Creating a culture of care
Amy Henderson
CEO & Co-Founder, TendLab, and author of Tending: Parenthood and the Future of Work

Most workers have caregiving responsibilities. And, for the majority of us, these responsibilities can interfere with our performance at work. But half of companies are (still!) in the dark about it. They never ask about nor track how caregiving affects their workforce and their business. Amy Henderson is shedding much-needed light on this problem. She’s the CEO and co-founder of TendLab, an organization that’s working to create a better future for working parents and caregivers, and the author of Tending: Parenthood and the Future of Work. Amy shares insights from The Leaders' Guide to Creating a Culture of Care, which TendLab developed in partnership with TIME’S UP. She offers advice and actionable steps business leaders, managers, and employees can take to create a workplace culture that supports and celebrates caregiving.


Listen to this episode to learn:

  • Critical issues employers need to consider regarding caregiving as we enter the post-pandemic future of work
  • How and why caring cultures are a competitive business advantage (and what’s at stake for those that don’t have them)
  • How to bust the working parent stigma (including the one in your own head!)
  • Advice for business leaders and managers on how to hold themselves – and the business – accountable for building trust with and supporting caregiving employees
  • Why a continuous feedback loop of tracking, asking, and engaging employees about caregiving helps employers build strong caregiving cultures
  • The important distinction between simply offering care benefits and socializing them across the organization


For more information, visit www.amyhenderson.org and www.tendlab.com.


Click here to read the full episode

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Full Transcript

Creating a culture of care

Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast, brought to you by Careatwork.

Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard. Why after all we've been through, are some companies still not supporting their caregiving employees? Amy Henderson is trying to change that. She's a mom of three and co-founder and CEO of TendLab, an organization that's working to create a better future for working parents. She also has a new book out called Tending: Parenthood and the Future of Work. She joins me to talk about what business leaders, managers, and working parents can do to create caring cultures. Have a listen. Amy, welcome to Equal Parts.

Amy Henderson: Thank you. It's great to be here, Emily.

Emily Paisner: You have so many interesting and exciting things going on right now. You just released your first book and your company TendLab, just teamed up with Time's Up to create an amazing new guide for business leaders on how to create a caregiving culture. Before we get into all of that, I wanted to kick things off with a question that's probably on the minds of a lot of our listeners, and that is, why is it so hard for working parents and caregivers in America today?

Amy Henderson: Wow, that is the question, isn't it, Emily?

Emily Paisner: It really is.

Amy Henderson: I think there are three things that make it harder to be a working parent in the US than in any other developed nation in the world. First, we don't have federal infrastructure. We are the only nation besides Papua New Guinea without paid family leave, and that speaks to a lack of infrastructure on many levels, including childcare. I think it's going to be worse post-pandemic because we have lost up to 50% of all childcare centers in the US, have shut for good.

I think also there's the stigma that parents face in the workplace and all caregivers, which is I believe, and other research has found greater here in the US than in pretty much any other developed nation in the world. Then third, I think one of the greater challenges that we face in the US is that most families don't live around extended family. We have a lot of transplants here in the US, which is part of our culture of moving for work and that leaves us vulnerable and without the village that would otherwise support us in raising a family while maintaining our careers.

Emily Paisner: I want to talk about that stigma for a second. A lot of parents purposefully downplay parenthood when they're at work because they're fearful that it will hurt their career. I'm curious from recent conversations that you've had with employees and business leaders, if you think that this fear is starting to subside at all?

Amy Henderson: My book and my business TendLab, my book, Tending: Parenthood and the Future of Work, is all about dismantling that bias right there. I did hundreds of interviews with parents and some of our nation's and world's best researchers to debunk the myth that parenthood undermines career performance. There is a significant body of research, particularly in neuroscience, which indicates that the skills that parenthood can unlock the ways that we are neurologically primed during parenting allow us to be more Colton workers in the modern workplace.

The reality is that this pandemic has the potential to set us back because there has been so much messaging, so many pictures, so many stories, so many statistics about the moms at home, struggling to maintain their careers while they're managing their children. I am concerned that this is going to continue to be negative for women and caregivers more broadly for generations to come unless we proactively address it in a very meaningful way right now.

