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Women-Specific Employee Benefits Shaping a More Inclusive Workplace

Quick look: The economic impact of 2020 on women in the workplace guided many companies toward offering women-specific employee benefits as part of their larger diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Nearly three years after the pandemic first began, these benefits continue to gain momentum and have become necessary as part of a competitive, comprehensive benefits plan.

With women largely tasked with the role of child and family care, the effects of the pandemic took a greater toll on their stress levels when trying to balance work and home life responsibilities. Between 2020 and 2022, over one million women left the workforce, which accounted for 63% of jobs lost. In response, companies have started to introduce and/or improve women-specific benefits to coax them back into the workforce as part of their retention strategies.

Overall, business leaders have adopted flexible work environments and other progressive benefits as employee needs have shifted. However, there are specific benefits centering on women workers which should be considered. These include but aren’t limited to maternity leave, childcare assistance, and access to fertility and family-planning services.

Many of these employee benefits have historically been overlooked, causing workforce inequities. Yet, the expansion of such benefits serves as an all-around recruiting and retention advantage. Today’s employees seek a diverse workplace and offering policies inclusive of varying demands signals a change of the times, for the better.

Companies may already have basic policies in place, while others may be struggling with where to start. This gives brokers the opportunity to revisit these areas with their clients and improve upon them for the benefit of all.

Maternity leave

Per the current administration, the U.S. remains the only “industrialized country in the world” without paid parental leave on a national basis, and unfortunately, maternity leave has become one of the benefits employers most commonly cut due to costs.

Though companies with 50 or more employees must comply with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) laws, this does not provide the level of care necessary to support health during pregnancy or postpartum. It can also de-prioritize the value for many small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Recent data shows only 35% of employers offer paid maternity leave beyond FMLA requirements, a sharp decline from 53% in 2020. Due to a lack of support and options, it decreases performance and productivity and eventually increases female employee turnover.

As SMBs evaluate their maternity leave policies, brokers can present potential health insurance plans inclusive of extended maternity leave. Companies can also get creative with office perks, such as designated breaks and areas to support breastfeeding, flexible schedules to attend childcare appointments, and mental health resources and tools to help handle changes post-pregnancy.

Flexible schedules for school-related activities

As part of overall childcare responsibilities, the challenges of upholding school commitments in alignment with work life often sit squarely on the shoulders of women. According to research conducted by Harvard Business School, women are still the majority (75%) of caregivers even in joint, two-income households. This extra mental and physical burden often translates to a loss of engagement and productivity at work.

To help alleviate these added stressors, SMBs can support flexible schedules or allow time off work to participate in children’s school or childcare activities. Some examples could include: enrollment, parent-teacher conferences, meetings with school staff for a child’s behavioral or educational challenges, and volunteering at school functions, among other school-related activities. This type of benefit can provide female employees the relief essential to perform at their highest capacity while also managing familial responsibilities.

Access to fertility and family-planning services

The rising costs of healthcare are already crippling employee needs, and when it comes to fertility services, specifically, the benefits have been essentially non-existent. However, workforce trends show an uptick in companies offering fertility benefits including in-vitro fertilization (IVF), egg freezing, and other associated services. Although, those who typically seek these services do not have adequate insurance coverage.

It adds a financial burden, particularly for women who are single, women of color, and LGBTQ+ employees. Many are also delaying care and services due to a lack of provider representation.  When forming DEI policies, all employee groups must be considered. Brokers can guide companies toward health insurance coverage options which include diverse providers across a broader network of care to deliver the support employees seek.

Preventative care for women’s health issues

Promoting healthy lifestyles is important for all employees, regardless of gender, though there are specific health concerns plaguing women, such as cardiovascular health, breast cancer, and mental health care.

When researching health plans, brokers should consider these needs and determine if health plans include mammograms, outpatient services for cardiac specialists, and mental health programs. Also, introducing ideas such as workplace wellness programs, mental wellness mobile apps, and healthy snack and/or lunch options all pave the way for preventative care.

Expert HR support and services to optimize SMB benefits

Expanding employee benefits takes extensive time, money, and research which often inhibits changes from happening as quickly as they could. SMBs are often battling between saving costs and staying competitive. Plus, there have been dramatic shifts in the workplace over the past few years, which have been challenging to navigate alone.

Brokers can help their SMB clients expand their network and level of support with a professional employer organization (PEO). A PEO like ExtensisHR creates HR solutions adaptable to industry trends through cost-effective services for benefits, payroll, and risk management. By delegating HR responsibilities to a dedicated, expert team, SMBs can focus full-time on company growth.

As part of its value, ExtensisHR puts people first and utilizes advanced HR technology, such as its DEI Dashboard. The DEI Dashboard provides data on pay equity, salary trends (in general and for gender/race demographics), employee turnover, and other metrics to plan according to unique workforce demands.

Employee benefits are constantly evolving based on workforce demographics and changing healthcare needs. Our HR experts are here to help position you and your clients toward continual growth and success. Contact ExtensisHR today.

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