Does it mean roads, broadband, and other physical structures included in the traditional meaning of infrastructure? Or should it have a broader definition that includes other important parts of the economy, such as workers who care for children, older adults, and people with disabilities?
The number of people doing this type of work has exploded over the past 70 years, driven by an aging population, expanding medical technologies, and the large-scale entrance of women into the paid labor force. My calculations show that in 2018 more than 23 million workers – almost 15% of the US labor force – worked in the care sector, up from just under 3 million in 1950.
While the overall care economy is dominated by women, the two areas that are the focus of Biden’s plan – child care and home care – are even more so. I found that over 85% of the 3.6 million people employed as home health workers, personal care aides, and nursing assistants are women. These people meet the health care needs of older adults and disabled individuals and also provide assistance with daily living activities like bathing, dressing, and eating.
The share of the 1.3 million child care workers who are women is even higher, at about 93%.
Both job categories are also disproportionately made up of people of color and immigrants. For example, 30% of home health and personal care aides are Black and 26% are immigrants. Among child care workers, 24% are Hispanic and 22% are immigrants.
Why care work is ‘essential’
The pandemic has shown just how essential this workforce is to the US economy, as well as to families and communities.
Care workers, broadly speaking, made up fully half of all those deemed “essential critical infrastructure workers” at the beginning of the pandemic by the Department of Homeland Security. This designation was used to identify workers who “protect their communities, while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”
In effect, it meant they could continue to go to work despite state lockdowns, risking their own health and that of their families.
Care workers overall earn 18% less than other essential workers, such as police officers, bus drivers, and sanitation workers, after controlling for the usual factors that depress wages, such as gender, years of education, and depth of work experience.
And the workers targeted by Biden’s plan are at the low end of this devalued sector, with some of the lowest wages in the US labor market. In 2020, the average annual salary for home health care and personal care aides, for example, was $28,060, and for child care workers it was $26,790. These are near poverty wages, barely exceeding the federal poverty threshold of $26,200 for a household of four.
Similarly, when children receive high-quality child care, they benefit – but so do their families, their parents’ employers, their own future employers, and their future partner or children. The benefits are significant but dispersed.
Shailesh Jejurikar is the CEO of Procter & Gamble’s largest business line, Fabric & Home Care.
By maintaining a growth mindset, he’s helped his teams thrive despite pandemic uncertainty.
Jejurikar has employees challenge assumptions and connect with shoppers and emphasizes work-life balance.
This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.
Shailesh Jejurikar is the CEO of Procter & Gamble’s largest business line, Fabric & Home Care, which accounted for more than a third of the company’s $71 billion in sales for 2020.
He oversees 18,000 employees globally, has more than a dozen direct reports, and competes against consumer packaged goods giants like Unilever. He’s also responsible for over a dozen iconic brands including Bounce, Downy, Gain, Tide, Cascade, Dawn, Febreeze, Mr. Clean, and Swiffer.
Jejurikar told Insider his typical 12-hour workday begins at 5 a.m. and is driven by where he happens to be in the world, whether at home in Geneva or at the company’s Ohio headquarters. By leading with a growth mindset, he’s been able to help his teams navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic – and by doing so, has more than doubled the pace of growth for his unit, from 5% in Q2 2020 to 12% in Q2 2021.
Here are the four principles he leads by:
Stay externally focused
“Our biggest creative breakthroughs as an organization have come from striving to solve a consumer’s problem, but you can only solve that problem if you understand it, and to do that you must remain connected,” Jejurikar said.
When the pandemic hit, he not only had his teams double down on check-ins with customers like superstores Target, Amazon, and Walmart, but he also had them set up one-to-one video chats with shoppers about the issues they’re facing and how they’re using the products.
“This is how we ideated Tide Hygienic Clean, which we sped to market in 90 days,” he said. “By talking directly to consumers, we learned that they were looking for a higher standard of clean. We did a lot of research on what that meant and then designed a product that removes everything that could possibly get stuck to fabric.” The product was featured in a recent Super Bowl ad about cleaning a sweatshirt with “Seinfeld” comedian Jason Alexander’s face on it.
Lean on tools for support
Prior to the pandemic, Jejurikar traveled frequently to locations to walk the corridors and interact with colleagues. But when his teams went remote, he became concerned about how he would be able to manage global R&D, manufacturing, marketing, and sales operations without physical contact.
Thanks to visual collaboration tools, he was not only able to stay close to his employees, but also boost creativity and productivity virtually.
“We found Microsoft Teams to be a very effective way to engage with each other across the globe and MURAL‘s virtual sticky notes proved essential for rapidly prototyping products in design sprints,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest surprise was how much Spotify in the rooms makes us feel like we’re working together apart.”
As executive sponsor of Procter & Gamble’s sustainability program, Jejurika works with the company’s chief sustainability officer on frontier products like EC30 swatches, a waterless form of shampoos and cleaners in development to fight climate change.
“Our vision is to grow the size of the market we play in and grow our share of it by offering consumers new and innovative solutions,” Jejurikar said. “But our biggest challenges lie ahead.”
Faced with the dilemma of how to create products for a marketplace with many unknowns, Jejurika developed a process called “progility,” where he challenges his teams to question paradigms of what’s assumed to be true. Using curiosity to unlock consumer insights, he asks employees to look at what’s happening and find out why people are changing their behavior or suddenly using a certain product.
“In the case of Downy Unstoppable Beads, everyone assumed no one would want a fabric enhancer during a pandemic, yet it would go on to become one of Fabric & Home Care’s fastest-growing businesses,” Jejurikar said. “We had to first ask ourselves why we are assuming that it’s considered a discretionary purchase, then we realized that many people hadn’t tried it yet and needed an introduction.”
“The only way to anticipate change is to commit to learning,” he added. “Asking questions, being curious, listening carefully to the responses. A leader should always say, ‘I knew,’ never, ‘I know.'”
Embrace work-life balance
Success is not just measured against consumer expectations and sales but by employee satisfaction as well, Jejurikar said.
To this end, he instituted a mentor checkpoint to provide his employees a forum to share how the pandemic is impacting their lives and constraints that need to be accommodated.
“We’re helping our employees choose fewer things to do so they can direct their energy in the right place and stay balanced with their life priorities,” Jejurikar said.
Encouraging a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day with breaks that include walks outside and calls to loved ones are some of the ways Jejurikar is helping his teams stay energized while working from home. He also models healthy practices by not checking email before bedtime and exercising five days a week.