Ambitious professional women want it all — the high-powered career and a balanced family life.
But many employers aren’t making it easy for them with their limited family leave policies, rigid cultures and business models that, in practice, often really don’t support working parents.
Women who have children are often forced to go back to work before they’re really ready. On average, eligible workers take 8.5 out of the 12 weeks of leave permitted by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
This is in stark contrast to the 6 months of leave most experts, including the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend for new parents.
When employers fail to support working families, women, who are typically the primary caretakers, feel the biggest loss — emotionally, financially and professionally.
But this isn’t just a problem for the estimable women who give birth to children or the 43 million Americans who provide unpaid caregiving for elderly parents.
It’s a problem for the employers who hope to attract and retain these workers, particularly in a competitive job market where unemployment rates hit an 18-year low in May 2018.
The Alpha Test
After hearing common challenges from the working moms I coach in my executive coaching practice, I approached Alpha, an on-demand user insights platform, to learn more about what working women really want and need from their employers to feel supported and successful.
We ran a series of tests on Alpha’s platform in August 2018, against a total audience of more than 700 professional women under the age of 60; approximately half of the respondents had or plan to have children in the next 9 months. Here’s what we learned:
- Approximately 1 of every 4 employees has turned down a job because the benefits package did not meet their expectations
- Women (35%) ranked paid time off as the most important employer benefit, with 77% of women noting that paid time off, including maternity leave, was “extremely” or “very” important in relation to their overall benefits package
- Other benefits women valued highly include flexible working arrangements (23%), fitness and wellness offerings (14%), adequate maternity leave (11%), subsidized childcare (6%), caregiving/eldercare support (5%) and concierge services to support daily tasks (5%)
We conducted a deeper dive into maternity leave preferences and found:
- 34% of new mothers surveyed receive less than 1 month paid maternity leave, 37% get 1–2 months, 21% get 2–3 months, 6% get 3–4 months and 2% receive more than 4 months
- More than 60% of respondents felt that 3 months of paid maternity leave was reasonable and fair both for employers and employees
- There was greater variation among respondents in terms of the appropriate timeframe for partial paid leave, with 19% supporting 1 month of partial paid leave, 20% supporting 2 months, 21% supporting 3 months and 18% supporting up to 6 months of partial paid leave
Our findings were clear: women want more paid leave and greater flexibility and many of them will turn down a job offer that doesn’t offer them competitive benefits.
Implications for Employers
So what’s the implication for employers?
Employers have a number of levers they can pull to attract and retain top female talent.
Our research indicates most employers are falling short of women’s expectations and expert recommendations for family leave and there is an opportunity to offer more generous leave options.
Additionally, we found that a “one size fits all” approach to benefits may not be the answer for a workforce that spans multiple generations. Employers may consider how they can customize aspects of their benefits plans, including paid leave, telework policies, and wellness offerings to create the most value for their best employees and talent.
While our test spanned multiple industries and job functions, we recognize that benefits preferences may vary greatly by industry, career stage and age and strongly encourage employers to carefully study the total benefit packages that make the most sense for their unique population.
Contact us to learn more about how Alpha and Mosaic Growth Partners can help you better understand your employees’ benefits preferences and co-create a benefits package that will help you attract and retain top female talent.
 Harvard Business Review, “When Will The U.S. Finally Act Boldly on Paid Family Leave?”