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Recognizing and promoting women’s experiences: The future of work and equity

Inclusion and Diversity|Talent|Total Rewards|Wellbeing
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By Karen Gordyan and Jessica Ruggles | March 8, 2022

Equitable Total Rewards and the right employee experience are keys to success – for everyone.

The way organizations operate has radically transformed. Around the world, employers are strained under the pressures of new risks and supply chain issues, and they are increasingly forced to balance operational priorities with employees’ overall wellbeing and organizational commitments to equity. There is a cost to deprioritizing employees or only implementing short-term solutions – and it affects women disproportionately.

In the U.S. alone, the Shecession and The Great Resignation have disrupted female labor force participation, which has dropped to a 33-year low. This loss of contribution is bad news for employers and the economy at large, as women increasingly report higher confidence in entrepreneurship, leading financial decisions and attaining higher education. Additionally, companies with more women in executive and management roles deliver a more positive employee experience by 73%.

An exodus of female talent exacerbates labor shortages, reduces innovation, diminishes the quality of leadership at an institutional level, and negatively impacts the employee experience for the remaining workforce. And while the case is clear that diversity is beneficial for employees as well as the bottom line, a perfect storm of current events has made diversity even more difficult to cultivate.

How can employers reverse the tide? Ensuring gender equity across pay, benefits and career opportunities is an effective place to start. Following are four ways employers can recognize, promote and (re)assess their effort toward equitable Total Rewards and the right employee experience.

  1. 01

    Focus on the whole person – even before they’re an employee

    Words matter, and it’s important to be intentional with messaging in job descriptions and all communications to future (and current) employees. This includes communications led by recruiting and hiring managers.

    Job titles, descriptions and requirements are ripe for change:

    • Include only the true, most critical requirements rather than aspirational ones and, when possible, allow for various working styles, preferences and locations
    • Avoid automatically requiring relocation for a job if it can be done effectively by the right candidate working under a remote or hybrid work arrangement
    • Recognize that the whole person is coming to the job, including their experiences outside of the traditional workplace

    It also is important to train those in the hiring process to view résumé pauses or gaps as experiential, inward learning opportunities rather than meeting them with criticism. Experiences such as raising a family, embarking on an entrepreneurial journey or taking a sabbatical allow for growth and alignment to personal purpose. Yet, unintentional biases can make it challenging for individuals with résumé gaps – especially women – to re-enter the workforce at a level that matches their qualifications.

    Some companies, including those in financial services, have created return-to-work programs specifically to help reskill and re-engage talent that has spent time away from the traditional workplace.

  2. 02

    Expand the impact of the employee experience

    The world’s highest-performing organizations are increasingly focused on the employee experience. They enable employees to experience both connection and contribution at work and be recognized accordingly.

    To retain and engage the best talent – including women – organizations must provide opportunities for employees to continuously learn and develop new skills, grow toward goals that meaningfully contribute to the business along with individual aspirations, and drive their careers to align with their values and personal purpose. To accomplish this, employers can look at opportunities to:

    Establish diverse mentorship relationships. Encourage organization leaders to actively seek a mentee who provides a perspective that differs from their own. In addition to increasing job satisfaction and advancement for the mentee, mentorship is a means to visibility and social networking, both of which are key challenges for those with remote working arrangements or significant caregiving responsibilities outside of work.

    Give a clear picture of career possibilities, and how to get there. Managers play a key role in delivering the optimal employee experience, and key to this is a more transparent career architecture that allows managers to have tangible conversations with their reports around available career paths. High-quality career architectures are grounded in competencies that help reduce bias in promotion decisions, link compensation and talent programs, and give employees a clear understanding of the skills they need to advance. Helping everyone see potential paths to leadership is a virtuous cycle for employers. More diverse teams, boards and organizations have higher rates of innovation, resilience and returns over time.

    Accelerate skill growth for employees at any career stage. Delivering formal leadership development programs and supporting professional affiliations through local or national chapters are important for all employees, especially for women who are transitioning from managing to leading. It also can help prepare women with applicable experiences to consider or expand into other areas of interest as part of their career journey.

    Sponsor community programs to increase the talent pipeline. Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index (GEI) reported that communities benefitted from inclusive corporate offerings dedicated to helping promote education and access for women. More than half (63%) of GEI member companies sponsor financial education programs for women, and 65% sponsor programs dedicated to educating women in STEM.

  3. 03

    Design pay, benefits and wellbeing to advance inclusion and equity

    Offering equitable Total Rewards – that is, equitable pay, benefits and wellbeing, in addition to careers – plays a significant role in shaping the employee experience. Organizations that offer inclusive programs and policies that support women and wellbeing deliver more favorable employee views on work-life integration, as do companies with more women in leadership among their most-compensated staff. Total rewards should be inclusive for prospective and current talent, giving them a sense that they belong.

