UK firms are still falling short of female talent objectives

New study scrutinises gender equality and health benefits in UK firms

New research has found that 93% of businesses still struggle to attract and retain female talent. In comparison, 85% of companies remain focussed on trying to close the gender pay gap.

Despite these goals, parallels between providing gender-focused benefits and female talent objectives are still not being fully recognised, says a study by the digital health app Peppy and the Reward and Employees Benefits Association (REBA).

Hr objectives

On surveying 183 businesses, researchers found that 87% have a current or future HR objective to increase the number of women in leadership positions (vs just 3% of males). 82% are focused on enhancing career prospects for female talent (vs 26% for males), while 68% remain focussed on retaining more females (vs 19% for males ). 66% still need to recruit more females (vs just 10% for males).

A further 85% of respondents said that closing the gender pay gap remains a current or future HR objective, demonstrating that despite heightened awareness, the gulf in gender parity at work is far from being solved.

Ageing male workforce

When asked about current and future risks to their organisation, more than half (62%) cited their ability to attract and retain female talent as a present risk, followed by an ageing male workforce (29%) and a lack of gender diversity negatively impacting creativity/insights (29%). Accusations of discrimination linked to gender were also identified as a future risk by 16% of firms.

The research sought to uncover current and future HR objectives and organisational risks to understand how gender-focused benefits can help businesses reach their ‘people’ goals. Yet despite the clear focus on female talent, the main reasons cited for introducing gender-focussed benefits were to improve workforce wellbeing (73%), improve workforce DE&I (more generally) (70%) and be competitive as an employer of choice (67%).

Debi O’Donovan, Co-Founder & Director of REBA, explains: “Enhancing gender- specific benefits will not discriminate between men and women, but it will begin to tackle deeply embedded inequities at work that affect us all. While there are more women than ever in the workplace, employee benefits and wellbeing strategies originally designed for a traditional, male, full-time workforce persist.”

Mismatched strategies and benefits

“That mismatch between strategies and benefits and current workforce demographics has driven pay and pensions gaps, loss of senior female talent and has limited opportunities for parents.”

Only 20% of employers have a joined-up strategy to support female-focused health and wellbeing.

When asked about the current gender-focused benefits offered, a focus on menopause support was clear, with 39% stating they provide support. Increased awareness of menopause as a workplace issue has likely encouraged this.

Still, other areas that have an equally big impact on productivity, absence and retention of women, were less of a focus. Namely, just 15% of employers offer fertility or general women’s health support (covering conditions such as PCOS and Endometriosis).

Indeed, when asked specifically about current or future risks to absence or productivity, 73% saw female mental wellbeing as a risk and 63% named female physical health as a risk.

Dr Mridula Pore, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Peppy, explains: “There is clearly a recognition amongst employers that greater support for female health concerns is needed, but unless organisations can connect the dots between these needs and their female talent objectives – they will continue to be seen as a ‘nice to have’.

“The reality is that these problems persist because women still don’t have equity in the workplace. As this research shows, a woman’s reproductive biology will dictate that she will have a very different career journey to her male counterparts and, as such, has very different needs at work. Employers who aren’t able to provide adequate support in these areas will, sadly, see women leaving their workforce and will likely find it difficult to attract female talent too.”

Future intentions

Looking to the future, the intentions of employers show some encouraging signs. When asked about benefits, they plan to provide in the future:

  • Menopause support – 48%
  • LGBTQ+ specific issues (e.g. transgender voice training, specific mental health support) – 41%
    • 41% will offer fertility support – 41%
    • Pregnancy and new parent/carer support – 30%
    • Common female health conditions – 30%
    • Common male health conditions – 27%

Debi O’Donovan comments: “As new challenges arise, employers increasingly have a lot to think about when it comes to supporting the workforce. For example, we’ve seen a huge increase in employers responding to the cost of living crisis by offering financial wellbeing or resilience support.

“Similarly, an ageing population is putting pressure on employers to provide greater support for elder care. Having said that, the findings of this research bode well for the future, even if we have quite some way to go.”

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