{sneers} “That’s not a business thing.”

I was just reading this article about why childcare needs to be a business issue. It’s got all the common stats we’ve been seeing since COVID began to rage, including:

  • 20% of working parents had to leave work or reduce their work hours solely due to a lack of childcare.
  • Only 30% of all working parents had any form of back-up childcare, and there were significant disparities between low and high-income households.
  • 26% of women who became unemployed during the pandemic said it was due to a lack of childcare.
  • Data shows that the United States’ gross domestic product could be 5% higher if women participated in the workforce at the same rate as men.
  • More than 2.3 million women have left the labor force since February 2020, accounting for 80% of all discouraged workers during the pandemic, reducing the labor force participate rate to 57%, the lowest it’s been since 1988.
  • Even before the pandemic, inadequate childcare was costing working parents $37 billion a year in lost income and employers $13 billion a year in lost productivity.
  • Barron’s estimated that closing schools for Covid-19 could cost about $700 billion in lost revenue and productivity or 3.5% of GDP.

Point being: we know this stuff is an issue. But it doesn’t really change. Why? You saw that Harris-Pelosi fist bump a few nights ago that everyone was celebrating? Well, sadly, about 54% of people think “Ugh, two socialist bitches” when they see that. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that it’s a thing we celebrate, but we don’t really turn “Oh wow, women can contribute!” into concrete action. It’s like Instagram as life: bunch of performative shit and likes, no real action.

What is “a business issue?”

The core issue is that there’s lots of stuff bubbling in modernity that traditional business warriors, often men, don’t think of as “business issues.” A partial list:

  • Childcare
  • Support of women
  • Racial harmony
  • Social justice
  • Inequality
  • Trans/gender issues
  • Etc, etc.

The mindset and brain chemistry of a male who comes to run a large company is very, very specific. It’s not like most people. These guys think about financials, think about acronyms, think about their relevance and their success as a brand-builder or grower/scaler. They might donate money to some of the causes above, or release statements on those causes because it’s good for the brand, but it’s not their focus. Those are not “business things.” If anything, those are government things. They pay taxes, right? (Barely.)

The common counter-argument

Their argument base is relatively easy, too: “If I don’t focus on building the business, you won’t have a job.” And, it’s hard to counter that. If a CEO and CFO are constantly working on childcare plans, and in the process they lose a bunch of clients, well, now the moms who would have benefited from the childcare plans probably get laid off. Sooooo … no one really won. Someone needs to grow the business and hopefully expand opportunities for compensation and responsibilities, and that’s usually going to fall to the senior leadership team. Do you think Jan in HR is going to scale up some new products? She’s not.

Whether you think people make decisions completely selfishly, or whether you think people are driven by compensation, or whether you think people chase relatedness and autonomy, the fact is that most people ultimately make decisions around things that will directly benefit their families, and around things they concretely understand. For better or worse (often the latter), a lot of business titan guys don’t see racism as an issue. (“Only color I see is green.”) They don’t understand trans, because their son/daughter doesn’t have trans friends yet. They don’t see childcare as an issue. (“We have nannies. Nancy doesn’t work. What are these people complaining about?”)

Am I speaking in generics? Absolutely. Not everyone is like this — and sadly, some of these world-builders are somehow worse. But in general, their prism is about the business. For many, the business outranks their spouse, children, dog, and everything else, because the business provides. It’s the game to be won.

“Not core to the business”

The reason all this stuff feels performative and inertia-laden is because ultimately these concepts, while core to society, are not core to business. Business is about relationships, doing deals, beating rivals, late nights, hustling, trade shows, mergers, stock dividends, buybacks, etc. It’s not about #BLM. There’s a percentage of voices online who demand that business become about BLM and trans and corporate motherhood programs, and those voices are loud but mostly get ignored, EOD. Business guys look at people like that and think “They don’t get it. They don’t know how the world works.”

We live in a divided society without question, and one of the biggest divisions is honestly how people conceptualize work. For millions, maybe even billions globally, it’s a check. It’s a means to an end to live their life and put groceries in the pantry and take a trip once in a while to see other things. But for the world-builders? The investor class? The asset-holders? It’s something wholly different. It’s a game, it’s relevance, it’s fun, it’s success, it’s life at some level. And if you start bringing stuff they don’t understand up in that chicken coop, like trans rights and social justice issues, they might toss you a performative bone or two, but honey, that ain’t a business issue, so maybe we’ll kick it to HR and ask for a deck in six months.

This is, unfortunately, the modern reality of trying to make companies care about things that the senior team doesn’t feel they need to care about.

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/work-with-me/

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