Despite employers' efforts to promote transparency and equity in the workplace, women's trust in their employers is significantly lower than their male counterparts. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Ashley Reichheld, Emily Werner, and Wenny Katzenstein of Deloitte explain why — and outline three strategies organizations can implement to build trust with women.
According to data collected in a 2021 Deloitte study, women tend to trust their employers less than their male counterparts.
For the study, they measured trust levels of 5,000 U.S. employees across job types and industries and assigned trust scores in each category. Overall, they found that women and men enter the workforce with similar levels of trust in their employers. However, women's trust rapidly falls behind men's — and the gap continues to widen throughout their careers.
By the time women advance to the director level, they trust their employers 30% less than men at the same level. Scores only begin to recover as women enter the senior leadership ranks. Even then, their trust levels never fully catch up.
Although many employers are making an effort to promote transparency and equity in the workplace, women still don't trust them. According to the authors, one of the key reasons is that "the well-intentioned policies that should promote equity between men and women, such as flex time and performance-based compensation, tend not to benefit women as much or in the same ways as they do men."
In the study, companies with flexible working hours gained higher levels of trust from both male and female employees. However, men still gave their organizations a higher trust score whether they had flexible or nonflexible policies.
The authors also found that a compensation structure that associates performance with specific criteria or goals boosts trust among all employees. Still, when employers reward high performance, men's trust scores climb twice as much as women's.
Other contributing factors include workplace experiences that differ between men and women, such as disparity in pay, promotions, and representation.
To address the trust gap among women and establish a healthy, inclusive work environment, employers should consider adopting the following strategies:
1. Strive for equity
According to the authors, "[t]he need for flexibility, family leave, career opportunities, and fair compensation affect everyone — they just affect women disproportionately."
Organizations should regularly evaluate how benefits and policies impact certain groups. "A solution is to redesign the evaluation process so that anyone using a given benefit receives the same treatment. For example, if a company has a flex-time policy and some employees use it more or differently than others, leaders should ensure that performance reviews focus on the value each individual creates, not when or where they work," they write.
2. Adopt a holistic view
Social barriers, like unequal responsibilities at home, can often impact employees' workplace experiences and affect their ability to do their best work.
"An essential part of the solution is for employers to view employees as whole humans, not just as staff who show up to work. Managerial behaviors and policies that support the whole person, not just the employee doing her job, build trust," the authors write. "These include extending trust to employees and giving them agency — the power to influence their circumstances."
3. Evaluate trust levels
"It's hard to fix a problem you don't see or that you don't understand," the authors note. To gain a better understanding of employees' trust levels, the authors suggest surveying employees, asking them to indicate on a seven-point scale how much they agree or disagree with the following statements:
"This evaluation will broadly reveal where leadership's trust strengths and weaknesses lie, and further analysis can uncover differences between men's and women's trust levels," the authors write. Then, organizations can use these findings to design and implement interventions to close the trust gap. (Reichheld et al., Harvard Business Review, 4/20)
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