Are employee benefits holding back women in tech?

Written by Zoë Morris, President of Mason Frank International

With an ever-growing skills gap affecting the tech industry year-on-year, it is vital to look at why many employee benefits programmes are missing key ingredients, creating a gender bias in the process.

Some figures come as no surprise when the topic of women in tech crops up, and the case predictably remains that some of the biggest names in the sector continue to trend around the 20% mark when it comes to their female workforce.

This is not to say the industry’s biggest players aren’t attempting to address the issue. Late last year, Microsoft’s 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Report claimed women make up over 29% of their global personnel, up 1.2% on the previous year if we include their “family” of companies such as LinkedIn and GitHub.

To their credit, many household names have orchestrated diversity intakes, set quotas for the number of females invited to interview, and produced targets to introduce women at board level–but they would do well to be critical of their own processes and try to prevent the imbalance, rather than cure it.

Yes, firms have pulled in roughly the right direction with varying degrees of success, but there remains a grey area thats casting a negative shadow on their pursuit of equality.

The Benefits Gender Split

Each year, Mason Frank International carries out an independent market survey in order to gauge the sentiments of thousands of tech professionals across the globe. Some 30% of the 2,500-plus respondents to our latest report were women, and one of the overriding gender differences we found were in attitudes towards desired benefits.

When asked which benefits they desire most, 22% of female respondents highlighted the importance of home and flexible working as opposed to 19% of men. This figure becomes significant when compared to actual entitlement, where there’s a noticeable disparity between the genders.

Despite a strong desire for home working, only 58% of women are offered this employment benefit, compared to 64% of men. There’s an even greater difference when looking at flexible working hours—a benefit enjoyed by 54% of men, compared to just 42% of women.

A difference in desired benefits might be understandable, but there’s no fair explanation as to why entitlement to these benefits should be any different between the genders.

The Bigger Picture

While all employees should be equally entitled to benefits such as home and flexible working, research shows that failing to offer them can have a much greater impact on women’s careers.

The traditional work-life balance of females is more strenuous, with women more likely to be juggling caring responsibilities, totaling at around 60% more unpaid work a week through parental or elderly care.

As such, the chances of career burnout is far greater in females, signaling a greater need for flexibility. In addition, women in tech generally work in executive jobs with little scope for decision making, which in turn makes them more susceptible to burnout through sheer demotivation.

Given burnout is already prevalent in the tech industry, businesses could be driving staff away by not allowing flexible working. It could even be handicapping your business from the initial intake stage.

When asked if benefits would influence the acceptance of a job offer, 24% of female respondents to our survey indicated flexible working hours were important to them, while 39% said they would be influenced by home working as a benefit.

There’s also another layer to the issue. It isn’t enough to simply offer flexible and home working, as negative feelings towards these benefits could also be stunting the progress of women already on their tech career journey.

The Stigma of Flexibility

Adverse attitudes towards flexible and home working can be incredibly damaging–particularly when it comes to the careers of working mothers.

In a 2018 study by Heejung Chung, 35% of the professionals surveyed said flexible working created more work for others, while 39% associated negative outcomes with a colleague working flexibly. Of those who had worked flexibly in the past, 39% experienced negative consequences as a result of it, and 18% believed it impacted negatively on their career.

Working mothers were by far the largest category that felt flexible working had negatively impacted their careers (26%), compared to men without children (13%) and working dads (11%).

Yet these perceptions are in direct conflict with recent research on flexible working, which suggests workers who spend three to four days working remotely are the most engaged. Clearly, times have changed, and companies need to do more to demonstrate the positive impact these benefits can have on personal performances, and ultimately why they’re good for the business.

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