Here’s the amazing thing about Gen Z: this generation doesn’t just talk about social change. They make it. When college students Pilar McDonald and Lola McAllister saw that millions of working mothers were being forced out of the workforce because of a lack of childcare during the Covid-19 pandemic, they – like so many of us – were appalled. Sitting back and doing nothing wasn't an option. So, they got to work. Pilar and Lola are the co-founders of Project Matriarchs, an all-virtual tutoring, mentoring, child care service on a mission to create gender equity at home and at work. Project Matriarchs matches college and graduate student tutors with families based on their specific needs, giving mothers time – even if it’s just for one precious hour a day – to do the work and activities they want to do. Hear from two inspiring young women on the front lines advocating for gender equality and a more just future of work, family, and care.
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For more information, visit https://www.projectmatriarchs.com/
Gen Z's Pledge to Create an Inclusive and Equitable Future of Work
Intro: Welcome to the Equal Parts Podcast, brought to you by Care@Work.
Emily Paisner: Being a working parent is hard, but today I'm with two inspiring young women who are on a mission to make it a little bit easier and a lot more equitable for working moms. Pilar McDonald and Lola McAllister are co-founders of Project Matriarchs, a growing community of college students that partner with working families to offer virtual caregiving, tutoring, and mentoring.
They started Project Matriarchs in 2020, during a gap year from college due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pilar and Lola joined me to share how Project Matriarchs is joining Gen Z with working families across America to give working moms the childcare help they need and can afford. We also talked about what Gen Z values most when it comes to culture, benefits, and policies of their future employers. Have a listen.
Pilar, thank you so much for joining us today.
Pilar McDonald: Yes, thank you so much. I'm so excited to be a part of this.
Emily Paisner: Lola, a big welcome to you as well.
Lola McAllister: Thank you. We're really grateful to be here with you.
Emily Paisner: I am so impressed by both of you and all of the work that you've done over the past year-plus to co-found an organization called Project Matriarchs in the middle of the pandemic. Before we get into how you started it, I'd love for you to first tell us about what Project Matriarchs is and what your mission is.
Lola McAllister: Yes, definitely. The way we think about it, Project Matriarchs is both a service and a movement. Just to start with the service side of things, our mission during the pandemic just simply was to provide relief to working caregivers, particularly working mothers. In order to ultimately keep caregivers in the workforce, we pair college students with working families to provide virtual academic support and child care to free up time in the caregiver's day to dedicate to whatever they need that time for.
Whether that's self-care or an hour of undisturbed work.
We offer this service on a sliding scale payment model in order to meet each of the families we're working with exactly where they are, because we designed this solution so that it would be accessible to folks who may have been excluded from existing alternatives and can't afford the alternatives that already exist.
Then on the movement side of things, our mission, beyond the pandemic, is to just transform the experience of caregiving so that it is an intention with working so that working and caregiving can coexist, and that sounds like a huge mission, and it is, but we really believe that Gen Z has a lot to offer in this.
We're currently actually in the process of hiring the founding team of our new advocacy branch, which will focus completely on bringing Gen Z into conversations at the intersection of caregiving work and gender dynamics in order to compel policy change, and we're starting by looking at corporate policy change.
Emily Paisner: So incredible. I truly admire everything you've done. Pilar, can you just tell us how you and Lola came up with this idea for Project Matriarchs?
Pilar McDonald: Initially, it came out of a discussion between the two of us just talking about the media coverage in the beginning of the pandemic, especially over the summer. Women in the workforce, and just the massive numbers of women dropping out, or being pushed out, really, of the workforce and the ways in which these large inequities were surfacing both at home and in the workplace.
We both came at it with a sense of shock, and especially just in heterosexual families and relationships, that falling into these gender dynamics was so, not only antiquated but to be expected in these situations. Seeing feminist icons and women in these really unfeminist dynamics, in our opinion, was really upsetting and also motivating, and I think it really came to us out of a place of really being scared for our futures and how these dynamics would play out in our own lives.
