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6 Ways to Better Support Women in the Workplace Attract and retain women employees by cultivating a working environment that allows them to thrive.

By Amy Friedrich

entrepreneur daily

This story originally appeared on


As women make a swift return to the workforce, even exceeding pre-pandemic levels in February,1 I've been reflecting on my own career. And how the type of support I received hindered or helped me along my journey.

One experience had particular sticking power.

Early in my career, I worked for someone who focused more on my behavior than my work product. She coached me with phrases like, "Be less bubbly," "Stop smiling so much," and "No one will take you seriously if you're laughing at work."

I know her intention was to create a version of me that, in her opinion, had a higher likelihood of being successful. Instead, it made me behave in ways that didn't feel true to who I was. And others noticed. Trying to emulate her very stern look, for example, led to people asking me if something was wrong.

What I learned from that experience is that even if it's an imperfect projection, you must bring your authentic self to work. If you're not true to who you are, then you won't build a healthy culture or be a leader that people want to follow.

It was just one lesson—among many—that shaped how I support others in my current role at Principal Financial Group® and within my community.

As business leaders, we have a chance to rethink and strengthen how we support each other and our employees, so we can all feel comfortable bringing our full selves to work. This is notably important for women, who continue to disproportionately juggle the demands of work and life.

By implementing the following six business practices, you can help ensure all your employees feel valued and supported.

1. Set policies that promote flexibility for parents and caregivers.

Sometimes home life bleeds into work life. I've certainly had to play the juggling act of involved parent and business leader. Asking for support during these times shouldn't be taboo.

Creating a safe space for these conversations is especially important for women, who shoulder a disproportionate amount of caregiving responsibilities—an issue exacerbated by the pandemic.

According to The Gender Gap in Financial Health report, funded by Principal® Foundation and conducted by the Financial Health Network, 70% of women with children under age 18 report making a career change because of their parenting responsibilities—reducing their hours, taking a leave of absence, or switching to a less demanding job—compared to 55% of men. As a result, they also experience a higher rate of income loss.

But when women have the flexibility to choose where they do their work, they experience less burnout, are happier in their jobs, and are much less likely to consider leaving their employer, according to a study by McKinsey & Company.

You may hear "policy" and think of a handbook of human resources rules. But I picture it more like a compassionate conversation where your employees feel the emotional investment you have in them as people.

2. Establish boundaries to help prevent burnout.

Without clear boundaries, flexible work can quickly become "always on" work. This is especially true for women leaders doing extra—often unrecognized—work such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, according to the McKinsey study. That same report found that 43% of women leaders are burned out (compared to 31% of their male counterparts).

Set clear expectations and ensure you're accounting for any additional work your women employees are doing—and include that in their goals and reviews so it's recognized and rewarded.

As an example, when setting expectations for new employees in the past, I might have said, "Your top priority is to get your work done." But now I've added, "And where and when you get it done is up to you." I didn't change the headline of my conversation, but I changed the subhead. This may mean leaving work at 3 p.m. to take an elderly parent to their doctor's appointment—and not being expected to answer work emails during that time.

3. Make time to be a mentor and offer peer support.

Throughout my career, I've had many mentors who inspired me, humbled me, and challenged me to be better—so I try to do the same for others.

At Principal, I formally and informally invest in female leadership development—from mentoring to participating in employee resource groups to promoting inclusion in various forums. I've also been active in nonprofit community organizations that focus on women and girls, providing funding for afterschool programs and financial literacy. It's worth the effort.

But you don't necessarily need a formal mentoring program with committees. Connect employees with role models in the community who will serve as career mentors. Create your own network of small business leaders, including women of diverse backgrounds.

Equally important: Recognize and reward women who are stepping up and offering this mentorship and support within your own business.

4. Offer benefits that suit workers' diverse needs.

With the gender wage gap stubbornly stuck for two decades now, working to provide women with fair market compensation for their roles and experience is table stakes.2

But when it's difficult to compete with large corporations' salaries, benefits can set you apart.

Beyond traditional benefits like retirement plans and disability and life insurance, small and midsize business owners are also providing childcare benefits, paid family and medical leave, and employee assistance programs (EAPs) to meet their employees' unique needs, according to the Principal Financial Well-Being IndexSM.3

5. Create clear paths for career growth.

Many modern organizational charts are flat, often making it difficult to carve out clear career paths for all employees. This can particularly affect women, who are less likely to identify as the boss or a top manager at work—and more likely to say they wouldn't want to be in the future.2 But that certainly doesn't mean they don't want to advance their careers.

Be deliberate about creating growth paths for high-performing individual contributors. And if you have women working remotely—full or part-time—provide them with support and opportunities equitable to in-person employees.

For those women who want to pursue leadership roles, consider the impact of the multiplier effect. A concept proven out by Deloitte research,4 it means that every woman added to the C-suite results in nearly three additional women among the senior leadership ranks. I'm a product of this myself.

Having diversity in the C-suite matters—not only because we can advocate for other women, but more importantly because it helps broaden conversations and viewpoints.

Intentional career support for women will not only help with workplace morale, but your bottom line as well: An eight-year study by Morgan Stanley Research found that companies with more gender diversity generally enjoyed a greater return on equity with lower volatility.

6. Cultivate a workplace that's inclusive—and safe—for women.

Women continue to experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace, significantly hindering their ability to advance their careers. In fact, more than half of women—57%—say they've faced harassment or discrimination at work, according to The Gender Gap in Financial Health report. The study also found that harassed women are more likely to be financially vulnerable.

Set and employ anti-discrimination and harassment policies with clear steps should someone need to report an incident. Resources like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) can help with policy templates and other guidelines.

Women deserve to have fulfilling careers, and our ability to hire and retain them depends on cultivating working environments that allow them to thrive. Our businesses—and economy—will be better for it.

Get timely ideas from businesses like yours.

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment, or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel, financial professionals, and other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.

Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc. ("Principal® Foundation") is a duly recognized 501(c)(3) entity focused on providing philanthropic support to programs that build financial security in the communities where Principal Financial Group, Inc. ("Principal") operates. While Principal Foundation receives funding from Principal, Principal Foundation is a distinct, independent, charitable entity. Principal Foundation does not practice any form of investment advisory services and is not authorized to do so.

© 2023 Principal Foundation.


1 "Number of women in the workforce tops pre-pandemic levels for first time," Axios, March 2023

2 "Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn't changed much in two decades," Pew Research Center, March 2023

3 Principal Financial Well-Being Index, a survey of 500 employers with 2-10,000 employees, Feb. 2-9, 2023

4 "Advancing more women leaders in financial services: A global report," Deloitte, June 2022

Amy Friedrich

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President of Benefits and Protection at Principal Financial Group®

Amy Friedrich is president of Benefits and Protection with Principal Financial Group®. Benefits and Protection currently serves more than 130,000 employers and 4 million people. Friedrich leads 3,200 employees responsible for group employee benefits, life insurance, disability insurance, and nonqualified deferred compensation, along with the distribution arm.


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