Skip to content

Five reasons why if you're in business, unpaid work matters


Unpaid work is what keeps families and communities running. Women shoulder the burden unfairly – and as our new publication with Oxfam shows, this matters to business. We're inviting our peers and partners to share our insights – and calling for global action.

Mother and son hugging

You probably don't need telling what unpaid care work is because you're already doing it. And if you're a woman, you're statistically likely to be doing more of it.

From raising children to caring for disabled and elderly family members, from keeping homes clean and safe to putting meals on the table – unpaid or domestic work is what keeps the world together. And on average, women do more than three times the unpaid care work done by men, rising to more than five times in poor rural areas.

A barrier to equality – but an opportunity for change

This disproportion has a huge impact, economically, politically and socially. It can prevent women and girls from enjoying their rights on an equal basis with men and reduces their earning power. It is a major barrier to equality – and it is bad for men and boys too, as stereotypes can mean they miss out on the benefits of caregiving.

But the business aspects are less well known. As a result of our pioneering WE-Care partnership with Oxfam, we've published a joint business briefing that explores the way that individual businesses could benefit beyond the US$28 trillion that could be unlocked globally by 2025 by women's equal participation in the economy, as the McKinsey Global Institute estimates. If you're in business, this briefing is meant for you.

Feature image - Five reasons why if you're in business, unpaid work matters - Winnie Byanyima
In countries rich and poor, women – and often girls – are unfairly made to shoulder an unequal and excessive amount of unpaid care. The time and energy required for care limit women’s opportunities to earn an income, develop personally and thrive professionally. Excessive unpaid care work is stubbornly holding back women’s and girls’ empowerment. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International

Commit, act and advocate

When you look at the briefing, you'll see that we're calling on businesses to commit, act and advocate on the issue of addressing unpaid care work.

You'll also see the detailed insights and lessons that, jointly with Oxfam, we've put together to help you, and some of the business reasons that go along with doing the right thing on equality. Here's a taste of the lessons and five reasons why you should be part of this movement:

1. Talent acquisition and retention

Businesses with policies such as paid parental/family leave or flexible work arrangements enable employees to manage unpaid family and household care responsibilities and find it easier to attract and retain workers.

In a 2016 Deloitte study of employed American adults, 77% of workers said that paid family leave could sway their choice of employer.

2. Productivity and employee engagement

Employers who take a holistic view of workers’ lives, including their caregiving and household responsibilities, and who help tackle the conditions that cause employee distraction, fatigue and absenteeism, can improve workforce performance and engagement.

For example, in a 2016 EY study of more than 1,500 US employers, 70% of those offering improved leave policies reported an increase in worker productivity.

3. Supply chain resilience and diversity

Businesses who encourage employers in their supply chain to tackle the issue of unpaid care work can help build stable and diverse sources of supply, contributing to their ability to mitigate risk and serve customer needs.

4. Revenue and business growth

Businesses have an opportunity to increase their revenues and differentiate their brands by developing products and services that save time and labor in the home and help to reduce the amount of unpaid care work that needs to be done domestically.

5. Customer acquisition and loyalty

Businesses who sell consumer goods and services can differentiate their brands, win new customers and cement customer loyalty by challenging the dynamics that underpin unequal unpaid care work, such as gender stereotypes in advertising.

Our research shows that progressive advertising is 25% more impactful with consumers, drives purchase intent by 18% and improves credibility by 21%.

Father with a baby
I urge my fellow business leaders to commit, to act and to advocate on unpaid care and domestic work. Together, our actions can have a bigger impact in addressing the inequities of unpaid care work, enabling us to accelerate gender equality and the overall growth of the economy. Leena Nair, Chief HR Officer, Unilever
Back to top