Gender-specific benefits education plays role in retaining women

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Some countries and corporations have learned that to make a dent in gender inequality they have to be a bit more proactive. That doesn’t just mean hiring women at equal pay to their male counterparts, but taking a personal, active interest in them once they are there so they can progress up the ladder and will want to stay with their employer.

Recent research conducted by consulting firm Mercer found that women are under-represented in the workforce globally and if organizations stay on their current paths, female representation in the professional and managerial ranks will reach only 40% globally by 2025. Mercer surveyed more than 600 corporations in 42 countries around the world, employing 3.2 million people, including 1.3 million women, for its second annual When Women Thrive report.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report, women are still 118 years away from closing the gender gap.

“Even with a focus of women at the top of organizations and a focus on inclusion of women the alarming statistic is [companies] are still failing to build a future pipeline of female talent that will actually move the needle,” says Patricia Milligan, global leader of the When Women Thrive and multinational clients groups at Mercer.

One of the biggest challenges facing women in the workforce is how much they are paid in comparison to men doing the same job, along with not receiving enough information about wealth accumulation and how they can help themselves through better financial decisions.

Brian Levine, innovation leader, global workforce analytics at Mercer, says that only 9% of corporations are monitoring savings behavior by gender.

“Organizations as a whole are not looking at this sufficiently enough. It is a significant driver of success. Simply providing education or just educating specific groups or allowing for a conversation among those groups can improve the value proposition and lead to success,” Levine says.

The report found that while many companies have made hiring women at the top of the organization a priority because of quotas, regulation or media pressure, the “quick fix isn’t working, as organizations fail to put into place supporting policies and practices, and as senior women are more likely to exit.”

Less than a quarter of organizations in North America agree that their managers are provided training to actively manage leave and flexibility programs or report equal representation of women in profit and loss and functional jobs, Mercer found. But the region is “ahead of other regions when it comes to customizing retirement and savings education/training programs by gender — although this is still very rare, with only 14% of organizations doing so.”

Women have different strengths than men so companies need to be able to capitalize on those strengths as they push women forward through the ranks. As has been reported frequently, women are more likely to leave the workforce for brief periods of time to have children or take care of sick or elderly relatives. Levine says that one way organizations can be more proactive is to have conversations with employees before they take leave. If a company wants to retain women at the professional level, it has to work with women who take leave on a plan that will allow them to seamlessly come back to work.

“A lot of the training we do is focused at the top, focused on leaders. The place where we are losing women is in the middle.”

There is a lot of “unconscious bias” out there on the part of managers, says Levine. “A lot of the training we do is focused at the top, focused on leaders. The place where we are losing women is in the middle,” says Levine. “So getting men comfortable where men and women can have better conversations and be more thoughtful can help.”

It has been shown over and over again that when women leave the workforce for any reason, “they are disadvantaged ever after for future opportunities. That is a management issue,” Levine says.

Many times robust programs are put in place — for things like maternity leave —that should help in retaining talented female employees, but there is very little communication with managers about these programs and the purpose of them, he says. Many women return to a different role or project than the one they left behind. It is important to have a plan in place to more efficiently bring that employee back to work.

“Something as simple as that can lead to a much better outcome. Why do we put these programs into place to start with? We do it because we are looking to fundamentally retain high potential people. If we don’t support them when they return we are not meeting the objectives of the program,” Levine says.

Corporations that focus on educational activities geared toward women from a health and wealth management perspective can improve their female representation, he adds.

“Women live longer, are more likely to have breaks in service, save less and make less risky portfolio decisions, so providing guidance to that population on investment decisions” is key, he says.

“If organizations provide the training … related to health and wealth programs for women and the unique issues women face, if that improves the value proposition for women it could increase the retention of women relative to men and further accelerate their progress,” says Levine.

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