scorecardWhen I worked at Uber it was painfully obvious that too many of our women employees had to quit to raise kids. I started a childcare insurance company to fix that.
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When I worked at Uber it was painfully obvious that too many of our women employees had to quit to raise kids. I started a childcare insurance company to fix that.

Lakshmi Varanasi   

When I worked at Uber it was painfully obvious that too many of our women employees had to quit to raise kids. I started a childcare insurance company to fix that.
Tech3 min read
  • Siran Cao is the co-founder of Mirza, a platform for employer-sponsored childcare insurance.
  • She witnessed the struggles of working parents firsthand as head of partner support at Uber.

This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Siran Cao, the co-founder Mirza. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I was eight, my family moved from Singapore to the US — Pittsburgh to be exact. We had made the trip in search of better job opportunities for my father, a nuclear engineer.

Three years later, he left us.

Suddenly the responsibility of our two-person household fell on my mother. She had studied biochemistry in China, but in America, her Chinese degree wasn't recognized.

So, she began retraining at night to become an accountant while working a day job. And I became a latchkey kid.

I never even realized how little money we had, because somehow, I always had enough to pay for school lunch. My mom could work magic in that way.

A few years later, I ended up at Harvard majoring in gender studies. (That didn't sit well with my immigrant mother, by the way.) I had a vision of working toward bettering the financial health of women. I thought about working in public policy or maybe running a nonprofit. I wanted to make an impact.

But life happens, plans change, and eventually, I landed at Uber. This was 2015, a few years after the company launched in New York. I was tasked with building out the driver network in the city.

My mandate was to onboard tens of thousands of drivers really, really, quickly. I personally interviewed, hired, and on-boarded the first hundred people on my team. Eventually, I was managing a 200-person team doing this work.


A crucial component of my team were the support workers on the front lines. They were hourly workers who helped onboard new Uber drivers. Almost 80% were women — many of them were single mothers and women of color.

Even at a well-funded tech company like Uber, though, what struck me was how childcare became a daily operational disruption.

Our ability to grow our supply of drivers really hinged on the support workers. Yet we often had employees that needed to cancel a shift or couldn't take on an extra one because they didn't have proper childcare.

Many of those women had joined Uber in hopes of riding its initial wave of hypergrowth, but not all of them could grow with the company. We did try to schedule shifts around school pick-up and drop-off time to accommodate this.

Still, many were worried about taking promotions for fear of losing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Others would take out loans to pay for childcare. Some simply dropped out of the workforce because they couldn't make ends meet.

Both the company's growth and its employees' growth was constrained, in part, by caregiving.

That was really the "A-ha" moment for me in realizing we need a technologically driven solution for childcare. As an employer, I saw a clear incentive not to miss out on revenue bringing drivers on board. As a human, I didn't want to see women defaulting to loans or dropping out of the workforce entirely.

The data shows that women who take just one a year off earn 39% less overall than women who don't.

I'm trying to change that with the company I co-founded, Mirza. It's a software platform for employer-sponsored childcare and caregiver insurance.

The platform is really geared towards helping frontline workers — baristas, nurses, teachers, retail floor workers— anyone for whom remote work is not an option.

Our goal, however, is twofold. First, we're trying to show frontline workers why staying in the workforce — even when there's an initial pain period — will ultimately pay off in the long term. Secondly, we're helping employers provide childcare subsidies for their employees and earn tax credits.

Here's our demo video:

Our platform calculates personalized childcare subsidies based on employee income, location, and specific financial needs for the employer. For the employee, we contextualize the value of this subsidy by comparing the cost of time out of the workforce with how the subsidy helps them stay at work. Thirdly, we've partnered with childcare providers that employees can use. We run payments for any existing childcare setup and handle the administrative work for tax efficiency, too.

What I've realized over the years is that caregiving has long been dismissed as valuable work. To a large extent, that's because it often falls on the shoulders of women.

While women continue to quietly bear the bulk of this work, I don't believe this is solely women's issue.

My mission is to put real economic significance, a dollar value, and dignity behind the work of raising the next generation.




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