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Practice Management > Diversity and Inclusion

Workplace Flexibility Creates New Challenges for Women in Retirement Field

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What You Need to Know

  • Significant strides have been made to accommodate the needs of caregivers in the workplace, but many professionals are still feeling burned out.
  • Millennial women and members of Gen Z seem to be feeling the most pressure to balance work and life.
  • Many female retirement professionals say their career growth has slowed with expanded caregiving responsibilities.

While many female professionals in the retirement industry appreciate the expanded flexibility brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also widespread concern about the emergence of a new “do-it-all” culture that will harm caregivers.

In fact, according to a new survey published by WIPN, there’s a chance changes being made in the workplace are actually supporting a problematic status quo — one where women are still primarily responsible for domestic caregiving while also facing mounting pressure to succeed professionally and financially support their families.

This is among the headline findings of WIPN’s latest retirement industry poll, which compiles quantitative and qualitative feedback from more than 160 of the organization’s female members.

On the positive side, some seven in 10 surveyed WIPN members who are also caregivers say they now have much-needed autonomy over their time at work — and that they have options for remote work and flexible schedules.

Other key findings show that, though American caretaking benefits remain well below levels offered in many other developed countries, they have expanded significantly in recent years and the female WIPN members surveyed are generally happy with their benefits.

Still, according to the survey, it will be important for firm leaders to continue to update and evolve their approach to supporting caregivers if they hope to address the clear and pressing gender gap that exists at the leadership level across the financial services landscape.

WIPN and Its Mission

WIPN” is shorthand for the advocacy organization known as “WE Inspire. Promote. Network.” The current moniker was adopted a little more than two years ago, when the former Women in Pensions Network (WiPN) announced an ambitious rebranding.

At that time, WIPN adopted a new mission statement that seeks to more explicitly include men, people of color and other groups in the shared and critically important mission of improving diverse representation in the ranks and leadership levels of retirement-focused financial services companies.

Among WIPN’s prior research projects is a cutting analysis showing a lack of mentoring and sponsorship opportunities is a particular concern among women of color working in the retirement industry today. According to WIPN’s research, almost a quarter of women of color cite the lack of a mentor/sponsor as a major barrier to career growth.

Women of color who do not have a mentor say that this is often due to an inability to find one who is a good fit. Additionally, the data shows that a significantly higher proportion of women of color feel excluded from formal and informal networks at work than their white counterparts.

WIPN’s leaders say these sentiments are slowly improving, but they are clearly not just home-spun. Rather, they rather stem from the deeply embedded cultures of many workplaces, where employers’ actions often do not align with their stated values, even when formal diversity, equity and inclusion efforts exist.

Positive Survey Findings

WIPN’s new survey seeks to offer additional insights about whether emerging post-pandemic norms are inadvertently trading one set of challenges for another.

As the analysis shows, in the post-pandemic era, many retirement industry workplaces have more flexibility than ever, including the option to do some work remotely or to adjust schedules to accommodate family responsibilities.

On its face, this is a good thing. Two-thirds of the WIPN members surveyed are caregivers of children, aging parents or ailing spouses and partners. Overall, about a third of these women say they are the primary caregiver in their home, while just 5% say their partner is the primary caregiver. The rest say they share caregiving responsibilities with a partner.

According to WIPN, this is one area where continued cultural shifts are striking. That is, Gen Z and millennial respondents were much more likely to say they shared caregiving with their partner compared to baby boomers and silent generation peers.

One clear positive note shared by WIPN members is that the landscape is also changing in terms of caregiving leave and other benefits at employers. Among caregivers, about two-thirds say they are happy with the leave their company provides for caregiving, and nearly all (94%) of women say their employers are “extremely” or “somewhat” supportive of caregivers in general.

The survey shows the median maternity leave offered in the retirement industry today is 12 weeks, which is seen as satisfactory among 69% of the polled WIPN members. While the median allotment of parental leave is half that amount, this is seen as satisfactory by a similar percentage (66%), as is the three-week allotment at the median for sick leave for caregiving.

Balancing a Career and Caregiving

Despite these gains, many women in the retirement industry still face a range of stress points around their twin burdens of professional and family responsibilities. Some three in 10 say their caregiving role has negatively affected their career opportunities, and nearly as many say they have to rely on daycare or extended family for help more than they would like to.

A commonly identified sentiment in the short testimonials included in the research report is that women have more leave and more support at work today, but that may have simply shifted the culture to a place where women are even more expected to “do it all.”

Their lot as caregivers may be improved, WIPN explains, but changes to workplace benefits — when they are not matched by changes in cultural norms — may be inadvertently amplifying the pace on a “treadmill of unsustainable expectations.”

Other telling stats from the survey show 74% agree that they have a significant degree of autonomy over how they spend their time during the work week, while 72% say they have flexible working hours in their current organization. A similar percentage has the option to work remotely when needed, and 61% say they are glad they stayed in the workforce when they became a caregiver.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, just 21% say they have spoken to their employer about their challenges balancing work and caregiving, and just 38% say their career path has grown as they would have hoped alongside their expanding caregiving responsibilities.

Smaller but still significant numbers say their career path has been limited due to caregiving or other challenges (18%) and that they receive less recognition than peers who are not caregivers. Some 16% say they worry their compensation is not adequate to cover the cost of caregiving.

Perspective From Younger Members

According to WIPN, women who are ages 54 and under report notably lower satisfaction than their baby boomer peers, and a number of factors seem to contribute to the gap.

Naturally, the data reflects some survivor bias, since the oldest/happiest cohort represents the women who stayed in the profession due at least in part to a higher degree of workplace satisfaction in general. And there is also a relationship between pay and satisfaction, where the higher pay generally enjoyed by later-career workers is associated with higher satisfaction levels.

Still, according to WIPN, the satisfaction gap also reflects the very real burdens facing today’s younger and middle-aged executives. This is a cohort facing high cultural expectations.

“For millennials and Gen X, the prevailing ‘sandwich’ generations coping with steep responsibilities at home and at work, career satisfaction is often in direct competition with caregiving and family priorities,” the report warns. “The tension between these trends could prove to be the dominant theme of this era.”

Access to Roles in Sales

About a third of survey respondents currently work in a sales role, and among the non-sales respondents, nearly half say they have considered working in sales. That leaves 39% of women in the industry who aren’t in sales and don’t want to be.

“Sales is, of course, not a good match for all personality types, and it’s not the only pathway to higher-paid roles,” the report explains. “Many management positions are held by people who rose up through other tracks. Still, a number of WIPN members say that they avoided the sales track because the role is so incompatible with family demands — even in an era when many more men are taking on caregiving responsibilities alongside partners.”

Others reported that variable compensation was a key obstacle.

Overall, the report suggests sales roles are seen as attractive by some because they benefit from a natural form of transparency — since pay structures are typically output-based and published to the organization. In contrast, many non-sales roles continue to face a lack of transparency, according to WIPN members.

In fact, 71% of WIPN members say their workplace was “not transparent” or only “somewhat transparent” about pay and compensation.

About half say their workplace provides salary ranges for job postings or by role, and just 28% say their company has conducted salary equity studies within the organization.

(Image: Shutterstock)


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