With Diversity & Inclusion a quantifiable metric at the forefront of corporate objectives instead of simply being a ‘good to have’ policy, effecting childcare benefits across an organization today is key. Although accelerated to a great degree by the Amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act in 2017, the importance of having family friendly workplaces can be summarized with McKinsey Global Institute’s prediction that India could add over 18 percent to its GDP by 2025, simply by greater women participation in the workforce.
However, implementation of these benefits doesn’t simply pertain to subsidies on childcare or instituting an on-site crèche and the process can often be daunting. Following is a guide on how best to approach this key D&I consideration:
- KYE – Know your employees, every one of them!
Who are your employees? Men & women who work exclusively from the company office or does work from home constitute a significant part of the workforce? Since the benefits are meant for the employees, it is first critical to understand the nature and lifestyle of this audience, not only for the head office but across bands, functions and geographies.
- Sensitize the leadership
No sustainable change occurs without the leadership team driving it down through their teams. A sign of the leadership team’s capabilities towards this endeavor is also the presence of women as part of the leadership team itself. While gender is not a reflection of the leadership’s intent or is a necessary condition to begin this process, corporate India has far too often been plagued in the past by subtle workplace sexism that often gets termed as the proverbial glass ceiling.
- Select key engagement channels
While having a crèche’ or an extended paid maternity leave are low hanging fruits and more tangible forms of a childcare policy, a company can pick from a lot more channels to gain a degree of seriousness towards the endeavor. Parent Counseling, Liberal Work-From-Home policies, sharing of inspiring staff stories, offering paid paternity (and not just maternity) leaves are all engagements corporates can choose to apply, to broad base the business impact of employer-sponsored childcare.
- Setup a cross-functional team to identify & manage childcare partners
While the ownership of the Childcare Policy may lie with the HR / Comp & Benefits, it is not best to treat this call from a single one-size-fits-all dimension. Given the objective of inclusion, there is strong merit in instituting a special team that has parents (likely users of the childcare benefits) and people from different functions to be part of the decision process. Not only are the perspectives more holistic by design, this also brings about a sense of involvement within employees instead of this being looked at as just another HR service offering.
- Identify the right childcare partner
While there are a host of factors that a company needs to consider while identifying the right childcare operator to partner with, following are some key considerations that the company must take into account:
- Good reputation:
Consider how long the operator has been around, the reviews they’ve received and the other clients they service. A quick reference check, not only with the clients presented by the operator but a more through check on negative experiences, which in the case of childcare can be morally and legally extreme, is always a great way to ascertain credibility.
- Safety focus:
It is imperative that the operator should implement the highest safety standards possible. Does the setup have separate spaces for infants and toddlers? Do they consult the company on a center layout design that ensures maximum safety? Are they transparent enough to give parents live CCTV access? Do they have a clear protocol to be followed during emergencies?
When a company partners with another childcare brand, although an indemnity clause may ensue, it is the employer’s moral responsibility to ensure that safety is given due importance.
- Management depth & involvement:
Involvement of the Senior Management is always a good indicator of the level of seriousness a childcare chain attaches to its day-to-day operations. The management should be approachable and accountable for child safety as much as the direct line managers. The depth of senior management is also equally important. Often a brand’s credibility is attached to individual founders with the other senior management team unable to extend the brand promise. The depth of the leadership team is therefore key to ensure a consistency of quality operations.
- A stimulating curriculum:
A curriculum need not only pertain to pre-school programs. Even daycares can incorporate modules around the pre-school theme into their daily activity routines. While this helps to keep children effectively engaged through the day, it also greatly helps allay the fears of a parent about their child missing out on his/her education by being in a company-sponsored daycare.
- Internal SOPs:
In doing the due diligence on a potential partner, the company must ensure that the operator has a robust set of SOPs to deal with all & any exigencies that may occur. A strict medical policy, a well-charted emergency action plan, an internal escalation matrix, tie-ups with local hospitals for medical emergencies, empanelment of child psychologists - these are some of the factors that a company must consider.
Being a working parent is hard and often the softer aspect of being able to help the parents gets ignored. An ecosystem that helps parents as well as their children, be it in the form of counselling or engaging events, goes a long way in ensuring that the company’s employees feel well looked after.
- Not always L1 (lowest bidder):
Unlike most other contracting calls, it is important to note that opting for the lowest/L1 bidder while going easy on some of the factors shared above can lead to dire consequences. In this case, it is important that the bidder shows complete transparency in the costs that they bid, for the company to be sure of the operator not cutting corners.
- Good reputation:
While the steps highlighted above lay down a path on how best to approach the subject of integrating childcare benefits, organizations need to be cognizant about the fact that these benefits are only a part of a larger cultural goal within a company. The approach highlighted above is simply as effective as the intent of a company on making that cultural change.