One of my biggest challenges is being solved today, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone. For years, I’ve been bogged down with the need to create carpools for my kids but not having the bandwidth to do these quickly and easily. Email or (even worse,) text threads would go on and on and sometimes get lost, buried or just plain forgotten. Calling was a nightmare as no one was ever free at the same time and it became an endless game of “telephone tag”. Furthermore, who was going to drive, when (especially when nobody has the time)?
Finally, I’d had enough. So our team at Zūm did something about it. While we’ve been the leader in rides and care for kids over the last two years, for which carpool has been a part, we now make it super easy for parents to plan, schedule and change carpools. No more texts, emails or phone calls, we do it all for you in our app. One less hassle to deal with every day! And because of the great Zūm drivers taking the wheel, the “who’s going to drive” question gets solved too.
From my experiences, I knew that we had to make this streamlined, and easy to add/invite people to, so we integrated the carpool option with our regular ride and care booking. So when you go to schedule a ride, you just choose “Carpool Ride” and you’re off and running.
Setting up the carpool is a piece of cake, just like setting up a Zūm ride — select your rider, choose date, time and location and set up payment method. For our carpool option, you can split payments one of three ways — pay it all yourself, split evenly by child or split evenly by parent. So if one family has three kids riding and you have one, you can split it into quarters.
Once that’s done, you simply invite your carpool families to join and they do their work on their end (adding their kids and payment methods). We even made sure there is a way to set up recurring carpools (just like our single rides,) and families can even drop out of a carpool date if they need to due to conflict. You no longer need to worry about the scheduling or the driving!
Beyond that, carpools are just your typical Zūm rides — great Zūm drivers, complete transparency and visibility and notifications throughout the ride. From my perspective, it has saved me so much time and lowered my stress about planning and getting my kids where they need to be. For my kids, they’re having a great time carpooling with their friends.
If you have carpools for school, practices, activities or anything, I hope you’ll try our new carpool feature, it will make your life so much easier.
The Unpaid Labor Gender Gap Isn’t Just a Third-World Problem
Most of us had never heard the term “time poverty,” until billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates recently shone a light on the problem in her foundation’s annual letter. But reading her first-hand observations of how families divide unpaid labor, coupled with stark statistics of how women carry so much more of the burden, I realized that “time poverty” is simply a new name for a very old problem.
Worldwide, there is a significant gap between the amount of unpaid labor performed by women compared to that performed by men. Gates defines “unpaid labor” simply:
“Unpaid work is what it says it is: It’s work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. But every society needs it to function.”
Cleaning, food shopping, childcare, cooking, and eldercare are all tasks that aren’t going away — but unfortunately the gender imbalance in who performs them doesn’t seem to be going away either.
The problem of time poverty is not only one of fairness, or lack of leisure time, but of a large-scale opportunity cost to communities and the global economy. When women’s days are filled with unpaid labor, they find it difficult to learn new skills, advance in a job, or invent something new. Economist Rania Antonopoulos has argued that the gender gap in unpaid labor holds back economies (and societies) from reaching their full potential.
If women in the poorest countries were able to spend more time earning money for their families instead of working for free, that would have a powerful impact on their local economy. The same is true for the “overeducated” mom with a PhD, whose time may be better spent doing research and teaching than fishing socks out of the dryer.
Innovating Our Way to Equality
Despite the statistics, Melinda Gates is optimistic. She sees the time poverty problem as a consequence of persistent social norms, not a global conspiracy against women. She points out that technology may present an opportunity to short-circuit this stubborn cultural pattern:
“The solution is innovation, and you can help. Some of you will become engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and software developers. I invite you to take on the challenge of serving the poor with cheap, clean energy, better roads, and running water. Or maybe you can invent ingenious labor-saving technologies.”
The key to solving the time poverty problem may indeed be to shift some of the burden of unpaid labor onto technology, freeing up more time and energy for paid work, or at least giving us back a few hours a day to spend as we please. Technical innovation can also be used to connect women to each other, in ways that weren’t possible before the App Store and geolocation. When women who are starved for time can call on the services of women who need to earn extra money, we will all reap more rewards from our labor.
For many of us, there comes a point in our lives when holding down a 9–5 (or longer) job becomes impossible. Whether it’s because we have kids or aging parents who need our help, or we want to pursue a passion that doesn’t pay the bills (yet), at one point or another it makes sense to find work that has flexible hours and/or work-at-home options.
Unfortunately, this often means making a compromise: taking work that is lower paid, or beneath your skill set or level of education. (This point was driven home to me recently when my checkout guy at Trader Joe’s told me he was a PhD candidate in math). Those trade-offs are particularly hard-felt by older workers who may have decades of experience in their field, but need to augment up their retirement income with extra work.
Part-time work is on the rise
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data (January 2016) shows that 18.2% of employed workers are part-timers. That percentage doesn’t even include independent workers in the burgeoning “gig economy,” or self-employed independent contractors who work part-time. The percentage of workers that work part-time shot up in 2010 during the Great Recession, but the ratio of part-time to full-time work has continued to rise, despite the economic recovery.
As our economy becomes more service-oriented, and so many traditional job functions become automated, the trend toward part-time work and multiple “gigs” will continue to grow. But there is no reason why part-time work should equal less-valuable work, or why making meaningful contributions to an organization must entail sitting at a desk for 40–60 hours per week.
A “gig” with purpose?
When we started Zum, an on-demand ride service for kids, we knew that our success would depend on finding exceptionally responsible, professional, and personable drivers to work with the busy families who entrusted us with their children. That meant going way above and beyond the standard screening and interview procedures to find the highest quality candidates. This would be a two-way street, though. In order to hire great caregivers, we would offer above-average pay, flexibility, and control over one’s schedule. More than that, we would give our drivers (“Zumers”) the chance to forge meaningful relationships with clients, by assigning them to a consistent group of families.
