how much more  just holistic care and support employees needed during this moment of crisis. And  I think that if there is any silver lining to this pandemic, I think childcare and just the enormity of  as you both had said, issues that women and a lot of times take on, although I hesitate to say that this is solely a women's issue, I think it's a family issue and a parent issue, it really is bringing that to, really, the biggest stage, and then I think all of us together, trying to figure out what the best solution could be. And that's going to look a little bit different depending on what community you're in. But I think all focusing on solutions is a huge victory. You know, just a huge victory.


Maribeth: Yeah, Caitlin, I agree 100% that it really is. It's not just a mother's issue or a father's issues, it's a family's. But it's also, today, now an employer's issue because we have become the caretakers, in a sense, for a lot of these solutions. And  we haven't even touched upon, and we will in a moment, the hiring crisis. But employers can't afford to not be really listening to their employees and really providing them with the support they need to be able to work. And I know, like... You know, so for us  during the pandemic  as we leaned in to support our own 34,000 employees, we also helped other employers. You know, we did things, like, through our family enhancements, things like  providing tutoring for school-aged children, and providing ways that employers could help their employees provide tutoring  for their children, or gap care  where if a person is working partly at home and partly in the office, that they still don't have a miss in childcare because to your point, Caitlin, that development of children, those early years of education are so vital. And so we have to stay focused on that as well, as well as how we help parents come to work and not have the stress, another stress of worrying about their children.

Excuse me. One question before we turn to the hiring because I know that, there's going to be a lot of talk about that. Is there any advice that either of you would provide to the audience about how they can best  support employees? You know, is there anything beyond what we've talked about where people can really provide support?


Caitlin: I would just add one note to that. I think  we've probably touched on this a few times, but the pandemic has made it very clear that organizations are more than just places of commerce. You know, they are in a lot of ways, extended families to their employees, and providing them with much needed benefits already like childcare or paid time off. And as we transition to this normal...this new normal, whatever it might be, I think taking into account childcare or lack thereof, as Heather noted in her comments that  this was part of their return-to-work strategy, just thinking through, and I think the easiest way to do that, Maribeth, is if you are an HR professional and have surveyed your employees to figure out, and even a lot of times, just the data dives into this, the most requested thing that an employee has is just flexibility, nothing more or nothing less than just having a flexible employer.

We also, and I'll provide a link to the data, certainly to be shared with everyone in attendance, but we did an employer survey just to identify what benefits could be provided or how might that be done. And what I think was a really astounding piece of data that came back from this is that 89% of the employers that we reached out to said that they are looking to find a solution, and that is  directly because of how their employees have been impacted by the breakdown in the system.


Maribeth: And, Caitlin, what kind of solution? A solution to childcare or a solution to...?


Caitlin: Yeah, I think childcare is, again, the place that a lot of people [inaudible 00:31:04] way that they're jumping into, and that looks like a lot of things, right? Like, that goes as far as to, probably the most difficult thing that you, as an employer, could do is build an onsite childcare center, right? And one thing that we see a lot of is backup care situations which have become extremely important for parents that are what we like to call the childcare equation where you're attempting to figure out multiple solutions for  one or multiple children. And backup childcare is, in some cases, just  a lifesaver and like, "I only need care this certain amount of times  a month," or whatnot.

And then, in some cases, it's just flexible work schedules that allow for you to have predictive scheduling so you know, "If I am working," right, if I'm a person that is an essential worker that needs to be at some place, I can't do it from my house, I have a predictive schedule where I know, "Okay, I'm going in Tuesdays from 7:00 to 9:00 and/or 7:00 to 7:00, and so I need to make sure that I have childcare for  this particular work schedule," that you and your employer have worked out. And in some cases, it's just having, as you know, we have called out a few times, the flexibility to say, "Hey  I'm not able to come in. I need the flexibility to come in at a certain time today because  my childcare equation is such that I need to be with my kids to have breakfast and get them set off on the bus." And so we've produced a report, actually, it's called "Essential Care for Essential Workers," but it really can relate to any organization that's thinking about these challenges and the role that employers can play. And we'll make sure to get that out to everyone.


