Nov. 15, 2021

15. Housekeeping and other dirty secrets


Here's today's listener letter:

One thing I realized pretty quickly during the pandemic is how much I was relying on my housekeeper and my kid's nanny. It has left me feeling a little uneasy about that, especially as I learn more about inequality in our country.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are probably many more than the recorded 2M domestic workers, 90% are women, more than half are Black, Hispanic, AAPI and they are 3x more likely to live in poverty compared to other workers. They are also explicitly excluded from labor protection laws as a concession to Southern lawmakers.

 Clearly, institutional changes are necessary, but in the meantime, I want to encourage you to think about reducing the inequality in your home.

Today's episode is about exactly that- tangible and intangible suggestions to consider.

If you have experience as an employee or an employer in this situation, would love to hear your tips as well! 

Link to the epi.org domestic worker chartbook https://www.epi.org/publication/domestic-workers-chartbook-a-comprehensive-look-at-the-demographics-wages-benefits-and-poverty-rates-of-the-professionals-who-care-for-our-family-members-and-clean-our-homes/

To submit your letter to the show, email spenddonateinvest@gmail.com

To support the show visit buymeacoffee.com/spenddonate

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Transcript

Today's letter is about employing household staff. Here's the letter:

One thing I realized pretty quickly during the pandemic is how much I was relying on my housekeeper and my kid's nanny. It has left me feeling a little uneasy about that, especially as I learn more about inequality in our country.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, there are probably many more than the recorded 2M domestic workers, 90% are women, more than half are Black, Hispanic, AAPI and they are 3x more likely to live in poverty compared to other workers. They are also explicitly excluded from labor protection laws as a concession to Southern lawmakers.

I’ve read that women are more likely to report feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the dynamics of paying someone to help to manage the household, not that they don’t feel they need the help, but they report feeling some uneasiness with the power imbalances and dynamics in many situations. If you’ve ever taken a walk in certain neighborhoods in DC or NYC and I’m sure other cities, you will frequently see that in many wealthy neighborhoods, the racial diversity goes way up during the daytime when all of the maintenance and facility workers and the trash collectors and the street cleaners and the lawn service teams and the housekeepers and the painters and construction workers and basically all of the people that it takes to create a functioning neighborhood are around. You’ll often also see Black women, often Caribbean women pushing white babies in strollers.

I used to hear this old saying back in the day that behind every great man, there is a strong woman or something to that effect. The idea was that these men who have invented things and built companies or led movements were able to do so because of the women who often provided wise council, a thought partner, and often, managed the household and raised the children so that the man was free to go out into society without the “distraction” of knowing anything about how he is clothed, fed, suitcases are packed, logistics of his life are arranged, and kids are being raised. 

As women entered the workforce, and I’m talking about the American context here, at some point, among the wealthy, it became common to hire people, often women, to take over the housekeeping and child rearing. Of course, this isn’t the first time this was done in the US, there are literally hundreds of years in which African women who had been kidnapped and enslaved were forced to take care of the children of white families. These women did everything from breastfeeding the white children to feeding, bathing, clothing, and comforting them.

You mentioned feeling uneasy about the inequality in our country. I want to encourage you to think about reducing the inequality in your home.

How you feel about someone, whether you respect them or not, is going to show up in every interaction you have with them. So I want to encourage you to start with your mindset. Do you respect the person you have hired? Do you respect the job that you have given them? Do you think that anyone could do it and that you just need another pair of hands or do you respect it as an actual skill, expertise, and profession? Do you recognize, in the deepest part of your mind, that this professional allows your family to function better than it would without that professional’s contributions? Let’s start there. If you see housekeeping as being a task that is beneath you, that is absolutely going to show up in how you interact with the housekeeper that you’ve hired to work in your home. She's not an extra pair of hands, she's a skilled worker 

While we’re on the topic, your mindset is also going to affect how you speak to your children about the professionals you have hired to work in your home.

Race, ethnicity, immigration status came up earlier. Take a moment and think about whether the only people of color your child interacts with are service providers. All of this is going to contribute to a more equitable working environment for your providers.

Those are some of the intangibles to consider. Let’s also think about the tangibles.

When you are initially negotiating terms with a housekeeper or nanny or someone else that will primarily work in your home, try to have the negotiation at a neutral location that is not your home. Meet them halfway between your neighborhood and theirs. ESPECIALLY if this person is going to be a live-in employee. We’re trying to chip away at the power imbalance in this negotiation.

When thinking about the person’s compensation, do include paid time off for holidays, vacations, and sick leave. And pay well. Don’t nickel and dime a vulnerable person.

Ask what her goals are, if she wants a growing scope of duties in the future.

So those are some considerations of being a better employer to your household staff. This is far from complete. There are also some other ideas to consider.

When you hire someone, ask their love languages for work. For some employees that will be gifts, words of affirmation, it is important to understand how they like to be recognized for doing good work.

Show appreciation genuinely and frequently. Verbally recognize her contribution to the family's well-being in her presence. If you have children, make sure your children are expressing their gratitude genuinely and frequently. She is a skilled worker; talk about her work as such. She is a professional.

Remember her birthday, religious or cultural holidays she may celebrate, family milestones.

Set aside money for emergencies. It has always been true that for the vast majority of people in our country, they would not have enough money to meet an unexpected thousand dollar crisis, like a medical expense or a car repair. Often these emergencies will snowball. A car accident can lead to medical expenses, car repairs, lost wages, and so you might consider setting aside some amount of money each year so that if your staff has a personal emergency, you can help, whether with a gift or a loan. Setting aside that money can also give you the mental peace of having already decided on a cap for the amount of money you’re willing to contribute towards emergencies that may pop up.

Give raises.

Give bonuses.

Give tips.

Give well chosen gifts that suit her.

If it makes sense in your situation, give her an allowance to buy something to wear while she works.

And if you have experience as an employee or an employer in this situation, would love to hear your tips as well! This is just a way to start your own brainstorming!

Link to the epi.org domestic worker chartbook https://www.epi.org/publication/domestic-workers-chartbook-a-comprehensive-look-at-the-demographics-wages-benefits-and-poverty-rates-of-the-professionals-who-care-for-our-family-members-and-clean-our-homes/

To submit your letter to the show, email spenddonateinvest@gmail.com

To support the show visit buymeacoffee.com/spenddonate