What women really want at work

Organisations are boosting their efforts to attract more women as the business case for gender diversity becomes more and more compelling. When it comes to choosing an employer, women’s priorities are often different to those of men, so it pays to know what women want.

Gender diversity makes business sense. Emma Southward, Managing Director of recruitment firm 40 Foot Consulting Limited, describes the research as “conclusive”. Southward completed her MBA thesis on gender diversity in New Zealand business leadership and says that companies with more women in the C-suite have better financial performance than companies with fewer women.

“We're talking about profit and we're talking return on investment,” she says.

“Equally, there have been some studies around group dynamics at a leadership level. Gender diversity is linked to better group efficacy and better group performance.”

The benefits also stretch beyond the bottom line. “When there are more women on a board and at senior levels, a company generally performs better on innovation-type agendas,” says Southward.

What women want

SEEK’s Laws of attraction data shows men and women share the same key priorities when choosing an employer. Their top priority is salary and compensation (16.5% men versus 15% women), followed by work-life balance (14.1% women versus 13% men) and career opportunities (12.5% men versus 10.5% women). However, the importance they place on these priorities is quite different.

When it comes to ‘must have’ elements of salary and compensation, women under-index while men are significantly more likely to view base salary (71% versus 66%), insurance (20% versus 9%) and a company car (14% versus 5%) as a ‘must have’.

Caroline North, research manager with SEEK, explains that while women consider salary as their number one driver, this does not necessarily equate with a desire for more money.

“It's about having information about salary in order to make a decision,” she says.

“For example, is it a salary that will support the demands they have in life, such as childcare costs or grocery bills or rent? The data also indicates that as women don't regard many elements of salary as a ‘must have’, they may be less likely to make negotiations around them.”

Miranda Burdon, CEO of Global Women, which works to drive greater diversity across New Zealand workplaces, adds that while salary is an important driver for women, it’s not enough.

“When anyone reaches a leadership level, they expect to be paid well,” she says.

“Yes, women want to make money and have a good career but they want to achieve this in an environment that supports their values. Two common questions that women ask a potential employer are ‘what is your flexibility policy?’ and ‘what is your policy around volunteer and pro bono work’?”

Achieving a balance

Laws of Attraction also shows that flexibility is highly valued among women. They are significantly more likely than men to consider certain elements of work-life balance, such as reduced or structured hours, as a ‘must have’. The ability to work part time is also a higher priority for women than for men - 16.5% of women regard it as essential compared to 5% of men. They also place a greater emphasis on the ability to buy annual leave or take unpaid leave (16% versus 12% of men).

Women also have different priorities around career development. Men place more emphasis on promotion opportunities (a ‘must have’ for 36% versus 29% of women), external training programs (20% versus 15%) and sponsored study (11% versus 7%).

North says women’s desire for work-life balance and career progression may give employers food for thought.

“Career progression is generally viewed as climbing up a ladder and I think we need to change the way we think about it in order to support flexible working lives as well as what career opportunities and development can actually look like,” she says.

“If it's only about climbing up a ladder, it becomes very much a full time worker's opportunity for growth. How can you develop growth and also part-time work or flexible working?”

Less talk, more action

SEEK’s research has revealed a number of other differences among the genders. For example, women are significantly more likely than men to view company paid maternity / parental leave as essential (28% vs. 19% male) and support diversity in the workplace as a ‘must have’ (34% versus 26% of men).

Burdon says that if organisations wish to attract more women to their workplace, they must “walk the talk” on diversity.

“I was speaking to a law graduate recently who had quite a few companies chasing her to join them, but she turned them all down because the interview panels were exclusively male,” she says.

“What kind of message does that send about a serious commitment to workplace diversity? The best talent has a lot of choices in the market and they can see straight through it if a company is all talk and no action.”