Maribeth: Oh, thank you. That will be very helpful. So we have questions about this. And it was also, kind of, the next thing we were going to talk about, so frontline workers  we know that we have had a hiring crisis, especially in hiring and retaining frontline workers who are unable to secure childcare. So the first question is, how does this impact the economics for these organizations who are trying to hire frontline workers? And then the second question is, and how is that impacting the workforce? Because we're really beginning to see a divide of those who are frontline workers  and benefits may be different for them as compared to those who have been working from home and having a lot more flexibility. So I might've put too much into that one question, but let's start with the hiring and retaining of frontline workers. You know, what are you guys seeing?


Heather: Yeah. And I'm happy to go first, Maribeth, with the caveat that  our people are generally either scientists, technologists, or you know, what I refer to as members of accelerating functions. A piece of context is that 30% of our workforce actually moved to Utah to serve our missions, right, to decode biology. And this goes back to something you said a little earlier. We really perceived it as our problem as an employer that Salt Lake is a childcare desert. And, yeah, that's a city's problem too, but our ability to attract and retain talent at all levels of the organization was going to be contingent on us being able to make sure people could  have access to the services they need. And so that was a big driver for us to open the childcare center.

I think the other thing I would mention is, and this is a longer conversation, but if you're really committed to diversity, and equity, and inclusion as a company, and we are both because we believe it's absolutely integral, from a business-imperative perspective, to achieve the mission, we're trying to do something no one has done before, we want to have diverse teams to help us solve those problems, we also believe in the moral case just given the state of the world right now, if DEI is something that matters, then I think companies need to be, again, at least our perspective, thinking really deeply about frontline workers, about working parents, about childcare, and about how you're going to serve the people that your company needs to deliver your mission.


Maribeth: Yeah. I agree, Heather. And  so Bright Horizons, we do have a large group of childcare teachers  who have had to be in the classrooms, who have had to be working through all of this. And  we've had to focus differently on how we have provided support to them. And also  how we provided support to them during the COVID and the pandemic, and also how we continue to. You know, because they also need childcare to be able to work. You know, some of them are in centers that are in hospitals where they're working 24/7, and so how can we lean in and really  provide support and benefits differently to them. Caitlin, I know that you guys have done some work in this area. Anything that you would like to add?


Caitlin: Yeah. I mean, I think that there is...you know, you have called out that... Let me just make sure I'm framing the right question here. But how does this impact the economies in organizations who are just trying to hire workers frontline or otherwise?


Maribeth: Exactly.


Caitlin: And I think one thing that we have really noticed in the last, certainly, the last 18 months but even before that is that the cost of employee turnover has gone up exponentially in the last couple of years prior to COVID and then, certainly in the midst of COVID. You know, some would suggest that that could cost up to one year of an employee's salary, some, in data that we've used, can cost up to 150% of a person's salary. So it's just very, very costly.

And  we have seen that some of the reasons, when you ask, "Why are you leaving the workforce?" 50% of those people that have left the workforce are not returning back and they've cited childcare as one of the reasons why. One in five working parents are unsure if they will be able to go back to their pre-COVID work situation. And I think that  that's something that we all, sort of, think about as  both you and Heather have called out, that you think about the days, and I certainly think about the days where I got up and  had to...I have a newly minted 2-year-old, and I had to get him off to his care situation and get into the office before a 9:00 a.m. meeting. And that meant a very, very early morning. Even though I live in the Washington, DC area and even though my home is only 7 miles from my office, it could take up to an hour in just commute time. And so when you put all of those together...like, I, some mornings, just can't even imagine what it would have been like to have to get into the office for a meeting, whereas just the ease of clicking  enter into a Zoom chat, right?

What we also see is 16% of employers have experienced employers leaving their job altogether because of lack of childhood care. But, again  there is a lot of troubling stats, but I think there is also a lot of good news in this because employers are, very much, at the table trying to figure out what they can do to help, not just use childcare or some benefits as a recruitment tool, but also use it as, sort of, an opportunity to identify what the needs are in their workforce and then help to solve those together. And I think that's a really exciting moment that we're in right now. And so  that gives me a lot of hope.


Maribeth: Yeah, Caitlin, it's  such a very valid point. And I think when employers realize how it truly changes  how somebody can work when we are helping them with these family supports, it's pretty astounding.

And when I think about, and, again, I have only been at Bright Horizons four and a half years, but when I think about 35 years ago, you know, this notion that is if we could put childcare right inside companies' headquarters, or, you know, buildings, and working parents could bring their children right into the building and have them with them during the day so that they could go downstairs and see them at lunch, or during snack time, or if they just miss them and knew that they were getting the care and the development that they needed, think about the emotional, mental load that that takes off of that working parent.