Emily Paisner: That's interesting because some have said that because employers are able to see more literally into people's homes and lives, that they may become more tolerant and understanding of the caregiving needs of employees and that they may try to create change within their organizations to help support these caregivers. Have you seen companies start to create more caring cultures?

Amy Henderson: Wo Emily, I think we're really at the precipice here, and I feel as though we could go either way. We can use this moment as an opportunity to drive forward some really positive and needed change. The federal government can bring infrastructure to consider caregiving as critical as roads and as WiFi to the success of our nation. We can build workplaces that really do create cultures of care, where employees with caregiving responsibilities can not only survive but thrive.

There's the potential for things to be disrupted in the home front too, for there to be the potential for greater gender equality in the home place as well. If that's going to happen, I think still remains to be seen. If we want the result of this pandemic to be positive for working families, we can't just sit back and hope that it will happen. It's going to take some real concerted effort and action. I think some collaboration across political parties, between the public sector and the private sector, with government and employers, and with activists and with those who are really meaningfully driving this change forward to make it happen

Emily Paisner: In the guide that TendLab created with Time's Up and I was fortunate enough to collaborate with you on as well. You came out with some key insights about what companies can do to create this culture of care. Can you share some of those key insights and findings?

Amy Henderson: Yes, absolutely. I think the first one that is really critical is that employers need to start tracking caregiver status. Joe Fuller at Harvard did a big study in which he found that up to 75% of all employees identify as caregivers, but employers don't even ask about the caregiving status of their employees. Because of that, they don't recognize how many of the people they employ are caring for others who are depending on them.

The study further revealed that because employers don't ask, they don't know, and they don't see that 75% of the workforce who identify as caregivers, 80% of them say that their caregiving responsibilities negatively impact their ability to perform at work. Employers think that negative impact from caregiving responsibilities only marginally impacts a very small number of their employees. That is not true. The majority of employees are burdened with caregiving responsibilities that impact their ability to perform at work.

Because employers don't look at this, they're not able to solve for it because you can't fix what you don't see. Our first recommendation is that you start to look, start to track, start to ask, start to engage your employees with caregiving responsibilities so that you can see what it is that they're struggling with and you can solve for it, that's the number one thing. Employers will spend money to provide an employee benefit, but they won't do the work necessary to socialize that among their workforce to make it really easily accessible, to make it something that feels good for their employees and so employees are not taking advantage of it. The other big thing that we found, both our work inside companies through TendLab, my business, but also other researchers have found that there's such a stigma around needing help if you're a caregiver that employees are afraid to take advantage of the benefits, even when they are being provided.

The lifecycle of being a parent or a caregiver, the needs are going to change over time. It's really important to continue to maintain. First to develop a feedback loop where you can figure out who are your employees? Who are caregivers? What do they really need? How can you build a culture of trust where they're safe enough to share with you and then to take advantage of the benefits and offerings and policies and practices that you've put in place to support them?

Then how do you keep that as a continuous feedback loop so that the employees with caregiving responsibilities can continue to share what's going on for them, be heard and the company can be responsive to what they discover? I think that virtuous circle of asking, listening, and responding, it can't be a one and done, it needs to be a continuous process.

Emily Paisner: Amy, let's talk about leaders and managers and the important role that they have to play in all of this. What can they do to help create this caring culture?

Amy Henderson: I'll go back to what I said originally as a starting point, which is that it's really important to build trust with your employees so that you can ask them what's going on for them and what they need. They will respond honestly, without fear of being discriminated against. Then when you get that feedback, when you find out what their challenges are and what they need, that you respond in an appropriate and in an effective way so that they feel as though they're being heard and they're more willing to share with you in the future. That's the first thing I would share on behalf of managers.

What I would say for leaders of organizations is that it's one thing to tell your managers, "Hey, support employees with caregiving responsibilities." It's an entirely different thing to link a manager's ability to get promoted or to get bonuses or to increase their compensation related to their ability to support employees with caregiving responsibilities. If you've got two managers who are up for promotion and they've got similar track records, one of the things that you should be looking at as a leader within an organization trying to determine who to promote, is which one of those two managers has meaningfully supported employees on their team with caregiving responsibilities? Because that is the type of leader that deserves to be promoted within an organization.

