The War for Talent

Closing the care gap: How to care for women in the workplace

5 min read
Apr 25, 2023

Key takeaways

Caring for women across the employee experience:

  • Bolsters loyalty, engagement, and productivity 
  • Supports women’s holistic health, particularly their financial health  
  • Serves as a key differentiator to attract and retain top talent 

The dual stressors of inflation and looming economic uncertainty have rippled across the workforce, and employees are looking to their employers for help.  

Demonstrating employee care — curating an employee experience that promotes holistic wellness — has emerged as a key differentiator for employers as they compete for talent. When done well, employee care fosters a happier, healthier workforce, and ultimately unlocks greater loyalty and engagement as a result.

Yet, caring for a heterogenous workforce calls for deeply understanding the unique needs of employees, and MetLife’s Employee Benefit Trends Study 2023 indicates that many women feel left behind. Across age groups and sectors, a troubling gender “care gap” has emerged, leading to worse outcomes for female staff and their employers.  

The percentage of women who feel cared for at work is significantly less than the number of men who feel that way. Compared to men, women are less likely to feel valued, engaged, or satisfied with their job. Women who don’t feel cared for are twice as likely to consider leaving their job, versus women who do.
I just don't feel like I've been taken care of as an employee. I feel more like I’m just a number, and I haven’t been supported when I needed it.
Customer Service Rep, Female, 25

Closing this gap requires a tailored approach to delivering employee care: one that takes into account women’s unique experiences in the workplace, particularly their financial health. Here, we’ll discuss three ways to care for women’s unique needs, close the gender care gap, and improve outcomes across the organization.

Demonstrate care across the employee experience to instill a sense of belonging 

A safe and supportive workplace environment plays a pivotal role in creating a culture of care. And MetLife’s research has shed light on aspects of the employee experience that women value most.

Supportive and empathetic management is a must — and women, in particular, seek greater recognition and appreciation for their work. They also want to feel heard, and two-thirds of women identify listening to employee feedback as a must-have to demonstrate care. Finally, women feel invested in employers who care for their future, and crave more opportunities to build professional relationships and develop new skills.

Crucially, women, especially caretakers, seek more flexibility than they are currently receiving from their employers. The stressors of the past three years have hit women especially hard, and women are now 7% less likely to say their employer offers the flexibility to manage work-life balance than they were in 2020.

Employers have an opportunity to address this by extending as much flexibility as possible — for example, by allowing employees to choose their own hours or work remotely some or all of the time. Organizations can implement listening mechanisms to solicit employee feedback, and train managers in empathetic leadership so they can more effectively recognize each employee’s contribution to the team.  

Lastly, employers can invest in mentorship programs and upskilling initiatives — including those tailored specifically to women — to help female staff develop the skills and relationships they need to grow. 

Caring for women also means putting financial health first

While a strong workplace culture is central to the employee experience, truly caring for the women in your workforce calls for addressing the elephant in the room: compensation.

Female employees have historically faced more financial pressure than their male colleagues due to the gender wage gap. While this gap is narrowing, it still persists — and our research indicates that women feel significantly more financial stress than men in the wake of the pandemic.   

Since 2022, financial health among women has declined at 3x the rate of men. Half of the women surveyed who report poor mental health stated that financial stress is the primary cause.
Payroll Analyst, Female, 38

Perhaps not surprisingly, day-to-day financial concerns, such as the cost of living, losing the value of savings to inflation, and lingering debt, top the list of women's financial stressors. But four in ten women say they’re not paid well enough for the work they do, and 39% are concerned they won’t save enough to retire.  

Employers have an opportunity to help. In addition to taking steps to assess gender equity in compensation within their organizations, employers can consider tying cost of living increases to the true rate of inflation and expanding retirement benefits to support female employees. 

Benefits can help close gender disparities, especially when paired with efforts to improve affordability 

Workplace benefits and programs can support each aspect of an employee’s holistic well-being, including their physical, mental, social, and financial health. They’re also essential for employee care: four in five women say a wider array of benefits would show them that their employer cares about their well-being. 

Yet, women crave a wider range of benefits than they’re currently receiving from employers. Just 49% of women say they’re satisfied with their wellness benefits and programs, compared to nearly two-thirds of men. In particular, women want their employers to offer innovative benefits including cancer insurance, vision care insurance, and critical illness insurance — and many find their employers falling short. 

The benefits with the largest unmet need are, in this order, cancer insurance, vision care insurance, critical illness, dental insurance, and a defined benefit pension plan.

Employers can help bridge this gap by broadening their benefits offerings. But, to do so effectively, they must also address benefits affordability. Three-quarters of women say their employers can care for them by addressing the affordability of healthcare benefits. Employers should look for opportunities to help female staff access their benefits — for example, by covering a greater share of employees’ benefits and including coverage options with lower out-of-pocket costs — to demonstrate care.

Employers can future-proof their organizations by caring for women

Employers are facing uncertain times, and employee care can help organizations boost loyalty, engagement, and productivity to weather the storm.  However, doing this effectively requires understanding  — and responding to — the needs of a heterogeneous workforce, including the unique pressures facing female employees today.   

Liked what you read?