CORALVILLE — Dawn Oliver Wiand has traveled across Iowa the last three years to figure out what communities can do to help more women get a job.
“In 2015, we learned that 70 percent of Iowa’s female head-of-households are struggling economically. ... To us, this is unacceptable and we wanted to know why,” said Oliver Wiand, executive director of the Iowa Women’s Foundation.
When the foundation visited 18 cities and asked in focus groups what could be stopping women from working, about half identified a lack of child care as an obstacle.
Yet Iowa businesses consistently have said they can’t find enough qualified applicants to fill positions.
“That’s when we went ‘OK, we have this population that wants to work and they’re not. We need to look at this and we need to really figure out how can we get more available, quality child care so more people can go to work,’” she said.
The Iowa Women’s Foundation put together a tool kit with suggested solutions, such as businesses forming their own child-care centers, embracing child-care providers as entrepreneurs and improving before- and after-school care, among others.
Oliver Wiand discussed this and more with The Gazette. Here is an edited version of that conversation:
Q: Why is the lack of child care a barrier for women or parents who want to get a job?
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A: Because there’s not enough of it. ... It’s a matter of ‘Do I leave my children in unsafe places and go to work, or do I not go to work.’ Well, they’re choosing their children, as anybody would. Therefore, they’re not going to work and we’re seeing that as a huge barrier.
Q: Why should businesses participate in child care?
A: Because it’s impacting their bottom line. ... If we want to grow the economies of our state and our communities, with businesses doing better, we have to have employees. We believe we’ve found a pool of employees that’s out there, that wants to go to work, but they can’t because they don’t have child care. Even if they would make a small investment, the money they’re going to save on recruitment and retention, the money they’re going to save on absenteeism and a lack of productivity is going to outweigh what they’re losing right now.
Q: Do you think businesses in Iowa are open to providing more child care, providing more benefits to parents?
A: I think they are if they recognize the need. That’s why we need to be doing more awareness out there. Like, in Waterloo, where 26 percent of businesses recognize it, that still leaves 74 percent that don’t. How can we get to that 74 percent, how can they be educated? They’re going to listen to their peers, so let’s get that 26 percent to be our voice and to go out there and talk to them.
Q: What do you think needs to happen next?
A: One of the things I’ve asked all of these communities to do is to identify three milestones or three goals or objectives, something that will tell us we’ve been successful in the next three to five years, because this isn’t going to happen overnight. Every one of them has said that at least one business in that community will make an investment in child care. We’re not saying how, we just want them to make an investment and it can be in any way.
Q: Why just make it any investment instead of a specific commitment?
A: Because each community is unique, each community is different, the needs are different, how they’re going to address those needs are different. And, I’m not familiar with that community. How can I go in and just say ‘do something’ when it might not be the most effective? That’s why it has to be community driven.
Q: What is your hope for all of this work?
A: I don’t want 75 percent of our female head of households struggling. I want to see less. Ultimately, I want to put women to work so they’re doing well, their families are doing well and their communities are doing well.
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