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How personalised employee benefits can combat the gender pay gap

By Clare Reynolds, Chief Operating Officer (COO), Zest

There is evidence that the ongoing crisis is widening the gender pay gap. According to Smart Works, more than two thirds (68%) of women said that they had applied for lower paid and lower skilled work than they are qualified for. Similarly, recent research by recruitment firm Reed reveals that the average female worker now needs a 55% pay rise to live comfortably, compared to 31% for men – a statistic that is simply not good enough.

As well as earning less money, women are also receiving fewer workplace benefits, with 65% receiving company perks, compared to 75% of men – which is again, a statistic that is simply not good enough.

Employers have a big role to play in ensuring this doesn’t lead to even greater financial disparity between men and women in the workplace. Though there is no substitute for equal pay, there is a clear opportunity for employers to better support their female employees in a way that extends beyond salary, and in the meantime can lessen the load inflicted by the gender pay gap.

Women need more support with their finances – and their overall wellbeing

The current economic backdrop is indeed challenging. Yet it is at times like this where employers need to strengthen their commitment to inclusion and equality. Focusing on wellbeing strategies, such as paid mental health leave, increased childcare support or mindfulness programmes during challenging times, can foster a sense of belonging and support amongst employees and can prompt change that will be beneficial to the company more broadly.

When approaching a benefits strategy, it is critical to communicate with employees to understand how to best support them, in this case, female workers. While this will differ slightly from person to person, according to our most recent research*, on average, nearly six in ten (57%) women want more financial support from their employer – higher than the average of 54% for men.

A similar number (58%) of women say the cost-of-living crisis has changed their outlook on what is important in a job, and the same number (58%) say that company benefits have become more important to them when deciding where to work.

The most desired benefits for female employees include private medical insurance (41% of women named this as one of their top 5 most sought-after benefits), compared to 36% of men, increased pension contributions (31%), and – as prices spiral – employer contributions to energy costs at home (28%).

There are also some discrepancies between the benefits that different genders look for from their employer. For example, a company car is the fourth most important benefit for male employees’ priorities (21%) whereas for women this was less of a priority ranking eighth (15%). More popular options for women include a wellbeing allowance (28%), that can be spent at their discretion, and discounts at high street shops and brands (23%), which can support shopping for essentials.

While financial support is vital, wellbeing support is equally as important. For example, Creditspring’s financial stability tracker 2023 report found that a quarter of Brits believe their mental health has never been worse because of money worries. And with women having more money concerns due to the gender pay gap, this may help to explain why 22% of women want paid mental health leave, compared to 14% of men, prompting employers to pay close attention to the wellbeing initiatives they have in place.

Getting the right benefits in place is crucial for talent retention

While better benefits will primarily improve an employee’s life, getting this right is critical for employers too. 42% of women now say that a good benefits package is the single most important thing they look for in a potential employer, and over half (52%) would simply leave their job if another company offered them a better benefits package.

Flexible and personalised benefits that can be quickly administered and easily accessed can drive better experiences for women in the workplace, mitigate the worst effects of the cost-of-living crisis and even lessen the strain perpetuated by the gender pay gap.

Though no initiative will ever be a substitute for fair and equal pay, benefits do represent a tangible expression of an organisation’s commitment to the wellbeing and inclusivity. Failing to get this right not only threatens to increase gender disparity in the workplace but puts businesses at risk of draining half of their talent pool.

[*] – Findings were conducted by independent research agency Opinium which surveyed 2,000 adults weighted to be nationally representative between 1st – 5th December 2023.

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