To improve benefits equity for women focus on time and money 

March 02, 2023

#EmbraceEquity is the theme of 2023 International Women’s Day, so what better time to embrace data that can help lead toward equitable benefits and rewards programs across employee populations?

In our recent blog, we shared examples of how employers could think about analytics differently and use data to challenge a hypothesis when making decisions – including an example of how data analysis based on gender alone can yield misleading results because workforces never have a perfect distribution of other characteristics (age and pay to name a few) between genders. But we will start our discussion of how employers can use data analytics to improve benefits equity with a straightforward comparison of how women and men responded to a survey of workers that asked about their biggest concerns and benefit preferences.  

What women are telling us

Mercer’s 2022 Inside Employees’ Minds survey of more than 4,000 employees in the US gave us some key data points to consider.

  • Still seeking equity in the workplace. Women place highest concern on financial matters while stating that a sense of belonging, fair pay and career achievement are all lacking.  
  • Mental and emotional health? This is the #3 concern for women overall but rises to #2 for female caregivers (it didn’t make the top 5 for men).
  • Too much to do, too little time. Women ranked a modified work schedule as the #2 benefit that would do the most to support mental health and ease burnout, behind the consistent top answer of reducing workload.

Many of the disparities boil down to time and money. Pay equity has yet to be addressed at many organizations. And juggling caregiving responsibilities with careers is clearly manifesting in distinct preferences across genders. Let’s take a closer look at how some employers address these challenges through benefits.

To each their own data

After analyzing more than 200 employer data sets encompassing millions of employees, we have to share some BREAKING NEWS: Each employer data set is unique!

Of course there are themes, trends and numerous insights that come from studying employer data sets, but even in similar industries and workforce demographics, we inevitably find differences in how benefits are accessed and utilized. Many of these differences can be chalked up to how an employer designs, prices and communicates benefits to their unique workforce.

Across our many data projects, one trend had been consistent every time – the higher the compensation for an employee persona group, the more likely the persona is to cover additional family members in the health plan. That was true until we reviewed the experience of a prominent children’s hospital with a predominantly female workforce.

How are they different? The hospital subsidizes medical benefit premiums for their lowest-paid employees, including coverage for their children. This resulted in more lower-paid employees covering dependents, as opposed to the higher-paid pattern we expected. Based on the demographics of their workforce, this translated to more working mothers covering their children on the hospital’s benefit plans. The result addresses access equity and, as a children’s hospital, the organization can share responsibility for equitable outcomes for their dependents’ healthcare as well. In this case, the hospital’s strategy to subsidize coverages did exactly what it was intended to do – offered a better benefit to the employees that needed it the most.

This helped on the money side of the equation. But what about time and access? In the Inside Employees’ Minds survey, when asked about the challenges they face in getting the care they need, 77% of caregivers cited provider availability, more than any other challenge. Finding the time to access care for themselves and their children or other family members, and being able to afford that care, both create additional burdens for female caregivers. Employers can play a significant role in easing those burdens.

Focus on more holistic benefits programs for women

In a Post-Dobbs World, many HR teams are having benefit discussions focused on women and family planning. These discussions often focus on extending beyond reproductive benefits and services to provide more holistic family-friendly programs.

Generally, a predominantly female workforce will see higher usage in Dependent Care FSAs, Back-Up Care services and flexible work arrangements – all benefits that assist with time for women to balance work with childcare. But employers are looking to extend support beyond these programs.

You saw it in the survey: Too much to do, too little time. Even when employees want to use support resources, it takes time to research their options, shop for the best price, and jump through the hoops to initiate service, all at a convenient time. But employers can streamline this effort through a due diligence search for relevant resources for their workforce, negotiate group pricing, and create (and effectively communicate) simplified access points. When this happens, we see the results in the data. Women more frequently engage with the benefits, and tend to be more satisfied with the benefits package, when broader support elements are included. What kinds of programs are we talking about?

  • Behavioral health resources, for self or family members
  • Advocacy programs centered on parents – to help parents who are juggling work and family responsibilities
  • Adoption or surrogacy support services, complementing fertility management offerings
  • Financial coaching for increased financial security planning
  • Tutoring resources for homework help
  • Concierge services… yes, you read that correctly. These are services that employees can tap to run errands, set up appointments, or plan an event. In the organizations that provide access to such services, we have heard women rejoice!

Whether your organization is taking its first steps on the journey toward embracing time and money equity for women, or is well on its way to optimal support, take a moment this International Women’s Day to continue to assess. Perhaps you can add a few new stops on your itinerary.