And so when you see...and, again, I saw this at Cisco Systems where it changed the whole dynamic of the workplace to have childcare right there. And so, now, you fast forward, you know, I want to say post-COVID so badly but I fear that's being a little bit too optimistic, but when you fast forward and you go, you, now, it's not so much that we have to explain the why...people get it. People know that working parents, whether they're in an office or at home, need help, and that the only place...no, I shouldn't say that, not the only place, but that one of the biggest supporters of that can be the employer. And I believe those employers who are forward thinking in this like Recursion, what they have done, they are the ones that will survive all of this because they are resetting and they are rethinking what work needs to look like.

And when I think back, you know, benefits 20 years ago, medical, dental, life insurance, that's all it was. Ten years ago, we added things like pet insurance, or, you know, all these other employee assistance kinds of things, you know, and toy-purchasing things. Today it's, what can we do to help our employees? Whether that's with their family supports, whether that's with their mental wellbeing, whether that's with their physical wellbeing, or their financial wellbeing, they're turning to us.

And, Caitlin, you mentioned survey, that's become our guide, that's become our north star, that we, you know, we have to listen. And we've listened. And then we've acted accordingly. So, again, I go back to, Heather, it is our shining moment but there's a lot to do.

And, Heather, you mentioned...you touched upon this too. You know, there are racial inequalities in accessing child care. In your view, how does addressing childcare impact an organization's D, E, and I? And how important is it to those D, E, and I objectives?


Heather: Yeah. It's really interesting, Maribeth, I mean, you can say on a tactical level, right, and, again, I brought this up, if these things matter to you, then offering childcare solutions for your employees is going to expand the talent pools that you have access to because now working parents are going to see you in a new light and all of the things. And so you think it's, sort of, relevant for that segment.

I will tell you one of the biggest surprises for me after opening the childcare center is the degree to which it has become...it's almost like a signal to the world that Recursion cares about its people. It's, sort of, this massive, like, physical manifestation of our caring. And so, you know, I had more outreach from my own network on LinkedIn and other sort of platforms from announcing the childcare center than any other singular announcement since I joined the company two years ago. And it caught me a little bit by surprise.

But I think, to your point, it's because we're not there yet, meaning, it's not health insurance, it's not dental insurance. It's, sort of, slightly extraordinary, probably more so than it should be. And so I think it signals to all kinds of diverse candidates and underrepresented candidates, you know, what kind of company we are and how we think about treating people and taking care about people, and there's a lot of positive associations with that.

I think a lot about the cost of childcare, you know? And, frankly, to me, that's a frontier that lies ahead. Like, as we scale, like, how do we get even more creative with tuition so that we don't compound inequities and we don't compound privilege? And then if anything, the last year and a half has reminded me of, you know, these hard moments, you know, the privilege, I have all the privilege to deal with them. And we all know, right? And the spread just keeps spreading so work to be done for us.


Maribeth: Thank you. Thank you. And, Caitlin, any thoughts?


Caitlin: Yeah. And, you know, I would say, like, you know, Heather and Recursion's example is such a good one that, you know, Salt Lake City has...you know, Heather and her team has identified that there is a childcare desert there, right? And so when planning this for themselves, they also realized that they needed spots for their own company's people. But, you know, a high tide raises all ships. And I think that, that's a really important piece of all of this. Like her and her team, creating this opportunity for folks that are employed in Recursion also is, you know, adding slots to the Salt Lake City, you know, just in general, right?


Caitlin: The region itself are gaining slots as a result of them taking this on and thinking about the needs of their own workforce. And I think, like, that's just one...you know, that's just one example of a place that, you know, sort of, you can add slots. I think the challenge here is that you need to understand who has what in terms of childcare access. It is not an even playing field by any stretch of the imagination. And that is a really, really difficult challenge and, certainly, one that, you know, if you've talked to economic development folks, they'd say, you know, "Prior to this pandemic or, really, prior to the last, you know, two or three years, we hadn't necessarily thought about childcare as a tactic to, you know, bring companies here and try to get them to settle down in one location." They hadn't thought about how childcare, sort of, plays into that.

