3 min read

February 17, 2022

3 ways women in business are moving company culture forward

Here’s how women are encouraging greater empathy, flexibility, and diversity in business.

Businesswoman looking at a handful of papers.

Increasingly, women are leading business transformation.

Fifty years ago, women owned fewer than 5% of businesses in the United States. By 2019 that number climbed to 42%.1

Yet women today also cope with more than their share of pandemic complications.

Statistically, women have shouldered a greater share of childcare. They’re also over-indexed in sectors such as health care that have been on the frontlines of pandemic stress. This disparity seemed to be reflected in 2022’s first set of monthly jobs numbers that saw 27 times more men than women join the national labor force. Nearly 1.1 million fewer women were working at the start of the year compared to February 2020.

These experiences shape women’s decisions as business leaders and arguably help encourage more supportive and resilient workplaces. Here are three trends where data shows women influencing employee care—with takeaways for your own business.

1. Employee care prioritized

Women business leaders are likelier than men to add certain employee benefits out of a feeling of ethical responsibility, or due to the needs highlighted by COVID.2 According to recent results of the Principal Financial Well-Being IndexTM, our ongoing pulse survey of United States businesses, women (41%) are likelier than men (23%) to add caregiving benefits “in response to needs brought to light during COVID-19.” Men (31% compared to just 11% of women) tend to offer them as a competitive tactic to help attract new employees.

Other differences:

  • Fifty percent of women compared to 30% of men see critical illness/accident insurance as an ethical need, and
  • 48% of women compared to 27% of men say the same for telehealth.
  • Our Well-Being Index data from October shows that businesses led by women are twice as likely as men’s businesses to add childcare benefits because “it’s an ethical responsibility of the company” (44% vs. 22%).

Gender doesn’t define an effective or caring leader, but women’s experience with the social turbulence of COVID-19 seems evident in some of their business choices.



Seize every opportunity to learn which type of support your employees truly need, and how that may have recently changed. Even a brief, casual conversation—on top of more formal employee feedback—could inform your approach as a business leader. Attentive listening helps broaden your view and deepen your empathy—for the good of your business.

In a job market where employers compete for talent and strive to keep people engaged in a more inclusive workforce, think about ways to provide better opportunity to the diverse voices and entrepreneurial women within your own business. Read “How diversity, equity, and inclusion are good for business” for ideas.

2. Flexible schedules

Women ages 25–44 have been nearly three times as likely as men not to be working due to childcare demands. Women already were likelier to work flexible schedules before the pandemic, and greater flexibility helps many employees continue to balance work and home life.4

But flexibility isn’t a panacea. Burnout is rising: One in three women say they’ve considered scaling back or leaving their jobs compared to one in four in 2020, according to a 2021 report by McKinsey & Company.

Better schedules can help. A typical workday offers numerous chances to encourage a more thoughtful calendar. Consider how business owners thrive on networking with peers. Often this involves a business breakfast club that meets in the morning before kids leave for school. This tradition wasn’t built around the schedules of family caretakers. These valuable forums can be more accessible to business leaders to benchmark themselves financially, emotionally, and in other ways.

What about simply changing when the club meets?



Remember that flexibility doesn’t equal happiness. Building a supportive and rewarding company culture requires consistent effort and relies on many more factors. That includes rethinking certain work traditions to stay aligned with your values as times and societal norms change. Even the simplest adjustments—such as rescheduling an early breakfast meeting—may improve business culture and help your employees be more effective at their jobs.

3. More inclusive career paths

Women tend to run smaller and family-owned businesses, according to the 2021 Principal Business Owner Insights survey of more than 1,000 small business owners. And they’re likelier to launch a business out of necessity and face less access to startup funding.1

Yet women entrepreneurs increasingly are turning necessity into opportunity as they empower themselves. From 2014 to 2019, the number of businesses launched by women of color grew at double the rate (43% vs. 21%) of women-owned businesses overall.1 These businesses still lag in revenue, but they’ve shown momentum to build on.

What if more of this ingenuity was helping to grow your own business?



In a job market where employers compete for talent and strive to keep people engaged in a more inclusive workforce, think about ways to provide better opportunity to the diverse voices and entrepreneurial women within your own business. Read “How diversity, equity, and inclusion are good for business” for ideas.

What’s next?

1. State of Women-owned Businesses Report, American Express, 2019 (PDF).

2. Principal Financial Well-Being Index, October 2021 (PDF).

3. Working Moms Bear Brunt of Home Schooling While Working During Covid-19, United States Census Bureau, 2021.

4. MegaTrends: Flexible Working, CIPD, January 2019 (PDF).

This communication is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation.

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