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Empathy & Equality: Why Men and Women View Workplace Empathy Differently—and What Companies Can Do About It

Empathy & Equality: Why Men and Women View Workplace Empathy Differently—and What Companies Can Do About It
Posted on Friday, August 9, 2019 by Rae Shanahan

Employees of all genders agree on the value of workplace empathy, yet persistent differences in men’s and women’s responses about empathy in practice show that companies still have progress to make.

Diversity-and-inclusionIf there is one constant takeaway we’ve learned over the past four years, it’s that empathy in the workplace matters to nearly all employees. Now it its fourth year, the State of Workplace Empathy Study continues to reinforce how valuable empathy is to employees across industries, generations and genders. As our workforce becomes increasingly diverse, this emphasis on empathy is a common thread that we see year over year.

That commonality exists between people of all genders—in 2019, 82% of both men and women said they’d consider leaving their current organization if offered a similar job at a more empathetic one. Different genders also hold similar opinions about how companies can express empathy. Nearly identical numbers of men (76%) and women (75%) said greater diversity in leadership makes companies more empathetic.

Yet for all these similarities, men and women have significant differences in their perceptions of empathy in their everyday working lives. We’ve noted a persistent 15-point difference between men and women when asked if their company is empathetic, with 78% of men and 64% of women in 2019 saying their employer is empathetic—the same point differential as in 2018. These disparities highlight that organizations still have work to do to bring equality to the workplace, particularly in three key areas.

Career Growth

As we noted, diversity in leadership increases workplace empathy, with three-quarters of men and women agreeing. But when it comes to actual opportunities for promotion, opinions diverge starkly. In the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, there is a 19-point difference between men and women when asked if everyone at their company has the opportunity to grow: 85% of men say everyone has that opportunity, but only 66% of women say the same.

These perceptions are undoubtedly reinforced by a continued lack of female representation in leadership. Out of the Fortune 500, currently 33 CEOs are women—or 6.6% of the total. Even this is an improvement, however; in 2018 the number was just 24, which was a 25% decline from 2017. A recent study across the US, UK and Europe also found that fewer than 5% of CEOs were women.

What can organizations do to address this persistent lack of women in leadership roles? Many strategies are already available, but they need robust implementation:

  • Current leaders must prioritize Diversity & Inclusion (D&I): Culture change is complex, and if leaders don’t demonstrate their commitment to D&I, employees will have less impetus to value it.
  • Go beyond mentoring to sponsoring: Mentoring women is vital, but sponsors will provide women with advocates to recommend assignments that develop their expertise. For example, EY has several programs to help women create a “board of directors” who can connect them to roles and experiences necessary to qualify for promotion.

Equal Pay

In the 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study, 83% of men said equal gender pay is a priority at their company. But, only 67% of women said the same. Additionally, when asked if pay at their company was based solely on merit and experience, over three-quarters of men (77%) said yes, but barely more than half (56%) of women agreed—a 21-point difference.

Why are women skeptical of companies’ commitment to pay equity? Because the pay gap remains an issue, with women in 2019 earning 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. There are many nuances in this figure: women of color face even greater pay disparities than white women, the gap changes based on industry, and numerous other factors. But this average number of 79 cents demonstrates that women have good reasons to be unconvinced that companies are prioritizing equal pay or that merit alone determines salary.

When employees feel undervalued, they’re more likely to leave an organization or have their productivity suffer. To close the gap and value employees equally, HR can take important steps:

  • Don’t ask for salary history when hiring: Since women are typically paid less than men for comparable work, using salary history to determine compensation can perpetuate these pay gaps.
  • Set goals and stick to them: Commit to closing the pay gap by examining your workforce’s compensation and identify career development opportunities that will garner raises. Then, keep managers accountable for their workforce’s growth.

Benefits Offerings

Benefits and perks are increasingly important for recruitment, retention, and overall employee well-being. A robust benefits package with options that meet the needs of our diverse workforce is a must in today’s tight labor market. Yet women don’t think benefits offerings are designed with their needs in mind—just 61% of women said their company considers D&I when developing benefits packages.

With about 75% of caregivers being female, it’s no surprise that women are concerned about benefits packages that help them support children and elderly relatives, balance financial well-being, and offer the flexibility to manage competing responsibilities. If their company’s benefits don’t provide these types of support, women are likely to believe their company doesn’t consider the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives.

Organizations can take action to address this issue, namely focusing on what their entire workforce needs from their benefits and design offerings accordingly:

  • Survey your employees before and during AE: This will help you determine what benefits your employees care about, and what might be missing from your offering.
  • Ensure flexibility is an option: Flexible working hours were rated as the most important benefit for demonstrating empathy.

Addressing gender disparities in the workplace remains a challenge, but by openly discussing men’s and women’s perceptions, and joining together to make our workplaces more equitable, employees and employers alike can drive better outcomes.

Learn more about the value of D&I to all genders.