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April 12 2016

What Do Women Want? A Customized Workplace

Real Clear Technology
featuring Sabrina Schaeffer and Carrie L. Lukas

Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement touched off a firestorm in recent years over the lack of women in the technology industry. Google was taken to task for its global tech workforce being just 17 percent female. Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer made headlines when she ended telecommuting and seemingly put the brakes on the kind of flexibility that often keeps women working and advancing through a company. Netflix, in contrast, invested in an expensive new paid leave program to try to get ahead of its “women problem.”

The fact is there’s a lot more that technology firms can do to address their “women” problem and head off bad press (and smaller profits). The big players might be able to afford generous leave policies or fancy daycare programs, while small and midsize firms may be concerned that they can’t compete on that front. But the reality is they might not need to.

The fastest, best, and most profitable way to recruit and keep more good female employees is to customize job packages on a mass scale. Our team recently conducted innovative research for the Independent Women’s Forum that discovered the ways in which different kinds of women trade off job features and benefits like salary, flexibility, the sex of their supervisor, and many other characteristics.

Using a unique, scientific innovation on traditional conjoint research (used in marketing), we teased out how women trade off different job features, and what those tradeoffs mean in actual dollars and cents.

All women are willing to make sizeable tradeoffs to customize a workplace that suits their particular circumstances. For example we learned that general job flexibility is highly valued by women – so much so that it’s equivalent to offering about 10 paid vacation and sick days, or between an additional $5,000-$10,000 in extra salary.

We hear a lot about paid leave in the news, but conservative women are far more concerned with finding a relatively secure and stable job and willing to trade off salary for that work environment. Despite all the talk about the need for female managers, it’s actually only progressive women who favor jobs with a female supervisor. And again, we can translate this preference into flexibility on salary.

Here’s the bottom line: women don’t all want the same thing, and a company can and should customize a portfolio of job packages that maximizes features that individual women want, while minimizing the total cost to the company. Another way of saying this – we can maximize value for both the employee and the employer.

This kind of knowledge can provide a big advantage in attracting the best talent while keeping costs down. Knowing what kind of workplace causes a woman to love or hate where she works is essential. And quantifying exactly how much a particular job feature impacts the probability that women will choose one job over could be the difference between success and failure.

The research we conducted is just a first dive into a complicated issue we can make simple. Innovative companies can take it further, teasing out the best job packages for recruiting for particular types of jobs and specific kinds of recruiting targets. There are a lot of efficiencies to be gained, if companies just start to look at the options.

For an industry that has allowed us to customize just about everything in our lives – from when we watch our favorite shows to how we buy our groceries to allowing women to tailor their fashion in an affordable way – it’s amazing how rigid most workplaces still are.

What do women want? Women want what tech companies have already given them on the consumer side – customized choices. It’s time tech started customizing the workplace as well.

Adam B. Schaeffer, Ph.D., conducts scientific research on the behavior of the planet’s most fascinating animal, Homo sapiens. He is co-founder and CSO of Evolving Strategies and ES Partners.

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Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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