Pet lovers surely rejoiced when Facebook revealed that the new $120 million, 394-unit housing compound being built near its offices in Menlo Park, Calif., will be tricked out with sweet amenities including doggy day care. “One of Facebook’s corporate goals is to take care of as many aspects of its employees’ lives as possible,” reports the Wall Street Journal.Facebook and Northern California residential real estate developer St. Anton Partners are developing the housing complex, which will reportedly include a sports bar, laundry and dry cleaning facilities, hairstylists, woodworking classes, and a place to get your bike fixed. What there won’t be is day care for human children.
Finding affordable, convenient, quality child care is the biggest challenge for working parents in the U.S., men and women alike. As Jonathan Cohn recently pointed out in a New Republic piece called “The Hell of American Day Care“: “About 8.2 million kids—about 40 percent of children under five—spend at least part of their week in the care of somebody other than a parent.” Parents with the means can usually find acceptable options if they’re willing to pay for them, but the majority are left with substandard facilities to choose from—if there are any at all—and even those can be cripplingly expensive. Cohn calls the system “Dickensian.”
Some big technology companies have discovered the benefits of offering child care to employees—Google, famously, has one of the best on-site programs around, although it came in for some criticism when the company had to raise the prices it charges a few years ago. It helps employees work smarter and more efficiently, and it’s likely to keep working parents, especially women, in their jobs after they have children rather than forcing them to drop out, which can have devastating financial (not to mention psychological) consequences. Facebook does offer above-average benefits for working parents, including a subsidy for child-care costs and four months’ parental leave for both mothers and fathers. But there is no full-time day care for employees.
Facebook considers itself a leader for women in tech, so this omission seems strange. The company is, after all, the birthplace of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement, which has galvanized women from Indiana to Beijing to try to be more ambitious in their careers. One of the biggest criticisms Sandberg has faced in her role as an evangelist for working women is the assertion that she is too wealthy to be able to relate to the pressures of working mortals—the kind who struggle to find and pay for high-quality, convenient child-care options. It’s possible, of course, that most of Facebook’s employees are young enough that the benefits the company does offer seem like they’ll suffice.
That may change by the time Facebook builds its official residential campus in 2015, for which the amenities are not yet planned. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of married-couple families in which both parents were working in 2012 was 59 percent, and subsidies, while beyond what many working parents receive from their employers, are not the same as subsidized on-site child care. Facebook trumpets its efforts to attract and retain female employees and takes pride in its reputation for meeting workers’ social and personal needs in addition to their professional ones. Hopefully the company will include human children in its plans the next time around.