And, you know, we're seeing that now as like, "Okay. Actually, this is a place that we really need to think about, how does this help?" So, you know, we're seeing that companies that are making childcare a priority and making fixing this problem, whether they're operating in a childcare desert or not, is also helping the region as a whole. And, you know, that's really important in a situation that we have right now where we are not meeting the needs of our current workforce and yet we are in...you know, as you have rightfully called out, we have some major talent challenges at the moment. And so we need to make sure that we're thinking about solving childcare for one as we're also solving these broader challenges on just bringing people into the workforce.


Maribeth: Thank you. Thank you, Caitlin, so much. We are coming close to our Q&A. And I'm not a good multitasker but I've, kind of, kept my eye on the chats as they're coming through. And thanks to all of you who have sent those.

A couple of things. One, it looks like a number of you are asking, "How can I get more information that would help my leadership understand the why?" And also, "Is there more information out there about the benefits of these kinds of offerings?" And so what I would say to those of you who are  really interested in that, we would be more than happy, we, Bright Horizon, would be more than happy to help you in that endeavor. I think Caitlin had said that she's got a lot of great statistics that she is also happy to share. But I think if we can help you in any way to be prepared for those conversations, I know that throughout my career, preparation for those kinds of conversations is really important, and so we would love to help you do that.

I'll also say that there's just a lot of information right now and a lot of webinars from different HR organizations in regards to this because, as Heather said, this is our defining moment. And I think we, HR, as HR professionals, have also realized how important it is that we all help each other in understanding how best to serve our workforce. So I hope that that answer leaves you with, at least, a few guides and places to look.

I also want to just take a moment to thank Heather and Caitlin for sharing your stories, and also sharing your passion for this. You know, that it has come up since we began talking about this a few weeks ago, your commitment to helping working parents and working mothers.

When I think about the fact that we've lost over 3 million women in the workforce in the past 18 months, and that our numbers are close to what they were in the 1980s, that, to me, just makes me want to cry. As a woman who has worked so hard for my own career as well as help others develop their careers, to see those numbers start to fall, it's just heartfelt as to how we can stop that. Also from a D, E, and I, and how we can help each other and help others. And so I just greatly thank you for your passion and your commitment to this topic, and to the information that you've shared with the participants this afternoon. So with that, I do want to stop for just a moment to see if there are any Q&As. And I think that we will...


Caitlin: And, Maribeth, while you're doing that, I'll just add that  to specifically answer that question around white paper or the business case template, I think that  the U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation have spent a lot of time digging into research reports on this  happy to make all of those available. But if you just go to uschamberfoundation.org and click childcare or early childhood education, all of those are open source and  open to anyone to look up and read.

I think a lot of that does dig into some of the stats that  obviously, a lot of the stats that we talked about or I talked about today. But also, just to, sort of, talk about how this is actually a challenge that you have been working within for a very long time but haven't necessarily called it out as a specific childcare problem. And now that you have, sort of, the words to say, actually  this is directly impacted because of this childcare crisis, sometimes, it's a little bit easier to identify what route forward you might have because you've been able to identify, like, what the actual cause of the challenge might be.


Maribeth: That's great, Caitlin. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. So, Heather, here is a question that came in, "How did you justify onsite childcare if more of your workforce is working remotely?"


Heather: Yeah. Some context, we made the decision to open a childcare before the pandemic. And so briefly about that  and this goes to the question of, gosh, how do you influence these things? It's interesting. Our CEO founder struggled himself, getting childcare in Salt Lake and nearly didn't start the company in 2013. And so that profound emotional experience, sort of, was seared in him. And when he did get it off the ground, very early, he went to the board and said, "I want this to happen. I need your support." And I tell that story just to say, if you are in power, if you are near power, sometimes, it's just one person, right? And the company wasn't even 100 people at the time. So we started partnering with Bright Horizons in building the childcare center when Recursion was 130 people.

I will tell you. Maybe someone that was a little more faint of heart might have shelved the project when we went into the pandemic because there was a window when that would have been possible, and if you look at, like, line items and expenses  we were all in a scramble. I am lucky to report to a human that is bold and visionary  in a really extreme way and could see the long game. And so, for us, these big things that we do like opening a childcare center, we're not trying to do the right thing in the week, or the month, or the quarter, or the year. We are trying to build the company that we aspire to become to deliver the mission and so we didn't waiver. And  we didn't waiver when we now have a hybrid working model. Knowing that, "Look, I don't have the answer. But this is hard where people aren't coming into the office every day. And do they come into the office, and do they bring the kids into the childcare?" We have not transited all of that, but that the employees that have chosen to use the childcare center are absolutely just delighted to have the solution and delighted to have it next to the office. But I think, again, there are unanswered questions about  when people live an hour for the office and only come in one day a week, is there a childcare solution for them?