    To get started, first seek to understand the potential barriers that women and other talent face in your organization, and the role that your Total Rewards programs and processes can play in alleviating these barriers. Consider developing a Total Rewards vision and strategy that directly aligns to your diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

    This vision and strategy are a key lens for assessing current program features and thinking through tough questions about new or changing features. For example, how should retirement benefits accrue when an employee is on unpaid leave? What kind of flexibility should be available to those re-entering the workforce?

    Consider other actions as well:

    • Review programs and policies against fair and inclusive best practices to ensure competitiveness and identify any unintended biases
    • Use data and analytics to understand pay, health or wealth disparities between different groups, to inform future changes and tailor employee communications
    • Ensure you have the right vendor partnerships to support your focus on equity, particularly for benefits

    With respect to pay specifically, women in the U.S. earn about 83 cents for every dollar a man earns. Women in same-gender marriages face a double pay gap, as they earn lower wages on average than both opposite-gender married couples and same-gender male couples.

    It is important to conduct pay equity studies, act on the results, monitor your metrics and commit to progress, but there is more that can be done before you dive in to crafting your narrative to provide clarity and drive trust between employees and the company. You need to consider the following to help relay your commitments:

    • Develop strong foundational elements that ensure your organization has in place a consistent way of defining jobs and compensation, and delivering on good pay management
    • Educate employees about pay programs and practices, and remember to equip managers so they can have meaningful conversations about pay
    • Cultivate a culture of openness and transparency to drive better workforce outcomes by establishing trust in pay practices and supporting employees to feel more empowered, innovative and productive

    It’s imperative for employers to do their part in closing the wealth gap and supporting financial wellbeing for every member of the workforce. Financial security is a critical part of overall wellbeing and a challenge for many employees, but an even bigger one for women:

    • With a longer life expectancy than men, women who reach age 65 can expect to live an average of 20 more years
    • On average, women often save less for retirement than men because of factors including time out of the traditional workforce, access to employer-sponsored savings vehicles and financial barriers including debt
    • Time out of the workforce combined with the historic pay gap and other factors leave women 5 times more likely to live in poverty in their retired years

    One key source of financial strain, which became even more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, stems from caregiving responsibilities. Due to women’s propensity to be unpaid caregivers, they are more likely to work reduced hours, have increased absences, face underemployment or leave the workforce altogether. What benefits could your organization provide to ease the burden on caregivers? Benefits and workplace policies that support caregivers can include flexible schedules, back-up childcare, center-based or in-home elder care and, for family care and protection, access to will-planning and power of attorney assignments.

    Also consider financial modeling and decision support tools to help employees manage, grow and protect their wealth. Utilize platforms that provide access to personalized content around benefits offerings, financial education and investment solutions tailored to the needs, preferences and choices of women. Provide just-in-time communication around the impact of life decisions on long-term wealth accumulation and resiliency as employees consider career or lifestyle changes.

  4. 04

    Continually assess and reassess

    A diagnostic approach ensures inclusive and sustainable program designs, strategies and workplace solutions. Behavioral science and insights into employees’ perspectives are key components of the employee experience, and that requires a continuum of ongoing listening.

    Listening strategies and analytics can range from Total Rewards Optimization that enables a quantifiable perception of value to targeted pulse surveys that quickly assess employee opinions and glean insights for leaders to drive meaningful change. To be successful:

    • Determine the best listening strategy for your unique workforce. Annual surveys are a common tactic but may miss finer nuances
    • Leverage multi-dimensional listening. Feedback from focus groups, pulse surveys, segmented listening sessions and employee resource groups allow employers to drive future priorities, without overwhelming the same workforce populations with too many surveys
    • Leverage in-house expertise and perspectives. Lean on your women’s employee resource group to test Total Rewards messaging and concepts
    • Metrics matter. Monitor the outcomes of implemented solutions and offerings, then adjust your strategy to better manage efficacy

    As one example, some high-tech firms take employee listening a step farther and ask one question per day. The goal is to implant or test ideas and gather reactions that ultimately drives leadership focus.

Building a more equitable future for women

This is a defining moment for leaders as they steer their organizations through uncertain times to reflect a culture of equity and wellbeing. The diverse attitudes, preferences and needs of the modern workforce require leaders to listen openly, prioritize high-impact people solutions and act thoughtfully to spark change. Essential to this is a sustainable Total Rewards strategy that aligns to the employee experience and forges the future of the workforce with a strong female presence – starting today, if not yesterday.

Authors

Director, Client Management

Director, Employee Experience

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