Part of the Diversity and Inclusion Blog Post Series

In October 2018, my brothers messaged me to tell me that our elderly mom had suffered a stroke.  Living in the Bay Area meant I could quickly book a flight down to Los Angeles to visit her in the hospital immediately and many more times over the next few months.

We were lucky.  My mother recovered quickly thanks to skilled medical experts and care from my siblings.  My siblings were able to alternate days off from work to care for her.  I could visit often during the week because I managed my own law practice, and therefore had a flexible schedule suffering no stigma of “slacking off” at work.

But what if I weren’t so lucky?  What if my mother lived farther away and I had no siblings living near her?  How would I manage her care then?  What kind of psychological impact would that have on my ability to perform at work?

As I pondered my personal circumstance, I also asked broader questions.  What could I do differently, as an employer, to be more inclusive and accommodating of my team members facing caregiving decisions?  Afterall, caregiving, whether childcare or eldercare, is essentially universal, impacting all genders and ages within the workforce at one or more points.

Harvard Business School has pondered the same issue too.  In January 2019, it released a comprehensive 40-page report on the impact of caregiving on the U.S. workforce. It seems that employers were pretty much clueless in paying attention to the needs of their caregiving workforce, often offering “perks” that caregiving employees did not value.  Some key takeaways from the report:

  • “Employers do not measure and thus do not realize the extent to which employees are burdened by care”
  • “In the absence of a supportive ‘care culture’” employees worry that admitting to caregiving responsibilities penalizes their career growth”
  • “Employers’ higher-titled and more responsible employees are most likely to be affected”
  • “Employers know that caregiving impedes employees’ careers”

For example, absenteeism and employees departing the workforce to care for family members had a significant impact on the workforce, often requiring employers to hire and train replacement workers and losing out on valuable institutional knowledge from departing employees.  Why would employers allow this to happen for well-trained and otherwise high-performing workers?

As I read the report further, it provided valuable insight for employers to take action to nurture an inclusive and “Caring Culture.”  Although most of us aren’t running big law practices –mine for example is small — some of these calls to action were still appropriate and valuable.  Taking affirmative steps towards recognizing and supporting my caregiving employees required some adjustments though.

First, it was important for my firm to prioritize caregiver inclusion as a firm value and then instill that in our firm culture.  We implemented these values by asking employees what types of benefits they wanted.  Overwhelmingly, employees wanted to have flexible work schedules.  Some wanted to work split hours during a workday, while others wanted to be able to work remotely part of the week as result of care responsibilities.  We had to balance the needs of the firm. This meant making sure  remote work was logistically feasible, that employees could securely upload their work, and that they were ultimately productive.

Next, we identified tasks within our firm that required physical presence in the office, such as photocopying, document assembly, signing documents, courier packaging and processing physical government mail.  We aggregated general administrative and office tasks into similar positions and identified these positions as in-office.  We then ensured that applicants who applied for these positions were aware, in advance, that these were in-office roles.  In due time, these employees could accrue enough institutional knowledge with the goal that they could eventually transition to other roles that offered greater flexibility if they needed that flexibility for caregiving.

Finally, we integrated our vision and culture with our day-to-day law practice.  We communicated our firm culture to our clients and conscientiously aligned with client companies that practiced similar ethos. By responding to client inquiries within a 24-hour business day turnaround, our clients were extremely satisfied with work product during traditional work hours.  The urgent emails on a Friday night at 9pm no longer exist.  Quality of life outside the office meant team members could focus on living their lives and caring for their family members!

From a logistical standpoint, we also transitioned our teams from desktops to laptops and implemented robust cloud solutions for group collaboration and remote working. Our IT team installed various security protocols to ensure we could conform to strict security standards as well, enabling remote troubleshooting quickly when needed.

Fast-forward nearly a year, my mom is fully recovered.  As for my law practice, when candidates interview with our firm, I’m proud to say we truly are a “Caring Culture” firm.  We’ve made a conscious effort to ensure we recruit team members who appreciate and fit within this culture and framework.  By taking the affirmative steps to becoming a “Caring Culture” firm, we’ve been able to distinguish our practice and grow our team.  By the way, yes, we are hiring!