How to really be a company that supports women
Gender equity in the workplace has continued to be a prevalent issue, simply because it’s a matter of justice. And, with movements like “Time’s Up” and “Me Too” continuing to make a splash, workplaces have been scrutinizing their office practices and corporate culture more closely to ensure that no inappropriate behavior is evident within the workplace. While many companies have done stand-up jobs of this, there are some tough considerations that companies need to make about how much they really support their female employees.
Fortunately, things are getting somewhat better. McKinsey’s 2019 report on Women in the Workplace found a 24% bump in the number of women in the C-suite, as well as a 13% increase in companies’ commitment to gender diversity. Unfortunately, the same report noted that there has been no real change in microaggressions toward women in the workplace, nor in women feeling that gender is a barrier to advancement. And, most surprisingly, even companies that cater to female applicants miss the mark on basic health care coverage like prenatal care.
I sat down with Brianna Wetherbe, director and board member of Stand Up For APA, to learn more — because for a company to truly support women in their personal and professional lives, the following categories must be evaluated.
1. Prenatal and maternal benefits in health insurance.
“Many companies are providing stellar maternal benefits, like Apple’s 16 weeks of paid leave or Facebook’s $4,000 baby bonus,” says Wetherbe. “Less attention, however, has been paid to the quality of prenatal care that their expecting employees receive – than the actual care that women receive during pregnancy.” While many tech companies pride themselves on their generous paid leave and other post-pregnancy benefits for new mothers, they remain oblivious to the fact that their affiliations with certain insurance companies including Aetna and UnitedHealthcare result in a lack of or denial of access to the best prenatal care for their pregnant employees.
Wetherbe told me that one of the most important elements of prenatal care is screening tests that can help expectant mothers determine if the baby is more or less likely to have certain genetic disorders. These tests can be performed using traditional and less accurate options like serum or combined screening, or by using newer, more accurate noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) options that uses blood samples to test the baby’s DNA.
“Research has shown NIPT to be the most accurate prenatal testing option,” Wetherbe explained. “A 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that mothers who did not have access to NIPT are 22 times more likely to miss a child with Down Syndrome during pregnancy and furthermore, 95 times more likely to be unnecessarily referred to a specialist due to a false positive result from a prior screen, incurring additional costs and undergoing further invasive testing that subjects the fetus to risk.”.
“All of this can be prevented if insurance companies that don’t currently cover NIPT begin following the recommendations of medical societies such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and covering NIPT for all women permanently,” stated Wetherbe. Companies like Google and Cisco have noticed this discrepancy in coverage from major insurance companies and secured NIPT coverage for expectant mothers on their teams, but other companies haven’t. “This is an undeniable way that women are overlooked in the workplace — by denying them covered access to care that doesn’t affect men,” noted Wetherbe.
2. Work From Home Flexibility
Another way in which women are affected is lack of flexibility. Of course, most everyone is currently working remotely — a welcome reprieve to the many mothers who had to make the hard decision to come back to work after having or adopting a child. But even within working from home, some women prefer to have greater flexibility with the hours of their day. For example: with COVID-19 leaving many children out of school and at-home, it’s a constant balancing act for moms to be both online for work and on standby for their children who may need help with their classwork. The stress can be so significant that it could lead to some working moms leaving their jobs, as a recent Workload Impact Survey found that 14% of working moms are considering quitting because of the increased demand at home. So, some moms may prefer to get their work done at later hours, such as when the kids go to sleep.
Sure, there may be times that all-hands team meetings need to be had, but consider how you can make your work policy more flexible. Setting certain KPI’s for weeks, months, and quarters, then giving all of your employees the chance to meet them on their own time investment (super late or early hours included) may actually soar office productivity. Having honest conversations about everyone’s needs can help, too — and this extends to working dads, of course!
3. Offering Coaching, Support, Or Women-Focused Training
Finally, having a space in which women can be supported professionally and talk through issues at work is continuously advised as a solution to faults in corporate culture. “Many companies have invested in women’s groups, women-led trainings for female employees, and other ways for women to come together. Ideally, these should be leadership programs, where women have the platform and opportunity to say what they need to about happenings at work,” notes Wetherbe.
McKinsey astutely reflected in an article that “The oft-overlooked benefit of women-only leadership programs is that they hold up a mirror to the organization. When women scrutinize their own leadership traits and experiences, they reveal important information about the day-to-day environment in which they operate. If a company is receptive, the content of the sessions can help gauge how well the organization promotes effective leadership behavior and can offer a portal into where the company succeeds, as well as where it fails to foster an environment in which everyone can bring their best self to work.” For this reason, not only are these groups necessary, but attention to the conversations and overarching themes that these groups bring to the surface must be held in regard company-wide.
There are admittedly many other topics and issues that must be addressed within a corporate culture that truly supports women. Any type of flexibility, health care, on-site child care (if on-site work revitalizes post COVID-19), attention to microaggressions, and a supportive company culture are all intrinsically important topics. If anything, attention to what women at work are saying and advocating for should be front and center in levels of importance. Your company’s culture depends on it.