The No. 1 thing jobs can do to keep female employees

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March 12 symbolizes how far into 2024 women would have to work to be paid what men were paid in 2023. That’s because women are paid on average 84% of what men are paid for full-time, year-round workers and 78% for all workers (including part-time and seasonal). 

Of course, this is an average. The pay gap is even bigger for AAPI women, Black women, Latinas, caregivers, disabled women, and more. Native Women’s Equal Pay Day isn’t until November 21 this year — that’s almost an entire year of extra work to catch up with what white men made in the previous year.

LGBTQ+ workers can be doubly impacted; Lesbian households with two breadwinners are hit twice. The U.S. government doesn’t even collect the right data to establish a pay gap for the nonbinary community. 

A lot goes into a big, national, average pay gap — individual career choices, variable pay across industries and more. For companies, paying women fairly is table stakes; it’s the right thing to do and a business imperative. Treating employees well is proven to increase employee satisfaction, retention and productivity, and improve a business’ market competitiveness. So really, can you afford to not pay women fairly in 2024? 

Here at SurveyMonkey, for example, we regularly engage legal counsel to conduct pay equity audits to ensure that we are complying with applicable equal pay laws. This is just one way we hold ourselves accountable for creating a workplace where everyone feels supported and can do the best work of their lives. 

But equal pay for equal work is only the beginning.

The flexibility gap

Workplace satisfaction is multifaceted; employees need more than a fair paycheck to encourage them to stay and do excellent work. Companies need to think about how they can address structural inequality and create an environment that is welcoming and fosters both inclusion and equality. 

New findings from the latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Women at Work study found that schedule flexibility and promotions top the list of women workers’ demands from their organization. It is clear from the data that workplace flexibility isn’t just a “nice to have” for women workers — it’s the difference between having or not having work-life balance.

Achieving work-life balance may seem like a far-fetched idea in the fast-paced, always-connected world of the modern workplace, and this is especially true for women, who often shoulder caregiving responsibilities outside of work. In fact, women are reportedly five to eight times more likely to have their careers impacted by informal caregiving obligations. 

Among the women who reported their work-life balance has worsened over the last year, a third (32%) say it is due to work schedules becoming inflexible. Another third (32%) say it is due to having more personal and family commitments than in previous years. 

Of the women workers who report their work-life balance has improved over the last year, nearly half (49%) say it is due to increased flexibility. That is more than twice the number of the second-leading response, which is 21% who cite changing to a less demanding role. 

Without work-life balance, these workers risk burnout, reduced productivity, lessened job satisfaction and more. This year’s study found that more than half (52%) of women workers reported their mental health had suffered to the point of feeling burned out due to work ‘all of the time’ or ‘some of the time.’

This is comparable to 2023 when 56% of women workers reported the same, and 2022 when 54% did. The trending data shows that mental health and burnout are ever-present concerns for women at work — offering more flexibility may be one way to help address this.

There is a gap between women workers demanding flexibility and getting it. Closing the flexibility gap is critical. 

Demands for flexibility are not just a fleeting pandemic trend

Flexible work is also top-of-mind for women jobseekers. Of the women respondents not currently working for pay who are looking for work, half (52%) say the difficulty in finding remote or hybrid job opportunities is what makes it hard to find a job. This is the leading cause ahead of employers not calling back (43%) and low pay (32%). 

Most knowledge workers were suddenly required to work from home in 2020, and now many of them are reluctant to return to 40+ hours in the office every work week. That becomes especially true for women workers who care for aging parents, drive their kids to school and activities, or shoulder most of the housekeeping responsibilities. 

More than half (54%) of women working mostly or fully remotely say that flexible work or hours are the main reason they stay in their current role. In a distant second place: 39% stay in their current role because they enjoy the work. When workplace flexibility is significantly more valued than actually liking your job, it’s clear that this is not just a temporary, post-Covid trend employers can risk ignoring. 

Implementing any new workplace benefit requires a clear strategy

So what can workplace leaders do? To know what women and nonbinary workers at your organization want, you need to ask them. 

Our study found that offering more opportunities for promotion (19%) and a more flexible schedule (17%) are the leading actions employers can take to help women workers achieve their career goals. 

Notably, the study also found that 44% of women workers overall— and especially women of color and parents — are concerned about facing career penalties for actually taking advantage of flexible work arrangements.

Fully 36% of white women workers say they are concerned to some degree that leveraging flexible work arrangements will harm their career compared to 52% of Black women workers, 55% of Hispanic women workers, and 59% of Asian women workers. And 50% of women who have children under 18 are also reportedly concerned. 

These findings are significant. If your organization wants to offer flexible work, you must think strategically about how to do so. Proactively address issues like proximity bias, inequitable access to opportunities and miscommunication. If those issues aren’t addressed upfront, you risk trading in one barrier for women workers — inflexibility — with another: the glass ceiling. 

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with discount code 25OFF.

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