I think pre-pandemic, we didn't see that being considered as a variable. I think post-pandemic, that's something that we are hopeful will be added into the evaluation component for a promotion.

Emily Paisner: This is a key moment in time. Hopefully, employees feel empowered to use this as an opportunity to try and create some change and advocate for care within their organizations. How can people have their voices heard and find support so that caregiving becomes normalized and celebrated?

Amy Henderson: I think that's a great question. The first thing I would say is that right now, employees have a lot of power. Roughly 50% of employees are considering leaving their current employer as things go back to normal post-pandemic and employers know this. They know that employees are restless with where they've been and that they're looking for a change. Employees should know that now's the time where your voices, if you speak up for what you want and need, are more likely to be heard than in the past.

One of the most powerful ways that you as a caregiving employee can advocate for yourself is to do it in community with others. If you have a caregiving ERG within your company, come together with that group and think about what are the challenges that you face and how can they be effectively addressed by your company and how can you as a group step forward and ask for those changes because there's power in number and you as a quorum will be much more effective than you as an individual.

I would really encourage you to consider how it is that you can dismantle the bias in your own mind around how caregiving impacts your ability to perform at work. Really look at, are you afraid to speak up because of shame or bias in your own mind about your caregiving negatively impacting your work? If you are, put that down and step forward with a lot of power and confidence, knowing that parenting unlocks career critical skills, and you are a critical member of your workplace and you have the right and the need to advocate for yourself.

Emily Paisner: You mentioned the high rates of attrition right now. I'd love to hear from you about why you think that creating a caring culture is a competitive advantage for companies and what's at stake if companies don't start to create this within their organizations.

Amy Henderson: It's a business imperative that companies begin to create cultures of care. In the US, there are very few companies that have prioritized this previous to the pandemic. Now is the time. It is a competitive advantage. Those who do not do it will suffer the consequences. Just as an example, when we worked with Time's Up on a guide for how to create a culture of care.

That was the first document rolled out to the coalition, which they are calling the Care Economy Business Council where over 200 employers have come together to say, "Look, we know we want to build a culture of care. We know we want to support our employees so that we can be competitive in this very tight labor market. There is a demand, there's an interest, there's an appetite. Those who do not take the time to consider how they can recreate their cultures, to be more supportive of care, they're going to suffer."

Emily Paisner: People are starting to transition back into their offices and into these hybrid work schedules. Really, I think flexibility is key for both companies and employees as we move forward. As you think about this new normal, what do you think are the most critical issues that employers need to think about regarding the needs of caregivers in their workforce? I would say not only for keeping their current talent but also for attracting new talent.

Amy Henderson: It's really important for workplaces to be flexible in terms of allowing people to maintain autonomy over their own schedules. We know that's true for all employees, regardless of caregiver status. When we open up and people can come back into the office and it's optional, we know that it's most likely going to be men who come back and that being visible in the physical office is more likely to lead to promotions and increase compensation relative to those who are not in the office, which means that the gender equality is going to diminish even further.

That applies to women and I would say all caregivers, that's important to look at that as a company and to consider other ways of evaluating the performance of an individual, not just looking at their physical presence in the office.

Emily Paisner: Amy, where can our listeners go to learn more about you and your book and all of the fantastic advocacy work that you're doing?

Amy Henderson: You can learn more about the book at amyhenderson.org, and you can also learn more about other leaders that we've profiled, who are doing powerful advocacy work, both inside companies and beyond. You can find my company TendLab at tendlab.com. There you can find more about our corporate offerings and our broader partnerships with other communities of business leaders and government officials.

We're really excited about some of the things we have coming up in the future that aren't yet public, but we feel as though it's critical at this moment in history that we build collaborative partnerships to drive forward the change that is needed.

Emily Paisner: Amy, I always love talking to you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Amy Henderson: Thanks for having me, Emily. It's great to be here.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this episode of Equal Parts. See you next time.

Emily Paisner: Wait, before you go, I just want to tell you a little bit about Careatwork by care.com. They work with some of the world's largest companies to offer family care benefits to their employees. If you're one of the lucky ones who already has care benefits at work, use them, if you don't, ask for them. It's a real lifesaver. To learn more, visit care.com/careatwork. Again, that's care.com/care A-T work.