The fact that the homecare industry, like other “care” industries, is largely made up of workers identifying as female is no surprise.
Women have historically filled the unpaid caregiving roles in a community, caring for children, elders and people with disabilities. It was a natural move for women to fill the increasing demand for skilled, paid caregivers, even if “paid” meant “not paid very much.” But, for the most part, leadership positions within the homecare industry have been filled by men that have never worked as caregivers. No so with homecare co-ops, where the leadership mirrors the workers.
Washington’s four homecare co-ops all have filled leadership positions with women directly from the homecare workforce. This is not to say that male-identified caregivers don’t have a place in homecare. In fact, male caregivers are needed in this work and are highly valued in creating the necessary diversity to meet a community’s care needs.
As is often the case, Circle of Life Caregivers Co-op, was started from necessity. A woman needed help taking care of her elderly father and she called out to other women for help. Today, this co-op is 11 years old, employs over 30 caregivers, and all but three identify as female. Leadership positions – Administrator, the Board Chair, Caregiver Coordinator, even the bookkeeper – are all held by women.
Penninsula Homecare Co-op, in Port Townsend, WA was founded by 5 women who were caregivers in their community. Together they recognized the need for a different kind of homecare agency– one that respected caregivers and the essential work they do; one that paid caregivers well; one that included caregivers in decision making and in shaping the culture of their workplace.
Administrator, Kris Buettner says, “It seems quite natural that our office team would be composed of a multi-generational team of women. Women throughout time have nurtured these cooperative values and our COL, home care cooperative is a perfect place to grow a wild and wonderful workplace.”
We celebrate our democratic workplace and strive to create win/win solutions for caregivers, our office team, and our clients. Board President, Julia Nelson, shares that sentiment:” We are all in this together, and I have never worked anywhere else that takes cooperation and community to heart in such a way that Circle of Life does.”
Founding member and Administrator, Kippi Waters, sees the worker co-op model as creating the right atmosphere where women can thrive in leadership. As Kippi says, “Worker owned businesses level the playing field for women. In a democratic workplace, societal norms of male dominance are not welcome. Women are natural leaders – intuitive, inclusive, and fair. These traits are encouraged in cooperative business settings.”
Capital Homecare began operations in March of 2019 after a couple years of planning and organizing. The co-op provides meaningful work to about a dozen caregivers and administrators and is planning to be the first Washington homecare co-op to begin accepting public pay clients (which requires three years of service before applying).
Just one year old, Ridgeline Homecare Co-op in Port Angeles, WA is currently an all-female identified staff. The co-op began during the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrating the courage and resiliency of their membership.
Reflecting on what it means to be a women-owned business, Clarissa Magdich, a caregiver and Board member at Capital Homecare Co-op, in Olympia, WA, said this:
“Our current Board is made up of women and non-binary people, and we often encourage each other to talk about how we’re doing as people. We make time to share in each meeting what we’re struggling with, what we’re excited about, and what we’ve found to be rewarding. Oftentimes, we share struggles and experiences believing we’re the only ones with them, only to find relief in knowing our fellow board members can easily relate. We end up bouncing ideas off of each other without fear of harsh criticism or overlook, are honest in our discussions about what works and what doesn’t, and find an option that meets our needs. Without that camaraderie between us, we would not be able to grow as a business or as people at the rate we are now. As a young woman, I feel incredibly lucky to have started my career in this co-op.”
Board President, Lily Athair, a caregiver and mother, appreciates the ways in which a women-led business honors family responsibilities and allows flexibility in the workplace. And she appreciates all the opportunities the co-op provides for caregivers to learn new skills – either in caregiving or in what it takes to govern the business – planning, budgeting, strategic planning, etc. “We are proud to be a women-owned business making it in the world.”