Bangladesh’s rising GDP/capita and a young population have been a beacon of hope over the last decade.  However, high rates of youth unemployment and disproportionately high female unemployment rates may dampen the optimism of economic progress. In Bangladesh, the male labor force participation rate (LFPR) was 80% while the female LFPR was 36% in 2017. The national unemployment rate for women is almost twice the rate of men. Although the gap between the unemployment rates of men and women has decreased over the last five years, it is still significantly large.  The burden of unpaid domestic chores, especially childcare, is disproportionately borne by women and maybe obstruct the closure of the gender employment gap. According to a recent study done in Bangladesh by the World Bank, women spend almost 8X more time than men on childcare. 
Provision of quality childcare by employers and the state can be a possible mitigation to low female labor force participation rates and high unemployment rates. International Finance Corporation (IFC) —a sister organization of the World Bank and a member of the World Bank Group—has launched the global Tackling Childcare project to investigate the benefits and challenges of employer-supported childcare. Tackling Childcare has been launched in 20+ countries and was launched in Bangladesh in April 2019. LightCastle Partners was hired as the local research partner for the initiative.
LightCastle Partners investigated the status of employer-supported childcare using a multi-dimensional qualitative and quantitative approach. 306 Dhaka-based employers were rigorously interviewed using anonymous surveys to generate an exhaustive picture of childcare provision by employers in the country. Employers were asked about their childcare provision systems, understanding of employee needs, obstacles to providing childcare, and effects of the childcare requirement in the Bangladesh Labor Act of 2006.  LightCastle also conducted in-depth Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with 75+ employees to gain a deeper understanding of employee needs, which are not necessarily captured in workplace surveys.
Data from both employers and employees were analyzed to assess the status, benefits, and challenges of employer-supported childcare in Bangladesh. The analyses reveal that 23% or 68 of 306 employers are providing childcare, 16% or 51 of 306 employers are planning to provide childcare and 61% or 187 of 306 are not planning to provide childcare. Employers providing childcare reported positive impacts of childcare on 8 key business indicators such as organizational profitability, productivity, morale, talent acquisition, employee retention, etc. demonstrating a clear business case.
Employers planning to or not planning to provide childcare identified the cost of constructing infrastructure, understanding guidelines on daycare standards, identifying daycare providers, and low employee need for childcare as key obstacles. Furthermore, the project identified a clear mismatch between perceived and actual employees’ needs and demand for childcare. Employees demonstrated a clear demand for employer-supported childcare during FGDs, although the demand differed according to the socio-economic status of families. Blue-collar workers demanded basic services such as nutritious meals, early childhood education, etc. at low-/free-of-cost. White-collar workers were willing to pay a higher price for sophisticated services, e.g., customized early childhood education.
LightCastle Partners used rigorous analyses of employer data and qualitative employee insights to build a complete picture of the childcare provision in Bangladesh. The combination of qualitative and quantitative insights was presented to project partners for consultations. Project partners included early childhood education specialists, industry associations, development sector specialists, non-profits operating in low-income community childcare, etc.
Specialized recommendations were developed from these consultations for the public, private, and development sectors. The recommendations, keeping in line with the overall approach of the project, are multi-dimensional and encompass key aspects crucial for a family-friendly workforce. The recommendations are built off of the clear business case for providing childcare, and the suggested solutions stress the importance of not only integrating early childhood education in childcare provision but also building a system for training high-quality care providers. Involvement of multiple aspects such as public-private partnerships, certification of childcare providers, childcare monitoring system, implementation of a pilot phase, etc. makes the recommendations holistic and applicable in a diverse society as that of Bangladesh.
Results of the data analyses and the consequent recommendations were presented in a detailed policy brief which was launched by IFC and LightCastle on November 6, 2019. The launch included roundtable discussions regarding childcare provisions with key stakeholders from the public, private, and development sectors. The policy brief was very well-received and is available for download here.