Gender bias in employment benefits holding back women in tech

Flexible working is the most-desired employment benefit for women in the tech industry, but the stigma attached is having a negative impact on work-life balance and career progression.

A new market report from specialist tech staffing firm Mason Frank International has found key gender differences in desired benefits and actual benefit entitlement for women in tech.

These findings are now being discussed as part of the wider issue of female representation in the technology sector, with employers being challenged to review not only the employee benefits they offer but also attitudes towards those benefits throughout the business.

Career burnout

Over 2,500 tech professionals were surveyed in Mason Frank’s study, of which 30% were female (14% higher than the tech industry average in the UK).

When asked which benefits they desire most, 22% of female respondents indicated home and flexible working were important to them, compared to only 19% of men. This is significant when compared to actual entitlement, where there’s a great disparity between the genders.

Despite women having a strong desire for home working, only 58% are offered this employment benefit, compared to 64% of men. There’s an even greater difference when looking at flexible working hours; the benefit is enjoyed by 54% of men, compared to just 42% of women.

As women are more likely to be juggling caring responsibilities, totalling at around 60% more unpaid work a week through parental or elderly care, the chances of career burnout is far greater in females, signalling a greater need for flexible working.

But offering these employee benefits is only half of the battle, as sentiments towards them can be just as damaging to career progression.

The ‘flexibility stigma’

While entitlement to benefits like these is disproportionate across the genders, there’s also a sentiment that flexible and home working creates more work for others or will lead to negative outcomes.

This is not only reducing the number of people making flexible working requests but also potentially holding back those who do, with working mothers the largest segment who’d felt this negative impact.

These attitudes are at odds with research around flexible working, where employees have shown increased engagement and productivity by working remotely. Nevertheless, it offers an explanation as to why more and more women are going part-time, self-employed, or even taking career breaks.

With Mason Frank’s research also shows that flexible and home working would make a woman more likely to accept a job role, not offering these benefits to all staff could be handicapping gender representation even at the initial intake stage.

Challenging sentiments throughout an organisation

Zoë Morris, President at Mason Frank International, says the results demonstrate an unfair perception of flexible working.

“It’s incredibly important to drill down on all things that could inhibit an employee’s development,” said Morris. “Particularly in the tech sector, where female representation is so low, and the skills gap is so vast. Exploring feelings towards benefits and entitlement is a good way to measure what support employees want against what they’re receiving.

“It’s disappointing to see that fewer women have access to flexible working than men, even though it’s a benefit they prioritise higher. But given the attitudes held towards women who work flexibly, particularly working mothers, it’s unsurprising that some choose not to use it even when they have the option.”

James Lloyd-Townshend, Chairman and CEO at Mason Frank International, thinks employers need to take steps to educate employees on available benefits and why they benefit everybody.

“I think the most eye-opening part of this research is the negative attitudes held towards flexible working. Clearly, employers need to take steps not just to offer these benefits to all staff members, but to educate them on why they’re available and how they can help the business.

“Only when employees feel supported in working flexibly and have no concerns around how it will impact their career progression, will they truly begin to flourish.”
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