With the shift towards hybrid and remote work, a new gender gap is emerging centering on flexibility. Let’s take a look at a remote-capable sector: finance. I helped 8 finance and insurance companies transition to hybrid and remote work, and a new report by Mercer on the gender gap and hybrid and remote work in finance resonates with what I’ve seen among my clients.
The Flexibility Gender Gap
The pandemic has shown that flexible work arrangements provide women with the opportunity to balance their work and personal responsibilities, reducing the need for women to choose between advancing their careers and caring for their families. That helps explain why, according to Mercer’s latest “inside employees’ minds” research, 34% of women in financial services and insurance who responded to the survey are full-time remote, compared to only 19% of men. Hybrid work arrangements are more balanced, with 34% of women in hybrid arrangements and 38% of men.
Women clearly care more about flexibility, and we can see that in other aspects of the survey as well. For instance, women are more likely to leave their jobs due to lack of flexibility, compared to men. The top three reasons women would leave their job are insufficient pay (54%), burnout due to demanding workload (33%), and lack of flexibility (28%). In comparison, men cited insufficient pay (44%), insufficient healthcare benefits (33%), and burnout (29%) as their top reasons for leaving.
Mitigating Implicit Bias in the Workplace
The realization of the importance of flexible work arrangements for women has resulted in it becoming a priority for women when considering staying with their current employer or seeking a new one. However, implicit bias based on a person’s work-location arrangement may have a negative impact on employees.
The shift to remote and hybrid work has created a “visibility” concern for many employees – and given that women work remotely much more than men, it’s especially a concern for women. Proximity bias describes how people in positions of power tend to treat workers who are physically closer to them more favorably, and stems from the antiquated assumption that those who work remotely are less productive than those who work from the office.
This concern is not unwarranted. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) released findings from a survey of more than 800 supervisors. SHRM reported two-thirds (67%) of supervisors overseeing remote workers admitted to believing remote workers are more replaceable than onsite workers. Forty-two percent said they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks. This may explain why remote workers get promoted less often than their peers, despite being 15% more productive on average.
Companies should ensure that there are no implicit biases against those who work flexibly, in performance management, career opportunities, access to benefits, or anything else. Doing so will help to improve an organization’s reputation as an employer of choice, reduce turnover, increase engagement, and rise in productivity.
The Financial Industry Needs to Address the Gender Gap
The gender pay gap is still a key factor in women working in finance being less satisfied than men, according to Mercer’s research. When employees were asked if they are “compensated fairly for what I do,” only 63% of women said yes, compared to 84% of men.
In the financial adviser space, employing fewer women in the workforce is not just bad for diversity, but also a drawback for clients. With a dramatic shift in trillions of dollars of wealth that will be controlled by women in the coming years, it is vital for the finance industry to see more women working and succeeding in the field. Yet the presence of women in the field hasn’t increased recently, staying around 18% of finance and insurance workers.
The Financial Burden of Childcare
The financial burden of childcare is a major factor for women who are considering leaving their jobs. Nearly nine in ten Americans believe that more parents would continue to work if more affordable childcare was accessible, according to a survey by Harris conducted on behalf of Fortune.
However, most parents are not willing to pay much of their paycheck on childcare before they consider leaving the workforce. According to the survey, if childcare costs eat away a quarter of their paychecks, nearly half of parents with young children under the age of five would consider being a stay-at-home parent. On average, U.S. families spend an average of 17.8% of their income on childcare. However, this varies by location, with parents in Nevada spending the highest percent of their income on childcare.
The financial burden of childcare includes not just the tuition fee, but also costs related to babysitting, extra costs for school and summer vacation days, and time off needed when a child gets sick. The availability of affordable and accessible childcare that meets the timing, structure, and location of work needs is the first and foremost concern for parents. Thus, to keep women in the labor force, companies should strongly consider paying for childcare benefits if they want women to work in the office some of the work week.
Case Studies of Addressing the Flexibility Gender Gap Among my Clients
A regional insurance company realized that their female employees were leaving the company at a higher rate than their male employees once they started the return to office drive. To address this, they backed away from their more rigid approach to returning to the office, and implemented a more flexible work schedule, with managers allowed to grant employees the right to work from home full-time. They also introduced mentorship programs, where senior female employees were paired with junior female employees to provide guidance and support. These initiatives helped to reduce the gender gap and retain female talent within the company.
At a middle-market fintech firm, the leadership recognized they faced a significant gender gap in their tech department. To address this, they introduced a range of initiatives, including diversity and inclusion training, unconscious bias workshops, and a flexible work schedule. They also set up a system for remote workers to connect with their colleagues, which helped to foster a sense of community and prevent remote workers from feeling isolated. These initiatives helped to increase the number of women in technical roles and create a more inclusive work environment.
The shift towards hybrid and remote work has highlighted the importance of flexibility for women, with the financial sector offering an illustrative case study. Companies should address implicit biases against those who work flexibly and ensure that women are compensated fairly, including covering childcare if women are expected to spend at least some time in the office.
Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which helps organizations adopt a hybrid-first culture, instead of incrementally improving on the traditional office-centric culture. A best-selling author of 7 books, he is especially well-known for his global best-sellers Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019) and The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (New Harbinger, 2020). His newest book is Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in prominent venues. They include Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Fast Company, Forbes, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for mid-size and large organizations ranging from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from his research background as a behavioral scientist. After spending 8 years getting a PhD and lecturing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served for 7 years as a professor at the Ohio State University’s Decision Sciences Collaborative and History Department. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio (Go Bucks!). In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.