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08 Mar 2023
by Debi O'Donovan

Why supporting females is the key to unlocking equity

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘embrace equity’. It is an idea that runs throughout our recent Gender-specific benefits research, as REBA’s Debi O’Donovan explains in her column on why supporting females in the workplace is crucial to creating equity. 

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Life isn’t a level playing field, nor is the workplace. Employers acknowledging this and acting to create better equity between employees will draw in the wider range of talent and skills needed in today’s fast-changing world. 

Our Gender-specific benefits research, in partnership with Peppy, aims to discover how employers are using employee benefits to enhance workplace equity between genders. 

While many factors play into the disadvantages that women experience throughout their careers, biological reproductive health is clearly one of them. Only biological females can get pregnant and bear children, only they menstruate and experience the menopause (even if they identify as a man). Therefore, they are the biological sex more likely to take time away from work for reasons linked to reproductive health. 

Workplace career development and pay progression does not traditionally make allowances for people taking time off for childcare, parenthood, miscarriage or painful periods. People experiencing these can find it harder to maintain their career tracks and are left to fall behind. Of course, there are those who want to be full-time parents or are perfectly happy not to climb a career ladder. But for those who would like to, or have to, work – be that full-time, part-time or flexi-time – there must be cleverer ways to organise work to avoid this talent stunting and loss that affects one sex more than the other. 

The insight data in this report shows the stark link between female-specific wellbeing conditions and the wealth gap in our workplaces and societies. 

REBA’s research also clearly demonstrated a high-level workforce impact of inequity and lack of gender-specific support on organisations too. Nearly two-thirds of employer respondents said that inability to attract and retain enough women into their workforces is a future risk to their businesses. Nearly nine in 10 have an HR objective to increase the number of women in leadership (compared with just 3% saying they face a challenge getting men into leadership). While more than eight in 10 aim to improve the career prospects of women, just a quarter say the same for men. 

Therefore, it is no surprise that this research report shows a huge growth in the types of gender-focused benefits that employers plan to offer. Currently, 39% of employers offer menopause support. This is expected to more than double to 85% of employers over the next two years. Likewise, 46% of employers currently offer pregnancy and new parent/carer support, and this is expected to increase significantly to 76% of employers during the next two years. Lastly, employers also expect to see a big jump in fertility and LGBTQ+ support. Currently, 15% of employers offer support in these two areas; however, this is expected to more than triple to 56% of employers in the next two years. 

As so often with drives to create equity between groups (such as changes to policies and benefits), revised strategies can benefit all. 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. 

The findings of this research bode well for the future, even if we have quite some way to go.