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Can employee benefits be gender neutral?

With all the positive initiatives for gender equality and diversity around the world, this article looks into the change of work life for women since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the question whether we need more women-focused employee benefits.

by Melanie Liedtke | 5 min read

Gender equality has become a top concern in many organizations. Consequently, benefits need to follow equal pay laws. This means that employers are required to provide men and women equal benefits in the workplace. However, many historical legacies are still hampering the strengthening of women’s role in society and newest findings have shown that women all over the globe have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic crisis. Given this situation, should employers not include more women-focused employee benefits when looking at their benefits plans?

A good benefits package, combined with a winning company culture that promotes work-life balance and compensates men and women equally, have been key for attracting and retaining top talent. Next to truly flexible work hours, adaptable vacation and work-from-home options, there are more benefits intended to appeal specifically to women. These include benefits connected directly to children and family care for both parents (e.g. gender neutral parental leave policies), fitness-oriented benefits, but also mentorship opportunities for their professional development within the organization or unusual incentives like a free personal concierge to do errands.

COVID-19 has forced employers to rethink their employee benefits, shifting their focus on mental health services, well-being and virtual offerings. COVID could also set women back half a decade. It has intensified the challenges that working mothers already faced. The points below suggest that there is even more to be considered when it comes to designing employee benefit packages in the future.

COVID-19 could push many mothers out of the workforce
Female participation in the workforce still lags behind that of males in many countries. And many working mothers have always worked in several shifts: job, children and household. A McKinsey-led study shows that with school and childcare closed, one in three mothers have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers because of COVID-19.

Remote working with childcare during the pandemic impacts mothers more than fathers
While flexible working generally benefits women with children, a recent BBC study shows that for every hour of work that mothers could do in similar work-from-home situations during lockdown, fathers were able to do three – stating that mothers were more often responsible for more childcare and more housework.

Female employees are burning out at a faster rate than men
Working women have always struggled under the pressure of balancing work and home responsibilities. COVID-19 has brought additional pressure. Maestro Health found out that more than 70% of female employees have experienced burnout in their jobs, and 62% have taken a day off strictly due to stress since the start of the pandemic.

Two thirds of Long COVID patients are women
Early research indicates that the disease affects men and women differently and that women are more likely to still be suffering from the virus months later. A Trinity College Dublin paper states that women accounted for two-thirds of those patients with persistent fatigue despite representing just over half of the study participants.

On this basis, employers need to adjust their employee benefits policies in order to enable top talent to remain in the workforce. Benefits like assistance programs, flexible schedules, reduced work and access to wellness initiatives can greatly support the health and well-being of all their employees – but especially women.

Committed to diversity, Allianz offers equal opportunities to its employees, and pays them fairly for their work regardless of gender. This was once more recognized this year by the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index. Allianz is also a pioneer in identifying the needs of their workforce and supporting their employees’ overall well-being. The recent launch of a mentoring program to support and empower people, a “women@allianz” network that fosters dialogue and exchange between female sales professionals or the appreciation of employees for their hard work in the last year with “plus 1 day off” are just a few of many initiatives on how to turn needs into benefits and become an attractive employer.

Sources

The future of work and digital wellbeing: Protecting employees in a Covid-19-shaped world - Economist Intelligence Unit (eiu.com)

Women in the Workplace | McKinsey

Long Covid: Why Recovering From Covid-19 Is a Feminist Issue (womenshealthmag.com)

Re: Why do women account for 70% of patients with Long COVID in this study? | The BMJ

Why female employees are burning out at a faster rate than men | Employee Benefit News

The female problem: how male bias in medical trials ruined women's health | Women | The Guardian

Is It Illegal To Give Different Benefits To Male And Female Employees? (equalpaynj.com)

Top-rated employee perks for 2021 revealed - Employee Benefits

As women drop out of labor market, moms call for more aid | Employee Benefit News

Benefits to attract and retain women in the workplace | Employee Benefit News

Harvard Business Review

The Most Desirable Employee Benefits (hbr.org)

These Are the Benefits Women Actually Want at Work | Ellevate (ellevatenetwork.com)

MMB turning health risk into value | Mercer

Coronavirus: 'Mums do most childcare and chores in lockdown' - BBC News

Bloomberg’s 2021 Gender-Equality Index Reveals Increased Disclosure as Companies Reinforce Commitment to Inclusive Workplaces | Press | Bloomberg L.P.


About the author

Melanie Liedtke
Melanie Liedtke

is Senior Manager Global Communications at AGB and covers communication, social media, international conferences, events and marketing.