Maribeth: That's great, Heather. Thank you. Thank you so much. Probably one or two more questions. I will take this one, "How has Bright Horizons innovated throughout the pandemic to offer new programs that support employees' needs?"

You know, I think just like we said earlier, it's really about listening and it's really about being flexible. And I think we, as a provider, listened to the needs of our clients, many of the large employers, and listened to the needs like, "I can't come to work because I have school-aged children who can't go to school so I need to be home with them and I need to now be their homeschool teacher and that's the most frightening thing I'll probably do all year." And so we leaned in and we partnered with other companies. We bought a company, Sittercity, to start providing tutoring, and tutors to come into the home. We set up tutors in different centers so that employees could bring their school-aged children in and they could  have the ability to have a tutor.

The other thing were things like crisis care. You know, when employers have to have people come to work, whether that is a company who is a retailer who needs clerks because stores did not close, especially those that were providing food for the country, whether that's hospitals or other healthcare. You know, crisis care, being able to provide the means for them to get care to come into the home and be paid for by the employer.

So I think it was all about being innovative. It was all about just what we're being called upon as HR professionals right now, it's all about listening and responding. And so I think  we just, as an employer and as a provider, wanted to do everything we could to help employers help their employees. So very exciting times, very challenging times. But work with  great clients  like the Chamber, like Recursion who help make it all happen.

I will stop now. We have just a minute left. I, again, want to thank Caitlin and Heather and provide them each with just a moment to say their farewells. So Caitlin and then Heather.


Caitlin: Yeah. Thanks so much, Maribeth. And thank you, Heather. I guess I would just close with saying this, which is, I've heard this comment several times around just  sort of, the idea that hybrid is, sort of, here to stay, right, where you're in the office one day and maybe you're home four days. I think that it's still important to note that regardless of where you are working, you are still working. And  the question still remains who will watch the kids? And so that's the place, the piece of this that I think we're all working towards.

And I would say that  again, I think this is one of those issues that, hopefully, will be the silver lining of this moment, of this pandemic. And I'm really heartened to see the amount of conversations that are both happening on the Hill around this, and certainly happening in C-suites across this country because I think  business leads on so many things and business is part of the solution. And I think this is one of those places where you see business being part of the solution for just regions across the country. So, thanks everyone for listening and having me.


Heather: Yeah. Thanks Caitlin. Thanks, Maribeth. Just really briefly, my partying advice would be, be true to your company. You know, I think it's so easy to read what others are doing and gather that as input. But go back to your mission, go back to your values, really make sure the conversations are happening amongst the executive team. These are defining moments for our companies. And be intentional about who you want to be.


Maribeth: Great advice from both of you. Thank you, thank you. And to the participants, Thank you all so much.

About the Speakers

Heather Kirkby

Heather has served as Chief People Officer of Recursion Pharmaceuticals since May of 2019. Mary has wonderfully diverse background in engineering, product management and talent development, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Queen’s University and an M.B.A. from Harvard University. She began her career running field operations in Arctic Alaska. From 2014 to 2016, she served as Director of Product Management at Intuit, where she led the global product organization for QuickBooks Online Accountant, going on to become Intuit’s global Vice President of Talent Development. Her accolades include Intuit’s CEO Leadership Award and Women Tech Council Award finalist.

Caitlin Codella Low

In Caitlin's role she’s dedicated to strengthening the nation’s educational standards and the quality of its workforce. She oversees the Chamber Foundation’s programs for early childhood education, K‒12 education and leads the center’s commitment to college- and career- readiness. Over the years Caitlin has played a significant role in developing and implementing many of the Chamber Foundation's education programs and initiatives.

Maribeth Bearfield at Bright Horizons

Maribeth Bearfield joined Bright Horizons in 2017 as SVP, HR and Chief Human Resources Officer. Maribeth brings a background as an educator and more than 25 years of human resources experience to her writing. Prior to joining Bright Horizons, Maribeth served as CHRO at Kaseya Corporation and Hanover Insurance, and as Chief Talent Officer at State Street. Maribeth has also held positions at Cisco Systems, Oracle and GTE.