Job satisfaction rose throughout the pandemic as more people switched to new roles, but one demographic has been noticeably left out — women.
Women said they are far less happy than men with their jobs, particularly when it comes to sick day and promotion policies, bonuses, and job security, according to a recent survey from the Conference Board.
The pandemic put a spotlight on gender inequities in the workplace as the home became the office and as caretaking responsibilities fell heavily on women, leading many to rethink their careers, how they feel they are treated at work compared to their male peers and what support they need from employers to be the best at their jobs.
“I think it was just such a wake up call for a lot of us,” said Jacquelyn Lane, president of 100 Coaches, a leadership agency.
In 2020 the rate of women participating in the workforce fell to its lowest level since 1987 as those overburdened with personal responsibilities left their jobs and others faced Covid-19-related layoffs.
The rate has since risen back near pre-pandemic levels, though many women are in different roles than they were three years ago.
Anne Genduso, a Washington, D.C.-based career coach, has worked with many women looking to leave education and teaching roles throughout the pandemic, and, for them, finding a new job is “not even about the role as much as it’s about the benefits, the culture, the overall expectations and finding alignment with values,” Genduso said.
“You’re trying to take care of household management, caregiver management, all of those things at once on top of trying to be the highest performer in your career,” she said.
“If you don’t have good vacation policies or sick days available to you, it’s even harder for you to achieve any of those other things,” she added.
How well company policies support working women can speak to an organization’s culture — an aspect of growing importance following the pandemic and the great resignation that followed.
“There are many levers an organization can pull to create job satisfaction for women, and that’s part of the ecosystem and culture that they kind of create for their employee base,” said Maria Doughty, president and CEO of the Chicago Network, a women’s leadership organization.
Continuing to offer flexible working arrangements and remote setups are first and foremost key for companies looking to support working mothers, especially as four-day weeks are gaining steam in school districts across the U.S. as a cost-cutting measure.
Other examples include offering on-site daycare or subsidies to make child care more affordable.
Doughty has even seen a company equip its office with a medical facility, similar to a CVS MinuteClinic, to make health care services more accessible for working mothers and their families. Health care is another responsibility women shoulder more often than men, with women being the primary health care decision makers for their families.
Employers also need to provide professional development and mentorship programs targeting women for leadership roles, Doughty said, whether internally or making them available externally.
Differences around promotions and bonuses
A key reason for women’s dissatisfaction in their jobs compared to men in the Conference Board survey was differences around promotional opportunities and bonuses.
A 2022 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found women on average earned higher performance ratings than male employees, yet scored lower as they related to their potential within the company. As a result, women on average were 14% less likely to be promoted than their male peers.
Research has shown that women receive less clear feedback from supervisors who often have “gendered positivity bias” — placing greater emphasis on being kind when delivering critical feedback to women than they do with men.
Managers need to provide women with “real clarity on how they get from point A to point B,” Doughty said.
Being passed over for promotions and not feeling adequately supported can lead women to feel their contributions aren’t valued and cause job security concerns — another contributor to lower satisfaction, Lane said.
“If you’re not getting that information and you’re not getting feedback, then it actually makes it very difficult to rise through an organization,” she said.
Ensuring women progress professionally and into leadership roles is key to making workplaces more equitable and eliminating unconscious biases that put women at a disadvantage.
“Women who are in those higher levels that understand the experience of other women can create more mindful or inclusive policies for companies,” Lane said.
“Company policies don’t reflect some of those additional stresses and pressures that are put on some of those different groups, and so I think there’s this idea that we have to have everything as fair and equal blanket policies, and what we’re realizing is, different people have different needs,” she said.