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These Are The Employee Benefits Women Actually Want
Adobe Stock / Drobot Dean
AnnaMarie Houlis

Companies are often touted for the benefits they offer. Many of them distinguish themselves by their range of benefits and retain top talent because of it.

With the increase of more and more companies looking to diversify in regard to gender, there's a raised awareness and consideration of the issues women face in the workplace. It's critical, then, for these companies to know what benefits could actually prove beneficial to women beyond their appeal. 

Not all women, for example, look for companies to have on-site daycares; instead, many women just want to be paid well enough to feel confident in choosing a daycare facility that’s financially feasible for them. Likewise, not all women want children; thus, not all women are wowed by egg freezing programs offered by their companies — even if the headlines sensationalize programs like these.

So what are the benefits with which all women can get on board?

1. Telecommute options.

A 2013 survey from Catalyst found that 83 percent of women who had access to flexible arrangements said they aspired to a senior executive- or CEO-level position, while just 54 percent of women without such programs could say the same. The research suggested that women are more ambitious in workplaces that offer flexible work options than women who are denied remote options. 

Flash forward to 2017, as technology like the smartphone, virtual meeting platforms like Skype and Gotomeeting, and instant messaging mediums like Slack makes telecommuting evermore doable, evermore people are pulling off working from home. In fact, a recent report from FlexJobs, Working Parents in 2017: What They Want at Work, shows that more than four out of five parents value work-life balance more than salary

In total, 76 percent of respondents said that a flexible schedule was even more important to them than pay. And 81 percent said that work-life balance mattered more to them than earnings. Seventy percent of those surveyed even said they’d thought about leaving a job because it didn’t offer flexibility. Their reasons? Flexibility is a motivator, it saves times, it cuts commute stress and it cuts costs.

2. Retirement programs.

The poverty rate remains nearly double that of men among women 65 years old and up. Many women are less likely to have planned or saved enough for retirement, which is disconcerting for new women entering the workforce. While the reasons women in this age bracket are running out of funds might not be the same reasons for millennial women, all women need retirement funds. 

Women of the baby boomer generation, who are now 53 to 71, were primary caregivers of their families, and the time they took off to raise children resulted in losses in income. Some women didn't stay in their jobs long enough to become vested in retirement plans, and most part-time jobs don’t offer the opportunity to participate in a 401(k) plan or other retirement programs anyway. Likewise, their career choices were more limited, as women often found themselves in occupations with lower pay and hours that better suited their families’ needs.

Even today, however, the average age when women take Social Security remains 62 while, for men, it’s 64 — and this means that most women are looking at a permanent reduction in the benefits they would have received if they'd waited until their full retirement age, which is based on birth year, or to the maximum age of 70. 

For a lot of women, however, waiting to retire isn’t an option. Statistics show that women will likely outlive their male spouses, and caring for a spouse is time-consuming job in and of itself. Additionally, long-term care costs impact women more than men since they're often their spouse's caretakers.

3. Paid sick leave.

While most developed nations offer paid sick days, the U.S. does not have national standards on paid family or sick leave, which can help employees meet their personal and family health care needs. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires eligible employers to provide unpaid family leave, but there is no federal requirement for paid leave or sick days. 

Instead, employees rely on voluntary employer policies. If they’re lucky, they get it. If they’re not so lucky, many are forced to face the tradeoff of taking time off to take care of themselves or their children and forgo a day’s cut of the paycheck, or pay caretakers to take care of their children. 

For women who still make up the bulk of primary caretakers in American homes, and who comprise nearly half of the country’s workers (approximately seven in 10 women with children under age 18 were in the labor market in 2016), having paid sick leave makes a huge difference.

4. Professional development opportunities.

According to a 2008 survey by Catalyst, a group of “high potential” women who graduated from top MBA programs worldwide were still paid $4,600 less in their first post-MBA jobs, occupied lower-level management positions, and had significantly less career satisfaction than their male counterparts with the same education. 

The Harvard Business School has analyzed the results of this study and indicate a key differentiator between high-performing women and men: the type of on-the-job development they receive. 

Sure, companies across the globe boast about their efforts to attract and retain top female talent, tossing around business jargon terms like “professional development” because they hear it’s what millennial women want. But in 2014 Fast Company called a number of companies out: “Mentoring programs and recruitment efforts notwithstanding, the real status of women in corporate America reflects the status quo at best. 

With such a track record, even the most well-intentioned corporate leaders risk inviting the cynical perspective that what they really want is a way to pretty up their image — to show off their efforts with women without really making a change.” The writer argues that leadership development programs that ostensibly prepare women for leadership roles without ever putting them into those roles merely “raise the self-image of the companies that offer them — not the women themselves.” Women need real sponsorships and programs that actually place them among the elite.

5. Paid parental leave for both parents.

Most of the world seems to have generous paid parental leave. Denmark, for example, offers a year. Italy offers five months. France offers 16 weeks; Mexico, 12 weeks; Afghanistan, 13 weeks. But, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis of 41 countries, the U.S. is the only country to offer no paid parental leave. Only five states and Washington D.C. offer paid leave to workers. This means that only 60 percent of Americans can access FMLA for parental leave, and paid leave is only available to 13 percent

Perhaps that’s why women in the U.S. leave the workforce in droves when they have children — almost half of women, or about 43 percent of mothers, will leave or take a break in their careers at some point, which only hinders their progress and forces employers to lose valuable talent. But, aside from the immense and obvious benefit to women and employers, parental leave is also a necessary measure to insure infant health during a critical period of brain development. Futhermore, paid leave for mothers and fathers levels of load of parenting responsibilities and encourages equality in the home, as well.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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