5 min read March 23, 2023
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.

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.

This gives you, as a business leader, a ripe opportunity to rethink and strengthen how you support women in your workplace.

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 I don’t care when you do it,’” Friedrich says. “I didn’t change the headline of my conversation, but I changed the subhead.”

“In the past, I might have said your top priority is to get your work done. But now I’ve added, ‘And I don’t care when you do it.’”

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 strong 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.

Another policy that could help is hybrid or remote-work options (see tip No. 1): Women report that working remotely at least some of the time helps shield them from microaggressions and promotes psychological safety, the McKinsey study found.

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

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.

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.3

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?

Get timely ideas from businesses like yours.

1The State of Women in the Labor Workforce, Center for American Progress, February 2023

2“Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn’t changed much in two decades,” Pew Research Center, March 2023

3 Principal Financial Well-Being Index, a survey of 500 employers with 2-10,000 employees, Feb. 2-9, 2023

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professionals, and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc. ("Principal® Foundation") is a duly recognized 501(c)(3) entity focused on providing philanthropic support to programs that build financial security in the communities where Principal Financial Group, Inc. ("Principal") operates. While Principal Foundation receives funding from Principal, Principal Foundation is a distinct, independent, charitable entity. Principal Foundation does not practice any form of investment advisory services and is not authorized to do so.

© 2023 Principal Foundation.