We began Project Matriarchs by really just having a lot of conversations with female-identifying parents, mainly, and caregivers, and so we sent out a survey asking caregivers about their experiences with caregiving and work during the pandemic so far. More than half of the female-identifying parents who responded said that they'd considered stepping back or quitting their jobs altogether if they had the opportunity to financially, and the vast majority of their husbands had not considered the same thing.
I think that although that was pretty small data collection, that really just took us back and made us really want to be in this fight. We reflected on what we had to offer and leverage towards some solution under the understanding that whatever we came up with needs to come together quickly, and will be nowhere perfect, won't be suitable for everyone, but that our main assets were the time, energy and connections to other college students with very flexible schedules. Our solution came out of this in terms of matching that supply of time and energy with the need for additional childcare support in a COVID safe format.
Lola McAllister: I love that you guys embraced speed over perfection because you saw an immediate need that had to be filled and acted quickly and I think that was so important during the pandemic. I'd love to hear what the response was from these working parents, from the college students that you were engaging with to become caregivers and employers, where you were helping to solve a massive macroeconomic challenge that they were facing.
Emily Paisner: Yes, to start with the caregiver side of things. The testimonials about the impact that our service has had on some of the families we're working with have just been so incredibly gratifying.
I think it even surprised us to hear how much of an impact just like literally one additional hour of time during the day in which a parent or caregiver doesn't have to worry about their kid can have because that parent can spend that time making dinner and then eating that dinner with their kids or they can spend that time napping. They can spend that time doing an hour of undisturbed work.
Then, additionally, it's alleviated kids' dependence on their parents at home as they're like built-in teacher or tutor, which parents have said has meant a lot to them, because they can be done with their workday and return to the role of parent and caregiver rather than teacher.
Something we've noticed in terms of impact on the college students working with these families is that they have a more intimate understanding of the dynamics that we are trying to subvert and counteract. They are seeing the inequitable dynamics playing out in the families they're interacting with to some degree, it's kind of an awakening, "What do I want my future to look like in terms of caregiving and work, and how do I want those to coexist?"
Another thing that has surprised us in terms of the impact on the children we're working with, themselves, is that these connections with college students have ended up meaning really so much to some of the kids we're working with. For some kids, it's become like a really, really important relationship during the pandemic, and a super valuable part of their routine as like kind of one additional adult figure that they rely on.
Some specific examples of the impact this has had, to go back on caregivers, is a single mom has had the time now to interview for new jobs, because she lost her job during the pandemic. One hour translates into just so much less stress, and a happier child translates into so much less stress.
Emily Paisner: You're both part of Gen Z, which is the most diverse and socially engaged generation in history. I'd love to hear from you about what some of the things are that you'll be looking for from potential employers once you start your careers after college.
Pilar McDonald: For both Lola and me, it's incredibly important to acknowledge that we both have the privilege to take into account our values where and when we're choosing to work. I think the way we think about it, it's a privilege to even be able to make this sort of financial decision in line with your values and that is something we are both so grateful for.
Paid family leave, childcare support, flexible work arrangements are all things that, through our research and conversations with working caregivers, really stand out to us, but we do want to make sure that these benefits are provided at a gender-neutral perspective, and so that creates a culture of both female-identifying parents and male-identifying parents being able to use these benefits and being encouraged and almost needing to do so so that we create a culture in which everyone is stepping up as a caregiver.
We are also really looking for a comprehensively inclusive environment across race, gender, sexuality, ability, and more. We've had a lot of conversations about kind of what motherhood looks like or what it may look like for us and our desires to both be a mom and also want to be able to achieve as much as we can professionally. From where I stand now, that actually makes it seem possible to do both and I think that this is a huge testament to culture, but also policies within a workplace.
Emily Paisner: What won't you tolerate from your future employer and how do you think your generation can start to make a real difference for families today?
Lola McAllister: The two things that Pilar and I have read the most about and that have frightened us the most about potentially encountering when we are one-day working caregivers are pregnancy bias and the motherhood penalty. This context that when female-identifying folks have children, they will be penalized in the workplace, whereas male-identifying folks who become fathers will be rewarded, whether in terms of salary or position or anything like that.
