Women in the Workplace: The One Thing Companies Can Do to Retain Female Employees (And it Doesn't Cost a Dime!)

06/11/2015 01:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2016

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Image Credit: Plantronics Germany/Creative Commons

When it comes to Work-Life balance, few topics are more divisive among employees and management than the issue of workplace flexibility, especially if you are a Mom (or Dad) trying to juggle the pressures of parenting and want to move up the ranks to an Executive.

In fact, when More magazine asked women in 2011 the following question:

If you could have one of the following which would you pick?
• A promotion
• A raise
• Another week of vacation
• Flexibility in your day
The overwhelming response was flexibility during the day!

"Seventy-five percent of college-educated women aged thirty-five to sixty would rather have more free time in their lives than make more money at their jobs. In fact, 40 percent would even take a pay cut for more flexibility."

Workplace Flexibility is the new normal in the American workplace, especially when almost 40% of the US workforce works from home and 15% of these employees are working full-time, according to Gallup.

Given the immense benefits of being able to cut down on commute time, tailor your own work schedule and also put in more hours of being engaged on the job, it is critical for companies to not just fully embrace telecommunting but also offer up workplace flexibility if they want to retain their talent - especially female employees.

In fact, one of my former colleagues, a razor sharp lady with an MBA from a world class school and a thriving career at a Fortune 100 company walked away from her job to be a stay-at-home mom because her company did not allow her any flexibility.

She pointed out that while some rising women leaders in Corporate America could and did outsource their child care to a live-in au-pair or nanny, it was not a realistic option for most other female employees: "It is hard to GET to executive management if you can't put in the same kind of hours as your male colleague. The patriarchal corporate structure will have to collapse upon itself and re-build from the ground up before it is truly a working mom- friendly atmosphere!"

My ex-colleague is not the only one leaving the ranks of big corporations with rigid workplace schedules.

Another business associate quit her high-profile job because of the boss' insistence, that all workers be physically present in office every day. The business associate who is also a mom, managed to find another job that doubled her salary and let her work most days from home. She shared that her new boss was so cool about the work arrangement, she was fired up to do an excellent job.

As my former colleague said, "Giving a woman/mom flexibility can be one of the greatest perks an employer can give." In fact many women I know have said, 'I only need flexibility from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM.' Most of them are back on their computers after the kids go to bed anyway.

So what can employers do to provide more workplace flexibility to their female employees and prevent attrition among the ranks?

Have an Honest Conversation: Companies need to have an honest dialogue of what they can do to maximize their workers' productivity. Women are often faced, to a much greater degree, with a series of life choices that only women can experience - situations that are not always supported or accommodated by organizations. If you ask your female employees, how you can make their lives better, you will find creative solutions that you could never have imagined on your own. And most men want this as well, we're just afraid to ask.

Change Your Policies: One of the evolving workplace trends is that of "Core Hours," which requires office-based employees to be on-site from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. During this time meetings and other activities requiring face to face interaction can occur. Employees then determine whether they will come early or stay later to do the rest of their work. Core Hours can be vital for some organizations because there is a value to having employees face to face and can help speed up innovation and decision making.

Ask Yourself "Does Your Company Have a Baby Penalty?" A new baby in the house can significantly alter the family's work dynamic. As parents we need to have a Plan B or even Plan C in place to deal with our kids' emergencies. So, if female employees are leaving work promptly at 5pm to pick up their kids or taking days off to deal with a sick child, ask yourself if you are penalizing them for having kids. Consider the option to let them have more flexible work hours that can lead to a big productivity boost from their end.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to giving women more flexibility. Change will come from dialogue within organizations and as leaders we need to be prepared for the conversation.

Do you have a novel or innovative way you let women work around their work- family issues?

Drop me a line here, email me at jthalter@ywomen.biz or tweet me at @YWomen.

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country's leading male expert on engaging men in women's leadership issues. He is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.

Read more on his website: www.ywomen.biz