How Do We Get Gen Z Fired Up About Care Advocacy?

I asked the childless 21-year old who can't stop talking about systemic problems facing moms.

How Do We Get Gen Z Fired Up About Care Advocacy?
Photo by Hannah Busing / Unsplash

When I look back at my 21-year-old self, it’s no exaggeration to say I was clueless about the issues caregivers face at work and in our society. Hell, even at 30 I had no idea how rampant anti-mom bias was. I was a hard-charging “all-in on ‘Lean In’” corporate feminist sure that my talent and drive meant that becoming a mom would never hold me back from my career ambitions. (Lol, jokes on me, I’ve never made as much money again as I did the year before my first son was born.) As I continue my quest to understand how we broaden the conversation about care, I decided to interview Lola McAllister, a 21 year-old second year student at Stanford and the co-founder of Project Matriarchs. Lola and her co-founder Pilar McDonald decided to take the 2020-2021 school year off from college to start the organization. Its goal was to provide meaningful virtual childcare support and tutoring in response to the reality of mothers facing the brunt of caregiving responsibilities and being forced out of the paid workforce. The idea for the project came from following the news. “We're reading all these articles that included projections and trends of women leaving the workforce,” explains Lola. “We started talking about it, and I kept thinking, ‘It’s 2020. We're just expecting the women in heterosexual relationships are just going to have to drop everything? I grew up with two moms, so I was pretty baffled. I was like, are you kidding? Like, are heterosexual relationships still that sexist?” So that's where our work started, with personal outrage. We are growing into adult womanhood, entering our careers and thinking ‘we do not want to inherit this norm.’”

So Lola and Pilar started interviewing employed moms and hearing the stories of what they were going through, and it had a big emotional impact on both of them. “People would just be on the verge of tears saying they felt completely alone. But then we were having all these parallel conversations – people were having very similar experiences, but they felt isolated. These conversations were really upsetting and kind of devastating, like the magnitude of pain that people were expressing to me and Pilar. Talking with women we realized, ‘Oh my God, this is a really systemic issue. And why do we not have policies in place?’”

"I kept thinking, ‘It’s 2020. We're just expecting the women in heterosexual relationships are just going to have to drop everything? I grew up with two moms, so I was pretty baffled. I was like, are you kidding? Like, are heterosexual relationships still that sexist?”

Good question, Lola, good question. In a whirlwind of energy to find some meaningful way to address the problems they were hearing about, Project Matriarchs was born. The service is really cool – through fundraising and donations they were able to hire college students and pay them $15 an hour to meet online with kids who needed homework help, virtual school support, or just to give caregivers a break with some extra interaction for kids. They were able to offer this service on a sliding scale, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Since fall 2020, they’ve worked with around 400 families – an amazing pandemic gap year contribution if you ask me.

What I like about Project Matriarchs and its founders is their ability to put together a direct service initiative but also keep an eye towards organizing for systemic change. As the demand for virtual tutoring decreases, they have evolved their efforts into a project called “Pledge to Care.” It’s an initative to build a social movement “to bring Gen Z’s energy and organizing power behind care......Pledge to Care is a tool to build generational consensus about the support we believe caregivers should receive from their employers.”

 The pledge includes extensive demands, including tracking caregiver status, offering paid leave to all employees, including low wage workers, supporting and subsidizing childcare and demanding employers lobby for systemic policy solutions for caregivers. Lola describes it as “an expression of the most progressive care-related corporate policies we could find.”

To me, the Pledge to Care feels like an exciting provocation – a way to signal to corporations that the generational tide is moving towards a new paradigm for care, so it’s past time to get on board – and it’s not just moms back from maternity leave who are “whining” about this. 

Since we don’t typically hear a lot about Gen Z taking on care advocacy, I asked Lola how her peers react to her passion for the issue.

“I do think people initially are confused, and are sort of like, ‘why are you talking so much about Moms and caregiving stuff?’ And we're like, ‘Why are you NOT talking about moms?’”

Lola and Pilar were able to engage a group of 30 interns this summer very quickly on why this issue was so important. “Once people started to grasp, ‘Other countries have XYZ policies that the US doesn't have and that's completely bizarre.’ Or ‘WHAT is the average length of leave that a woman has access to in the US?!?’ It doesn't take much for people to start to understand this as a systemic social justice issue, especially as it relates to issues like gender equity and racial justice. An identity as a caregiver intersects with other identities in ways that compounds privilege and disadvantage. I think it’s a compelling way to get our generation specifically activated around this stuff – connecting it to other justice-related movements that our generation is already super behind.”

Two things really stuck out to me in my conversation with Lola was how through direct engagement and conversations, she’s been able to get some of her Gen Z cohort on board with the idea of care policies as connected to other social justice movements. Perhaps many young people having more limited experiences with extensive caregiving but lots of exposure to ideas of social justice gives them a more fresh-eyed perspective on the inequities, rather than having been indoctrinated into a worldview that sees caregiving as a result of “personal choice and personal responsibility.” Perhaps people who are not “in it” can more clearly see the need for massive systemic and policy overhauls. 

I also love how hearing direct personal stories from moms really drove home for Pilar and Lola what a horrible situation so many caregivers found themselves in in 2020, and listening to those stories is really what really spurred them to action. Last week’s newsletter on how you get childless men to care about care also highlighted how impactful stories are on getting non-moms interested in this issue. Are you sensing a theme here?? Stories matter. We need to share our stories one-on-one with people in our lives and on whatever other outlets and platforms we have. Hiding caregiving realities isn’t helping the movement.

 All of this focus on the power of learning about systemic care problems and sharing stories has gotten me thinking. What if there was some kind of “understanding care” curriculum to help people who aren’t living these realities daily understand what moms especially are going through on a personal level? What if it also helped put the 2022 care realities it into larger social, political and economic context? If you have ideas for articles, videos, podcast episodes, or specific book chapters that could be a part of this initiative, send them my way. I’m thinking seriously about what a “care curriculum” might look like, especially aimed at people in power. 



What I’m Watching:
 Thanks Double Shift member Meaghan for suggesting I check out Minx on HBO Max, about an idealistic woman in the 1970s trying to pursue a groundbreaking feminist magazine...... the first episode... it me. I even went to the same college as the protagonist. 

 Interested in making your job or job offer better? Click here to see a list of 75 things women can and have successfully negotiated from Kathryn Valentine. Turns out a lot of negotiation advice is by and for men, and doesn’t take gender dynamics into play. I LOVE her stuff. Sign up for her tipsheet, and she will send you free resources each month, including an online course, word-for-word scripts on HOW to ask, and templates you can use to negotiate anything from a raise to a sabbatical to more resources.                                                  

BTW: We are ramping up our members-only hangouts, the best place to meet like-minded moms who refuse to accept the status quo, IN PERSON at outdoor venues, while keeping up monthly zoom hangouts attended by members worldwide.

Our Durham in-person member hangout (photo below) at Queeny's was big fun. We laughed, we drank, we made new friends, we ate french fries, we stayed out past our bedtimes, we made plans to stay in touch and see each other at the community center pool. I want to do it again in the fall, triangle peeps!


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