When you think of healthcare benefits for women, what pops into your head? For most people, the answer would probably be family leave. It’s a hot-button issue; while federal law requires employers to offer their full-time female employees job-protected, unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a new child, the lack of pay and limited time frame can place a heavy financial burden on women as they recover their strength and care for their baby. For these female professionals, having benefits that allowed for longer absences or paid leave would be invaluable; perhaps even to the point of being the deciding factor in a job hunt or the reason for an extended tenure.
Simply put, generous family leave policies make life easier for female employees — and that, as I’ve written before, is what makes benefits appealing to employees in today’s job market.
Employees might value competitive pay, but their choice to remain at or leave a position hinges heavily on the benefits that role affords. In fact, a recent white paper published by MetLife found that when employees weighed the factors that determined their loyalty to the company or willingness to recommend it to others, pay came in last. Benefits ranked third, hovering just after trust in management and having opportunities for professional development. The MetLife researchers further found that employees who were satisfied with their benefits were twice as likely to remain an employee for 5-10 years. These findings suggest that companies that craft attractive benefits packages have a greater chance of maintaining an engaged staff over the long term. Yet, relatively few seem to do so; research shows that less than half of the workforce is truly satisfied with the benefits they receive.
If companies intend to reap the benefits of long-term employee tenure and engagement, they need to dedicate more of their time and resources towards creating employment packages that can appeal to their employees’ needs — hence, paid family leave.
Now, there are many ways to hone in on the specific perks that might appeal to a diverse employee base, but for this piece, I want to focus on women and more specifically what companies can offer beyond the tried-and-true given of family leave.
For all that most companies address women’s health similarly — if not identically — to men’s, a female employee will encounter a continuum of health issues and interests over the course of her life. With enough forethought and creativity, these gender-specific needs can be met by employer-designed benefits packages.
Let’s consider a few ways employers could accomplish this.
Providing cost-reduction offerings for fertility treatments might seem like an unusual offering — and it is — but it also speaks to the real needs of women in the early or mid-career. According to a 2015 report from the Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, a full 48% of women delay starting a family to focus on a career — and since a fertile woman in her thirties only has a 20% chance of conceiving any given month, conception struggles are becoming all too common for female professionals today.
The financial and emotional pressure of dealing with infertility is considerable. The total cost of IVF treatment can top $51,000, and a full 63% of patients who enter into conception therapies lack coverage altogether. Given this, it isn’t all that surprising that 68% of the women surveyed in the above study were willing to change jobs to ensure some degree of fertility coverage. A company that develops fertility support options gains a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and maintaining younger female professionals.
At the top of this piece, I pointed out the commonality of family leave. Most companies expect a female employee to be gone for a handful of weeks or a couple of months — but what happens when she leaves for years? Some women aren’t in a position to return to the workforce after having a child; they need to dedicate a few years to being a stay-at-home mom. After a few years, they might try to re-enter the workforce only to find that their skills have atrophied during their time away. They no longer have the most up-to-date coding skills or knowledge of the advances their peers have made during their absence. Despite being capable, smart, and useful workers, these women have difficulty finding a job.
They need a skills tune-up — and a reentry program is the perfect means to provide it. “Returnship” programs are internships specifically designed to help women brush up on their industry knowledge and capabilities after a years-long absence from the field. In many cases, a returnship serves as both a training opportunity and a trial run; once a “returner” completes it, they may have the chance to take on a full-time role with the company.
The means of implementing a returnship will vary according to a company’s capabilities. IBM, for example, has the resources in place to host its own in-house program. However, if a company does not have the means to create a program internally, they can partner with a third party like Path Forward, a nonprofit which helps businesses provide career internships to professionals who have been outside of the industry for two or more years.
Flexible Working Schedules
The inflexibility of a nine-to-five daily schedule may be alienating for some female employees. Parents — fathers as well as mothers — have responsibilities that don’t always take the constraints of the traditional workday into consideration. The conflicting obligations can be difficult to handle and ultimately lead some parents to remain outside of the workforce for longer than they might have otherwise. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to work, however; a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the New York Times found that 67% of women who are choosing to stay home would return to work if they had flexible hours. Offering a degree of flexibility could bring these candidates out of the woodwork and into the office.
The most effective benefits packages are designed with thoughtfulness and empathy. Rather than offering traditionally generic healthcare solutions, they provide tailored support to the needs of an employee base. Offerings like the ones suggested here could make the difference between keeping a female professional for a year or two and establishing a decade-long connection with her. If a company can do a just little to make her life more comfortable, the returns she brings to the business will be well-worth any investment her employers make on her behalf.