Are women and men different? No, not necessarily. Although there are certain traits we associate with gender, their prevalence is largely a result of society: how we raise girls and the organizational systems we put in place to position men and women differently. People don’t act a certain way because of their sex, they do so because of their situations.
That truth should be at the heart of all company benefits and policies aimed at attracting and retaining female talent. Women and men view company benefits differently not because they have different intrinsic needs, but because they’re often grappling with different circumstances—as are people of color and people with disabilities. Underrepresented groups are looking for companies where they have just as many opportunities to succeed as their white male counterparts.
Positive ways to lower barriers to advancement come in many shapes and sizes, but InHerSight has found there are four things women want most from their employers. We call them the “bread-and-butter” benefits: paid time off, salary satisfaction, respectful coworkers, and flexible work hours. Sure, each of those metrics sounds like something men might want too, but in general, women’s careers are more at risk than men’s when they don’t have our top four.
Paid time off and flexible work hours
In the United States, women, on average, do four hours of unpaid work per day, while men perform two and a half. Not all of that labor can take place outside standard work hours—though many working women try. The go-go-go lifestyle of a woman with a full-time job and kids or a loved one to care for is one of the reasons women are more likely to struggle with burnout than men. Personal days, sick days, vacation days, and adjustable hours allow women—or anyone, it shouldn’t just be women—to complete life work, then get back to the paid tasks at hand.
The gender pay gap is real: On average, women earn 82 cents for every white man’s dollar, with women making more or less depending on race, ability, motherhood, and other factors.
There are a few fixes that tend to make women more satisfied, and they’re not simply “pay women more”—although, by all means. Pay transparency, wherein companies share compensation data with employees, builds trust. Eliminating the practice of asking prospective hires for previous pay information, which is illegal in some states, allows women the opportunity to negotiate fairer salaries. Encouraging discussion of pay roots out existing inequalities and bolsters confidence in negotiating salaries and raises. These are all good business moves.
Then there’s the issue of sexism, which is a tougher nut to crack, but a worthwhile one. Women are three times as likely to leave their jobs as men, which is a major contributor to the lack of women in high-paying C-suite and leadership roles. Although motherhood is a reason some women leave their jobs, it’s not the only one. Toxic or hostile environments and boys’ clubs drive women out. It’s challenging to climb the ladder—and to reach those money-making roles—when someone is pushing you off it.
The people you work with
Boys’ clubs and hostile work environments don’t just affect women’s salaries. They affect their day-to-day happiness on the job. Again, they’re high contributors to women’s attrition.
InHerSight defines our metric “the people you work with” as “respectful, professional, and unbiased coworkers,” but we don’t believe a 5.0-star rating for that category happens overnight. No matter how many good people you hire, forming a culture that upholds all three of those pillars takes work.
Strategic efforts around inclusivity and bias training can help, as can communication and transparency, leadership modeling the use of company policies like parental leave and paid time off, and openness to feedback, which shows employees’ there’s a willingness to change.
Add that to what employers should already be doing, such as enforcing existing policies that prohibit sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, and there’s a lot of work for everyone to do to maintain a healthy company culture. (If you look at the top four predictors of women’s overall job satisfaction, “the people you work with” and “employer responsiveness” are in the top two—it’s related.)
That task can be daunting at first, but the hardest part is a mere rip of a Band-Aid: honestly assessing what’s negatively impacting your work relationships and why those detractors exist. After that, it’s an evolving conversation about making everyone, regardless of gender, feel safe, respected, and heard at work.