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Creating an Inclusive Benefits Offering for Women

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Quick look: Women in the workplace face a unique set of challenges – especially since the start of the pandemic. Here’s how brokers can ensure they’re helping clients to offer inclusive benefits tailored to this important employee segment – not just during Women’s History Month, but year-round.

It’s a pivotal time in history for working women – millions quit their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as the world returns to “business as usual,” the time is now for these women to not only return to work, but for the playing field to be leveled. Here’s what work is like for women, the many advantages they bring to the workplace, and how brokers can offer an inclusive benefits package designed to help them succeed both professionally and personally.

Women at work

The last two years have been eventful for working women between (perhaps unexpectedly) leaving the workforce, juggling caregiving responsibilities, and coping with other pandemic-related stressors. Let’s take an in-depth look at the current state of women in the workplace.

Leaving – and returning to – the office

There are currently nearly 2 million fewer women in the U.S. workforce than before the pandemic struck. As schools and daycares closed their doors, many working women quit their jobs to care for their children. This is something that women were significantly more likely to do than men even before COVID-19, but it came to head during the pandemic when 1 in 4 women considered quitting their job or downshifting their career (compared to 1 in 5 men). What’s more, in 2020, 32% of working women between the ages of 25 and 44 reported that they were not working because of childcare demands.

The disparity continues even as virus cases drop and people return to work. According to the National Women’s Law Center’s analysis of the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, between February 2020 and January 2022, male workers regained all of the jobs they lost due to the pandemic. However, women are facing a different fate – they are still short by more than 1.8 million jobs lost since February 2020.

Working – and caregiving

Even as schools and daycares reopen, a large portion of the workforce is still busy juggling working and caregiving. Nearly 60% of caregivers work either part-time or full-time, and it’s important to note that the majority of these people are women.

The balancing act of maintaining a career and providing care can be difficult. According to Harvard Business School:

  • 59% of caregiving employees feel they are perceived as less committed to their careers than non-caregivers
  • 55% said caregivers are less likely to progress as fast as their peers, even if they put in the same amount of effort
  • Only 24% of employers felt that caregiving influenced workers’ performance, however, 80% of employee caregivers believed caregiving affected their productivity
  • 32% of working caregivers left jobs that didn’t support their caregiving needs

The financial wellness gap

Women also have a disproportionate experience when it comes to financial wellness.

Bank of America found that women’s financial wellness scores are 13% lower than men’s (58 vs. 67), and just 55% of women participate in 401(k) plans compared to 61% of men. 401(k) balances also differ, with men outpacing women with $98,000 and $62,000 average balances, respectively.

All of this is on top of the persistent gender pay gap – women currently earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns – and the gap is even larger for women of color. In nearly every occupation, women earn less than men, and they also earn less than their same race and ethnicity equivalent at every level of educational attainment.

What women bring to the table

Despite the challenges they face, women provide enormous advantages to their employers. For example,

  • Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards financially outperform companies with the lowest representation
  • Gender-diverse teams have higher sales and profits compared to male-dominated teams
  • Compared to less diverse business units, gender-diverse business units have higher average revenue

The benefits of having a diverse workforce aren’t limited to finances – or women. Studies have shown that having a higher percentage of women employed makes an organization better for everyone, and is associated with:

  • Higher job satisfaction
  • More organizational dedication
  • Less burnout
  • More meaningful work
  • Higher employee engagement and retention

Tailoring benefits to meet women’s needs

One of the best ways to empower women is by providing them with the right employee benefits. As a broker, you can help clients attract and retain valuable women by building an inclusive benefits package designed to help them succeed, including:

  • 401(k) plan: Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can help women adequately prepare for their futures by offering a 401(k) with a company match, if possible. Better yet, when SMBs participate in a plan offered by a professional employer organization (PEO), virtually all administrative tasks are offloaded to other parties.
  • Health insurance with FSA/HSA options: Nearly 75% more men than women have an HSA account, and their balances are 49% higher than women’s – and SMBs can help narrow that gap by providing a health insurance plan that includes FSA and/or HSA options. A bonus for working caregivers, especially? FSAs can be used to pay for eligible dependent care services including child and adult daycare, before or after school programs, preschool, and summer day camps.
  • Student loan repayment: A large portion of women – 40% – have student loan debt, and they are nearly twice as likely as men to say that a student loan repayment program would entice them to stay with their current employer. It’s also important to note that the perks of offering such a plan are wide-reaching; 85% of all workers with student loan debt would be motivated to leave their job for one that offered stronger financial wellness benefits.
  • Flexibility: With so many women juggling personal and professional demands, offering a flexible work environment is key. Brokers can encourage SMBs to provide:
    • Telecommuting and adjustable work hours: Remote work and an accommodating schedule makes life easier in many ways – from being able to quickly step away to pick up a child from school to being available to administer medicine to an aging parent.
    • Compressed work weeks: For working women who also act as caregivers, a compressed workweek could be just what the doctor ordered, literally. Caregivers often need to bring loved ones to doctor appointments and offering compressed work weeks (like four 10-hour days) can offer them the opportunity to attend those appointments while remaining employed full-time.
    • Part-time employment opportunities: If possible, it can be beneficial for SMBs to allow employees to work part-time hours – or hire a second part-time worker – in the case that a working caregiver has too much on their plate and needs more time off.
    • Access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP): An EAP can offer the right support (at no cost to the employee) exactly when women need it most by providing confidential advice, 24/7, on a variety of topics like physical and mental health, financial wellness, and more.

Partner up to level up

The process of leveling the playing field for working women can be simplified when brokers choose to partner with a PEO. A broker-centric PEO like ExtensisHR can provide a robust inclusive benefits package as well as access to a DEI Dashboard, which SMBs can use to compare real-time information about pay equity, promotions, and more.

Are you ready to uplift your clients’ hardworking women? Contact ExtensisHR to discover how we can help.

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