During the pandemic, a version of the headline “The rest of the world has social safety nets; the U.S. has women” started circulating across social media. The message was clear: American society has a long way to go to systemically provide support to its people. The cost, the burden, and the responsibility of care shifts, then, to those socialized as helpers, a group made up of people from underserved and marginalized groups.
Minal Bopaiah, the founder of Brevity & Wit, a unique firm that combines strategy and design with the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, recently published the book Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. In it, she argues that society as a whole needs to invest in DEI and create a stronger system, one that doesn’t rely solely on the unfair and often uncompensated efforts of care workers.
Recognizing the systemic significance of care work
Our collective conversation about care centers on the individual, a model that says the need or problem originates with you. Think medicine or healthcare. However, Minal focuses on the impact DEI can have at the level of organizations and the real-world potential that application has to instigate shifts in the whole system.
A proposal for a more equitable future
Minal and her organization are working to build a future that offers diverse options across the professional spectrum.
If companies are more transparent about who they’re designed to assist, Minal suggests, then the deep-seated assumption that every company must be “all things to all people” shifts to a system that embraces differences, celebrates individual strengths, and uses a robust network of many businesses to meet everyone’s need as a collective.
To tangibly move the needle toward this more equitable model, Minal highlights three raw materials familiar to systems design: time, money, and power.
A new take on time
Putting in extra hours is a ubiquitous requirement for getting ahead at work in our current society, and it’s an inherently sexist one. Often, women are expected to complete at least 20 additional hours of unpaid labor each week. This gives men a clear advantage in a framework where working late gets you ahead.
Using money as medicine
Though many women worry that poor negotiation skills or impostor syndrome are behind their reluctance to negotiate for higher salaries, research has proven that women who negotiate are perceived as less desirable to work with. The solution? Require a non-negotiable salary amount to be included in job postings.
Redistributing power for good
Businesses interested in fostering an equitable company dynamic need to reconsider how they are using their power. Those who use it to dominate, control, or exploit their workers must redirect it to connect, repair, and empower.
In episode 15 of the Care Work podcast, Alida and Minal discuss creating a systemic approach to sustainable care. Don’t miss this in-depth exploration of how reexamining the long-accepted structure of our professional systems could fundamentally transform our society and build a truly equitable future.