Employee benefits and retirement plan solutions Trends and Insights 6 ways to better support women in the workplace

6 ways to better support women in the workplace

Attract and retain women employees by cultivating a working environment that allows them to thrive.

Two woman in an office smiling.
5 min read |

Good news for businesses everywhere: Women’s participation in the workforce is back to pre-pandemic levels.(1)

And this is not only good for workplace morale but balance sheets as well: An eight-year study by Morgan Stanley Research found that companies with more gender diversity generally enjoyed a greater return on equity with lower volatility.

Unfortunately, women in the U.S. continue to feel left behind financially, according to 2023 Global Financial Inclusion Index research. This reveals an opportunity for you, as a business leader, to rethink and strengthen how you support women in your workplace—so they can gain greater access to the resources they need to build wealth. 

Here are six ideas you can implement today, no matter your business size.

1. Set policies that promote flexibility for parents and caregivers.

Women shoulder a disproportionate amount of caregiving responsibilities, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to The Gender Gap in Financial Health report, funded by Principal® Foundation and conducted by the Financial Health Network, 70% of women with children under age 18 report making a career change because of their parenting responsibilities—reducing their hours, taking a leave of absence, or switching to a less demanding job—compared to 55% of men. As a result, they also experience a higher rate of income loss.

But when women have the flexibility to choose where they do their work, they experience less burnout, are happier in their jobs, and are much less likely to consider leaving their employer, according to a study by McKinsey & Company.

You may hear “policy” and think of a handbook of human resources rules. But Amy Friedrich, president of Benefits and Protection at Principal®, says, “I picture it more like a compassionate conversation where your employees feel the emotional investment you have in them as people.”

2. Establish clear boundaries for work hours to help prevent burnout.

Without clear boundaries, flexible work can quickly become “always on” work. This is especially true for women leaders doing extra—often unrecognized—work such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, according to the McKinsey study. That same report found that 43% of women leaders are burned out (compared to 31% of their male counterparts).

Set clear expectations and ensure you’re accounting for any additional work your women employees are doing—and include that in their goals and reviews so it’s recognized and rewarded.

For example, Friedrich recounts a meeting she had with a new employee to cover her expectations. “In the past, I might have said your top priority is to get your work done. But now I’ve added, ‘And where and when you get it done is up to you,’” Friedrich says. “I didn’t change the headline of my conversation, but I changed the subhead.” This may mean leaving work at 3 p.m. to take an elderly parent to their doctor’s appointment—and not being expected to answer work emails during that time.

In the past, I might have said your top priority is to get your work done. But now I’ve added, ‘And where and when you get it done is up to you.
Amy Friedrich, president of Benefits and Protection

3. Make time to be a mentor and offer peer support.

You don’t need a formal mentoring program with committees. “Connect employees with role models in the community who will serve as career mentors,” Friedrich says. “Create your own network of small business leaders, including women of diverse backgrounds.”

Equally important: Recognize and reward women who are stepping up and offering this mentorship and support within your own business.

4. Cultivate a workplace that’s inclusive—and safe—for women.

Women continue to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace, significantly hindering their ability to advance their careers. In fact, more than half of women—57%—say they’ve faced harassment or discrimination at work, according to The Gender Gap in Financial Health report. The study also found that harassed women are more likely to be financially vulnerable.

Set and employ anti-discrimination and harassment policies with clear steps should someone report an incident. While you may not have a dedicated HR person, resources like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) can help with policy templates and other guidelines.

5. Create clear paths for career growth.

Many modern organizational charts are flat, often making it difficult to carve out clear career paths for all employees. This can particularly affect women, who are less likely to identify as the boss or a top manager at work—and more likely to say they wouldn’t want to be in the future.(2) But that certainly doesn’t mean they don’t want to advance their careers.

Be intentional about creating growth paths for high-performing individual contributors. And if you have women working remotely—full or part-time—provide them with support and opportunities equitable to in-person employees.

For those women who want to pursue leadership roles, consider the impact of the multiplier effect. A concept proven out by Deloitte research,(3)  it means that every woman added to the C-suite results in nearly three additional women among the senior leadership ranks.

Having diversity in the C-suite matters—not only to advocate for other women but more importantly because it broadens conversations and viewpoints.

Intentional career support for women will not only help with workplace morale, but your bottom line as well: An eight-year study by Morgan Stanley Research found that companies with more gender diversity generally enjoyed a greater return on equity with lower volatility.

6. Offer benefits that suit workers’ diverse needs.

With the gender wage gap stubbornly stuck for two decades, working to provide women with fair market compensation for their roles and experience is table stakes.(2)

But when competing with large corporations’ salaries is difficult, benefits can set you apart. Beyond traditional benefits like retirement plans and disability and life insurance, small and midsize business owners are also providing childcare benefits, paid family and medical leave, and employee assistance programs (EAPs) to support their employees’ unique needs.(4)

Women deserve fulfilling careers, and your ability to hire and retain them may depend on cultivating a working environment that allows them to thrive.

What’s next?

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