The fact that pregnancy bias can really permanently set a person back in their career, we are looking for a place that actively resists that, that actively counteracts those things by implementing policies that are genuinely supportive of caregiving folks.
I think additionally, we feel really strongly that workplaces need to abandon the gender binary and the family structure normativity that some benefits programs still reinforce. For example, maternity leave rather than parental leave or family leave and family leave that's supportive of non-heterosexual family structures as well.
We're looking for a level of inclusivity that counteracts the normativity that a lot of benefits programs still reinforce. We bring a really low tolerance for the status quo in collaboration and solidarity with one another. I think we will just push the standard forward in general.
To add to what we won't tolerate from our employers, I think this value signaling that has emerged during the pandemic in which companies signal their commitments to certain values or commitments to certain benchmarks, but then don't act on them. It's more of a values' washing marketing ploy. That's really something that we will not tolerate, so increasingly just looking for the ways in which companies are actualizing those commitments.
There are companies reviewing those practices and creating frameworks to assess impact, so I think we'll definitely be looking at those assessments of genuine impact. In general, we will just have higher expectations and standards, and we will not accept the status quo as we haven't in so many realms already. Yes, I think it's been shown that our generation makes more decisions according to our values as consumers. I think we'll do the same as employees.
Emily Paisner: I love that. I know both of you took some time off to push this initiative forward during the pandemic. What's next for Project Matriarchs?
Pilar McDonald: We have both been very lucky to get the opportunity to take time off from school and pursue this. In terms of what's next for Project Matriarchs, we're hoping to continue our service, getting college students involved in tutoring positions and working with these families as long as it's viable.
We've had families reach out to us saying, "I really hope this service continues post-pandemic," because of just how meaningful these relationships have been despite other in-person options opening up again.
Then beyond that, we are really hoping to get more into our advocacy work. At this stage, this primarily looks like the development of what we're calling the Pledge right now, an initiative we are launching this summer. The Pledge specifically is an effort to turn our generation's convictions about the way policies and norms need to evolve into a tool to actually compel corporate change by involving a critical mass of the generation entering the workforce. In an expression of generational consensus, we hope to compel companies to work towards these ideals. We hope that employers actually perceive this alignment with these standards as a crucial way to attract and retain the next generation of talent.
What we're really hoping to do this summer, we're onboarding about 25 different people in different roles right now from campus organizers creating hubs at different college campuses and in different regions to our social media branding with different partnerships and companies, but as a way to just get the word out and get a better understanding of what other young folks already know about this conversation, what they care about right now, and then what they want to see in the future.
We've been collecting data points from our own tutors and the people in our system that identify as younger college students and whatnot, but we want to make this a more national conversation where voices across the spectrum are included.
Emily Paisner: It's incredible what you've accomplished so far. I personally can't wait to see what you do next. Can you tell our listeners how they can find out more about the Pledge and Project Matriarchs overall?
Lola McAllister: Definitely. You can always visit our website, which is projectmatriarchs.com. Our handle on all platforms, so Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn is just that, ProjectMatriarchs. Also, we just welcome anyone to reach out to us over email directly, email@example.com.
In terms of ways that your listeners could interact with us if they would feel like they would benefit from our service, we would love to work with them on that. Then additionally, really what we need right now is money, just to be frank, whether that be from like a company's charitable giving program, or just individuals who feel compelled or motivated or moved at all by the work we're doing or our vision for our future work. Any amount really helps as we try to sustain our service throughout the summer, as long as there's demand.
I think there are so many ways to interact with us. We'd love to hear from anyone, particularly if you feel like your work aligns with what we're doing or you'd like to connect with us, we would love to do so as well.
Emily Paisner: Lola and Pilar, our future is in excellent hands. I feel confident in that after this conversation. It's just so inspiring to hear that you're taking action and creating meaningful change not just for families right now, but for future families too. Thank you both so much for being here. I really appreciate it and keep up the good fight.
Lola McAllister: Yes, thank you so much for having us. We're so excited to be a part of the care community.
Pilar McDonald: Yes, thank you so much and you've been lovely.
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 Care@Work 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/careatwork.