Apple's flashy new $5 billion campus, one of the last projects worked on by company co-founder Steve Jobs before his death, has custom-built door handles, thousands of trees and a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness facility that boasts a two-story yoga room covered in custom distressed stone.
What the campus doesn't have, though, is a day care center.
The question people in Silicon Valley are asking is: Should it?
"Huge gym but no day care. Apple campus gets it wrong," tweeted longtime tech executive Mitch Kapor, who invests in social impact tech startups through Kapor Capital and the Kapor Center for Social Impact. He declined to comment beyond his tweet but later posted an article about how his old company, Lotus Development Corp., opened a day care center at its offices in 1990.
Fellow Lotus pioneer and later Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie also tweeted the story about the Lotus day care and said, "As engineers w/young kids, this is why we loved tech culture c.1990. This is leadership."
Apple didn't respond to several requests for information about why it decided not to include a day care facility at the new Apple Park campus, which opened last month and will hold 12,000 employees, or about what child care benefits it currently offers employees. The company has said it provides backup care to help its workers if their child care (or elder care) providers are unexpectedly not available. But it's unclear if one of the world's best-known and most profitable brands, thanks to its iPhone and iPad, subsidizes regular child care costs.
Why is this even a topic of discussion? Because Apple and other tech companies have been working to diversify their workforce, which includes boosting the number of female employees. Under CEO Tim Cook's leadership, Apple has put itself at the front of social issues like LGBT rights, racial equality and the tech industry's need to improve workforce diversity.
Still, Apple's latest diversity report showed the percentage of women rose only one percentage point from the previous year, to 32 percent.
One way to attract women, say experts, is by being more accommodating to families. Apple has added benefits like extended maternity leave, an adoption reimbursement program and egg freezing -- just as other tech companies like Facebook and Intel do. But the lack of onsite day care puzzles some, who say it could restrain the advancement of women at Apple, or limit the number who stick with the company.
"At every stage in their careers, women do more housework and child care than men -- and there appears to be a link between the amount of work people do at home and their leadership ambition," according to a joint study conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co.
Apple has only one woman, retail chief Angela Ahrendts, among its top 11 executives, who meet with Cook each week to set the company's strategy and its product roadmap.
In the majority
Apple is far from alone when it comes to the day care issue. Only 2 percent of US employers offered subsidized child care centers -- either on the company's campus or nearby -- in 2016, down from 9 percent in 1996, according to an employee benefits survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Reasons often cited for not having on-campus child care include cost (not a factor for Apple, which has more than $250 billion in cash) and the complications of running a highly regulated facility. States have different rules about the number of caregivers required for a given number of children, and some employers worry about liability (note: operating an on-campus gym also comes with risks and liabilities, so this is a concern that can be overcome).
Some also worry that parents will be easily distracted if their kids are so nearby.
Samsung didn't have a child care center when it opened its 1.1-million-square-foot office in San Jose, California, in late 2015. And while Facebook's Frank Gehry-designed headquarters in nearby Menlo Park, which opened earlier that same year, doesn't have day care facilities either, the social network does subsidize employees' child care costs.
Intel has a contract with an early childhood education provider that gives employees a tuition discount, waives enrollment and registration fees, and provides space for emergency backup child care. The world's largest chipmaker also partners with two family child care networks to cover extended hours not generally served by traditional day care centers.
Google, Cisco and Genentech are among the few companies that do offer on-campus child care services. Genentech says its center "allows working parents the flexibility they need while caring for a child and the peace-of-mind they require to know their child is nearby and properly cared for." Cisco says "providing child care options allows our employees to be their best."
Good business sense
Providing child care benefits to employees isn't just the right thing to do, it also makes sense from a business perspective, experts say. Working parents experience fewer missed days and schedule changes when they get child care assistance. They also work more hours and stay with the same employer longer, according to a January report from Child Care Aware of America.
US businesses lose about $4.4 billion each year due to employee absenteeism that results from child care breakdowns, said the group, which promotes national policies and partnerships to advance the development of children. Over a six-month period, 45 percent of parents are absent from work at least once, and miss an average of 4.3 days, due to child care problems, the report said. And 65 percent of parents' work schedules are affected by child care challenges an average of 7.5 times over a six-month period.
"Access to high-quality child care increases morale and employer loyalty, but businesses suffer when child care is unavailable for working parents -- to the tune of over $4 billion annually," Lynette M. Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America, said in her organization's 2016 report.
Apple overall isn't as generous with perks as some of its Silicon Valley rivals. Lunch isn't free in its cafeterias, for instance, while companies like Google, Facebook and Dropbox serve gratis gourmet meals to their employees. Staffers also pay to use Apple's gym at its 1 Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino, California.
It's unclear whether the new megafitness center will be free.
Apple had a chance to set an example on child care. We don't know why it decided not to, but experts say other companies shouldn't dismiss the idea.
"We need to be able to take care of ourselves and our bodies by having great gyms, but we also have to make sure to have healthy learning environments that are safe for our children," said Julie Kashen, policy director for Make It Work, a national campaign focused on economic justice for women and working families.
When it comes to child care, Kashen said, "I think they should do it because it's the right thing to do, and I think they should do it because it's better for their employees and their productivity."
CNET's Dara Kerr contributed to this report.
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