Workers in the care sector are often independent, with the industry fragmented. That can make it hard for them to organise and secure basic rights. Meanwhile, as a customer, the process of finding someone to care for your kids or elderly relative can be a nightmare.
Care.com is a platform looking to tackle these problems. By bringing carers together in one place, it provides an easy marketplace for those seeking care, while launching initiatives aimed at improving conditions for the workers who use it. But in other sectors from transport to food, the rise of gig economy platforms has brought instability along with flexibility. Is that a risk here?
As part of our spotlight series on the care economy, we spoke with Sheila Marcelo, founder, chairwoman and CEO of care.com, about her platform, conditions in the modern care industry, and how technology could change the sector in the future.
Could you briefly run us through the history and function of Care.com?
Care.com was inspired by personal experience. After I got pregnant in college, my husband, Ron and I were challenged finding care for our young family as we finished school and began our careers. Our second son was born just after I finished graduate school and started working at a tech start-up. My parents came from the Philippines to help us and one day, my father had a heart attack while carrying our baby boy up the stairs.
In that moment, everything changed. I wasn’t 30 yet, but I was sandwiched between caring for my children and an ailing parent. I was working at a tech company but relying on the Yellow Pages or word of mouth to find a nanny or senior care attendant. I knew my family’s struggles were mirrored in homes everywhere. The system wasn’t working and I saw an opportunity to use technology to design a service to make the process better, more efficient, and to democratise access to quality care.
In 2007, we launched Care.com and today it’s the world’s largest online marketplace for finding family care and care jobs ranging from child care to senior care, pet care, home care and more.
Through the years, we realised that improving efficiency didn’t fully address the problem, so we’ve kept building.
First, we added recruiting and marketing solutions for small care businesses to find employees or customers. In 2011 we launched our enterprise solution, Care@Work, so companies can offer Care.com as a benefit to their employees.
Over the past few years, we’ve expanded on our commitment to caregivers with products like Care.com Benefit Bucks, the first pooled portable benefits platform that gives caregivers access to benefits through contributions from the families they work for.
As we continue to innovate on our own, we’re also aware that a systems-change approach is necessary if we’re going to truly transform the way care is accessed and valued.
We’re working with various public-private partnerships on new projects like affordable care solutions through Family Child Care Centres and training and accreditation for caregivers through The Care Institute, which we launched in partnership with AARP and Boston Children’s Hospital, among others.
The reality is that care needs are universal and growing around the world. Solving for care doesn’t just help families, it drives economies. That’s our mission.
What impact do you want to have on the care sector?
We want to fundamentally change the way societies value care so we can unlock our full potential.
Care is often miscast as a soft issue or women’s issue, but really it’s an economic issue… and a powerful solution. Most of the economic gains in the US since the 1970s are attributed to women in the workforce, but to maintain female labor force participation, families need care for their loved ones.
At the same time, we need to elevate caregiving as a profession—it should be a respected and valued career path, like teaching or nursing. Care is essential yet this work has historically been undervalued, because it happens in the home.
In other sectors, we’ve seen how the flexibility offered by new platforms can mean increased insecurity for workers. How do we guard against this in the care sector?
We believe that innovation without inclusion is not progress, and that’s something we’ve baked into our business from the beginning. The Care.com platform offers more security for workers, not less.
Take the United States, where we have most of our members. Caregivers and domestic workers in the U.S. are often paid poorly — and historically, there have been laws that specifically excluded them from the benefits and protections typically associated with more traditional employment.
We still see the effects of this now. For example, 65 percent of domestic workers don’t have health insurance, just 2 percent receive retirement or pension funds, and fewer than 9 percent work for employers who pay into their Social Security benefits. That must change.
We’ve built tools on our platform to provide access to affordable health and dental benefits and real-time payments, and to foster financial inclusion. There is a minimum salary – above minimum wage – that is required of all jobs posted on Care.com, and, according to our data, the child and elder care providers hired on our platform earn hourly rates well above industry averages.
We guard against exploitation by embracing the way technology can bring more transparency and dignity to these professions – ones typically seen as being toward the bottom of the ladder. We leverage technology to make informed decisions to improve employment arrangements that have long been in the shadows. One small example: Caregivers on our site can see what the average wage is for care work in their zip code—that’s a huge advantage over a closed, word-of-mouth system.
And we’ve also done surveys, for instance, to educate workers about what skills and qualifications families will pay more for.
We also strongly advocate for families on our platform to adopt best practices as employers that also protect caregivers, including paying legally and having a written contract. We built a campaign around this with the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance called the “Fair Care Pledge,” which advocates for fair wages, paid time off and clear job descriptions. To date, more than 400,000 families have signed it.
And then we’re also involved outside of our platform, as well — for instance, advocating for a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which has now been passed in eight states.
When you look at future tech trends such as the advance of automation, what opportunities do you see for the care sector, and what keeps you up at night?
The robots might be coming, but they won’t replace care jobs or care workers.
Technology can definitely enhance care — your phone can stream your nanny cam and detect your parent’s fall, for example — but it can’t replace the human touch or human interaction when it comes to soothing a crying baby or calming a senior dealing with dementia.
What I see for the care sector are opportunities to further improve efficiencies and care delivery. I’m excited about the potential to match AI with HI – what I call human interface – to design a future of work that is inclusive.
I’m excited about apps that can send Mary or Maria Poppins to your door to relieve a sick nanny. I’m excited about a platform that gives three adult children and a caregiver a digital space to co-create and monitor a senior loved one’s care regimen so they can age in their own home. I’m excited about leveraging technology to provide care training and credentialing at scale.
As I mentioned before, demand for care is growing and home care and personal care jobs are projected to grow six times faster than other sectors over the next 10 years. This is meaningful work that is here to stay…robots notwithstanding.
What does government need to do to help care sector tech companies like yours?
We believe strongly that governments, businesses, and non-profits all have a role to play in building a strong care infrastructure.
In the U.S., we’ve advocated for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights — which has now been passed in eight states — and for a national paid family leave bill, since America is one of the last countries without maternity leave let alone family leave.
We also believe that families need more help managing the rising cost of care, which today is one of the biggest household expenses, right up there with mortgage or rent. No one should have to choose between a paycheck and care for a loved one, but that’s what happens all too often. — Josh Lowe
(Picture Credit: Unsplash)