What’s different about the twenty-first century American woman? Why did the United States go from having one of the highest rates of female participation in the workforce to one of the lowest in a comparative study conducted in 2015?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 60% of women 15 and older were employed in 2000. By 2015, that figure had dropped to 56.7%. While the difference seems small, it represents a trajectory toward fewer women in the workplace, and companies are losing out on the unique strengths women bring to the table.
As discussed in our last post, societal barriers no longer prevent women from pursuing careers, but that doesn’t automatically mean all of them want to. Increasingly, women are choosing a different path—particularly mothers of young children.
In its Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived report, Gallup found that more than half (54%) of working mothers expressed a preference to stay at home, while a mere 40% indicated a desire to work outside home.
Women feel the pull of family more strongly than men. Seventy percent of working fathers express a preference to work outside the home (interestingly, the same percentage as working women without children)—10% lower than those who don’t have children. While men’s desire to work outside the home is lessened if they have children, 70% is still far higher than the 40% of working mothers who wish to do so.
It’s not so much that women want to opt out of work but rather out of the workplace, finding the culture less accommodating to their needs and broader work-life aspirations. So what can organizations do differently to draw in and support women?
Where Are Companies Failing Women?
- Work-at-home policies. While a third of the women surveyed indicated their employers were doing “very well” when it came to permitting them to work at home, another third said their employers were doing “very poorly.” Obviously, some jobs require a physical presence, but most office work can be conducted remotely these days. This is more of a cultural shift since the technology already exists to implement a more malleable work-at-home policy.
- Health insurance. Companies also scored relatively low when it came to providing adequate health insurance coverage—of special concern to women raising families. Sixteen percent reported their companies did “very poorly” in this area, and 12% said “somewhat poorly.”
- Wage gap. Most think women have achieved equality in the workplace, but as recently as 2015, women still suffered a 20-percent wage gap, making just “80 cents for every dollar earned by men” according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Lower wages paired with higher health insurance premiums and childcare costs make employment a greater challenge for mothers.
- Flexible schedules. For many women, pay is less important than flexible hours, whether it be working an earlier or later shift or simply being able to pop out during the afternoon to pick up their kids from school. As employers adapt to these growing demands, they will be able to attract more female candidates.
- Sick and vacation leave. Companies seem to be doing better in this regard, with 58% of women stating their employers provided adequate sick and vacation time. That response, however, did not indicate whether the women felt free to take said leave. Some companies may make it difficult or impossible for women to take advantage of leave policies due to scheduling demands and a high-pressure workplace culture.
- Opportunity for advancement. While 38% of women reported their employers are doing well in this area, 10% and 14% said their organizations were doing “very poorly” and “somewhat poorly.”
Both mothers and women without children ranked their employers similarly on all six of these factors, suggesting these organizational shortcomings affect all women equally.
How does your organization rank in these areas? Do you consider the workplace hostile or welcoming to women, particularly working mothers, and why? If you’re not sure, let Capiche help you assess the situation. Give Chris a call at 541.601.0114 or email her to explore options.
In our next post, we’ll delve into what motivates women to enter the workforce along with the benefits companies reap by employing women.