We hypothesized that there were high-quality candidates out there, who were holding out for opportunities that would give them flexibility, better pay and a sense of purpose. But we’ve truly been overwhelmed by the number of amazing Zumers who have helped us grow from 10 to 100 providers in only six months. Our team of Zumers includes teachers, nurses, stay-at-home moms, grad students, and even part-time professionals.
One Zumer, Naira, appreciates the flexibility and also the opportunity to grow:
“Zum lets me choose my hours and has also given me a growth path to work on recruiting and training other Zumers.”
The same feedback loop that keeps our quality standards high also brings a sense of fulfillment to Zumers — many report that when they receive positive feedback from clients, it lifts their spirits and boosts their confidence in their other endeavors.
The “gig economy” is likely here to stay — but that doesn’t have to mean that work has to become impersonal and commoditized. After all, technology is most successful when it connects people to create value that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Workers who need flexibility are a rich, largely untapped resource, and employers would be foolish to marginalize them with low pay and shoddy benefits. They are also valuable members of our communities, which are strengthened when we’re all able to find fulfilling and respected work.
A few months ago a friend of mine invited me to an after-work meeting of working mothers in Palo Alto, “but there are some ground rules,” she warned. My friend, a top lawyer at Google, was not one to mince words. “It’s not a forum for networking, talking about your kids, complaining about your husband, or crying on each other’s shoulders. We get together to talk about the challenges of being working mothers in tech.”
Being a startup founder myself and the mother of 2 kids, I was eager to meet these women and appreciated the no-nonsense approach. After a glass of wine and snacks, we gathered in a large circle and introduced ourselves. The moderator asked us to describe our “current state of mind” as we went around the room. All of the women held management positions at Google, Facebook, Dropbox, and myriad high-growth startups. And their state of mind? “Overwhelmed.” “Stressed.” “Exhausted.”
These women were being stretched to the limit, but their concerns were a far cry from the working mom headlines we’ve become used to from parenting magazines. Not a single woman at this meeting questioned their decision to have a career, or to have kids, or claimed to feel guilty toward their families, or even expressed concern about their earnings. What these women were lacking was time — time to simply get through the logistics of each day when meetings run late, kids need to be ferried to activities, and dinner must magically appear on the table. Many complained they didn’t even have the time to do the research and interviewing to get the help they need.
Most children today are growing up in dual-income households where the chief resource constraint is time.
This was a highly educated group of women in Silicon Valley, but their experience is representative of broader trends in American families. Fully 70% of mothers with children under the age of 18 work outside the home (Source: U.S. Dept of Labor, 2013). That percentage has essentially held steady for the last 15 years — it is the new reality, and is likely to rise as wages fail to keep up with increasing costs of living. So, most children today are growing up in dual-income households where the chief resource constraint is time.
In her bestselling book “Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time,” author Brigid Schulte identifies the number one challenge for working parents as finding uninterrupted blocks of work time, instead of the shreds of “time confetti” that leave us with a sense of having accomplished nothing at the end of the day.
Schulte, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the Washington Post, interviews psychologists, time management experts, statisticians, and anthropologists to try to get to the bottom of why modern-day parenting has become a race without a finish line. But it was one of her personal anecdotes that really resonated with me.
One afternoon Schulte was working under deadline for a story about a Somali war criminal. She was interrupted by a call from her babysitter, informing her at the last minute that she would not be able to pick her 3rd-grade daughter up from school and take her to her ballet class at 4:30. “Without giving it a second thought, I began making plans to take her myself,” Schulte recalls. After a traffic jam, rushed snack, and argument over her daughter’s hairstyle, this working mom’s day was reduced to time confetti, with a work deadline still looming over the dinner hour.
Does it have to be this way? All this young ballerina needed was a ride from school to her lesson. Was it really in the best interest of Schulte’s career, or of her family life, to drop what she was doing to shuttle her daughter across town? With stress levels running so high, it’s unlikely that the drive was quality mother-daughter time.
The next generation of caregiving solutions will blend far better vetting and quality controls than the traditional caregiver networks, with the convenience and on-demand efficiency of an Uber.
I often feel like each day begins as a house of cards — meticulously planned and constructed, but if one piece falls out of place, the whole thing comes crashing down. In talking to that group of mothers in Palo Alto, as well as my own friends and extended family, I’ve discovered that what many working parents need is a Plan B and C for childcare, so when Plan A inevitably falls through every so often (after all, caregivers have complicated lives too), parents don’t need to risk their jobs to step in at the last minute.
Very few of us have the extended family networks of days gone by, and carpooling is fraught with conflicting schedules and being obliged to return the favor. What if technology could help working parents access a trusted network of caregivers, to guarantee that their kids get picked up on schedule, and ensure that their work time wouldn’t be interrupted? Internet companies like Care.com have been successfully matching parents and caregivers for years, but families with older kids might not need a dedicated sitter anymore.
The next generation of caregiving solutions will blend far better vetting and quality controls than the traditional caregiver networks, with the convenience and on-demand efficiency of an Uber. And since they will need to build trust with busy families, they will provide personalization, continuity, and consistency that families and kids expect.
Tackling the problems that face working parents will take a combination of societal change, better corporate policies, and political action, but many of us can’t wait for those slow-moving processes to yield results. In the meantime, thoughtful tech solutions may help solve some of the day-to-day logistics of working and raising a family, so we can focus on work at work, and on our families at home.