Child Care at Events
As events transition to more inclusive and human-centric experiences, are the littlest humans included in this new approach?
GitHub Universe is an event known for its inclusivity. It provides attendees with a quiet room for meditation or prayer, gender-neutral bathrooms, closed captioning for all talks, variety of meal options (including vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free), and the venue is ADA compliant while service and therapy dogs are supplied with fresh water and treats.
Yet, one of its most radical offerings is to provide a dedicated space for child care and child play areas and a room for nursing mothers.
If it seems surprising that child care at events remains a fringe benefit in 2020, it really shouldn’t. After all, only four years ago, an attendee was kicked out TEDWomen 2016 (a conference created to champion working women) because she brought her three-month-old baby (girl) to the event.
TEDWomen 2016 had a strict no-children policy. As did TEDWomen 2015, when KIVA co-founder Jessica Jackley was barred from a viewing area because she brought her five-month-old. There is no question that the conference was within its rights to enforce its policies (reportedly, there were complaints about the three-month-old). At least the 2016 conference provided some options for recent mothers, such as a lactation room, a coupon for discounted breast milk shipping, referrals to three local nanny agencies, and a free pass to the TEDWomen talks archive for caregivers.
It did not, however, offer child care. There was a talk from a lactation researcher on the lack of corporate support for working mothers. It’s unknown how many working mothers missed the opportunity to hear her speech because of the lack of child care.
Look, babies can be loud and annoying and children even more so – especially in a group (yes, I’m a parent and well aware that every additional child adds an exponential level of chaos). Nobody wants to pay thousands of dollars to attend a professional conference that’s interrupted by a group of screaming kids or where a baby cries in their ear the entire time. However, there is a happy medium, and it’s an obvious one: child care.
Benefits of Child Care at Events
Providing child care at events isn’t just a boon for working parents; it is also a benefit for the event by potentially increasing attendance. For example, KDD, a data science conference, began offering child care for its 2019 event. The growth in attendance was apparent immediately. The total number of women who attended the 2019 event was 851, which was 28 percent of the conference attendees – an increase from 23 percent the previous year.
Child care helps ensure that a more diverse audience attends events. It provides those with less access to economic and social support, such as single parents, an opportunity to participate.
It is hard to estimate the overall improvement in diversity that offering child care brings to an event because most events don’t know the impact of not having it. What is known is that several working parents decide not to attend an event due to a lack of child care. For exhibitors and sponsors, this means that valuable leads are sitting at home eating ice cream instead of networking. For event planners, it means that attendance is lower than it could be. For the absent attendees, it means they are missing out on valuable educational and career-building opportunities.
Organizing Child Care for an Event
There are two main fears that event planners have when it comes to child care: cost and logistics.
When it comes to cost, providing child care makes a relatively minimal impact on an event budget, especially when compared to some event costs like speaker fees and catering. However, there is a cost, which means that providing child care is another line item on a spreadsheet. There are three methods to offset this cost of child care:
1. Include the cost in the ticket price. Once you know the total amount for child care, divide that total by the number of tickets you expect to sell (be sure to include a slight buffer). Then bump admission costs by that amount.
2. Charge a separate fee to those who use the child care. This option may discourage some attendees (who could see it as another barrier to attendance), but it is better than not providing child care.
3. Find a company to sponsor the child care. Businesses and organizations are always willing to support causes that line up with their principles and those of their consumers. Likely, it will not be too difficult to find an organization that is willing to help supply child care to your event. There’s significant potential for lead generation with this type of sponsorship.
As to the logistics involved in providing child care, there are some issues to consider. Even events that have a history with providing child care encounter issues. For example, KDD 2020 is once again going to offer child care to its attendees. However, even though the event takes place in San Diego, where the weather is likely to be beautiful, event organizers are not sure if the children will be able to play outside due to regulations and safety concerns.
Several services specialize in providing event childcare. These organizations will help event planners navigate some of the trickier aspects of providing child care, such as securing insurance, awareness of food allergies, providing for special needs, understanding the diverse requirements of different-age kids, and keeping children safe.
The first step in arranging child care for an event is to get organizational approval. It’s possible that child care has not been an issue for professional conferences because it has not been a concern for many corporations. That is beginning to change, which means that the decision-makers for your event may be ready to consider the benefits of child care.
The next move is to reach out to a variety of past and potential attendees to see what level of child care they might need. It doesn’t make sense to prepare for three-year-olds if your attendees primarily have children in grade school. Find out what they wish to see from event child care. You can’t expect people to toss their kids into a bare conference room for several hours. Just as you create an experience for attendees, you also need to have experiences for their children.
Before committing to child care, be sure to check with your venue. You’ll need to determine if there is a suitable spot for the child care. It must be close enough to the main event so the children are safe and the parents are comfortable, but not interfere with the event action. Venue management may have some beneficial suggestions regarding child care. Also, the venue may require additional insurance or certifications for onsite childcare.
Providing child care at an event is extremely beneficial for both working parents and the event itself. However, it must be done thoughtfully. Child care should feel integral to the event and not like an afterthought. It also cannot disrupt the experience of someone for whom child care is not an issue. Ultimately, the choice to provide child care is another step toward a more considerate and inclusive event environment.