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Understanding gender differences can boost business

Liam Lahey

The sexes are about as close in their views on what they're looking for in a potential employer as Venus is to Mars. For organizations, understanding and managing gender differences may help to motivate employees, increase productivity, foster loyalty, and improve physical and mental health.

So suggest the results of a recent survey of more than 7,000 Canadians, conducted by ICMA International and sponsored by Randstad Canada, the majority of both male and female employees in Canada say they want long-term job security from an employer. But that's where the similarities end.

According to those surveyed, women say they prefer:

  • flexible working arrangements (49 per cent more important versus men)
  • accessibility (28 per cent more important)
  • pleasant working atmosphere (23 per cent more important)
  • competitive salary (19 per cent more important)
  • good work-life balance (17 per cent more important)

Men say they prefer:

  • financially sound companies (42 per cent more important versus women)
  • strong management (37 per cent more important)
  • companies that offer global career prospects (86 per cent more important)
  • good training (17 per cent more important) when seeking an employer

Gina Ibghy, director, organizational development, human resources at Randstad Canada in Toronto, says she finds what motivates women versus men to be of keen interest to employers.

"It's interesting how those motivations and the expectations we put on those roles have changed. I had to wonder what the 1950s must have been like," she says. "The motivation for women now is very different because the expectation that society has of women is not only to be able to nurture a family but to also have a full-fledged career. It's no longer a supplemental income, but in most cases it's half of an income.

"You have to have an employer that actually respects that dual responsibility but at the same time provides a role with flexible hours … everything for women in this day and age is about time."

A company's ability to be aware of both men's and women's needs will go a long way towards attracting and retaining quality talent that will better their business, and thereby contribute to their company's evolving brand.

"Companies need to look at their (job descriptions and responsibilities) and how these roles meet each gender's needs," she says. "Look to match the roles with the people that you're getting and I find once the expectation meets the person, the retention levels last longer."

The importance of flexibility

Igbhy adds that while many companies are proactive dealing with employee needs, others need to get with modern times.

"Companies at large are now being forced to come up with a flexible hours plan in order to be competitive in the (global) market," she says. "I don't know if our culture has fully accepted things like flexible hours but in Canada it's very prevalent."

It's true there are implications for health associated with what the genders value. If fact, there's medical evidence that shows workplace culture can influence human health and that men and women do value the same aspects of work but they rank them differently.

Society too is evolving. According to researchers at the Simmons School of Management in Boston, fewer women are being forced to drop out of the workforce in order to raise a family than previous thought and they're finding a more agreeable work-life balance without hurting incomes.

And inspiration may be found in the fact that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg became the first female member of her company's board of directors recently. Not to mention Yahoo!'s recent appointment of Marissa Miller as CEO -- a former superstar Google executive who will give birth to her first child in October.

Despite these positives, don't plan the equality parade just yet. Women who work in the financial services industry are still badly lagging their male counterparts when it comes to pay, finds U.S. Census Bureau figures.

There's a rich history of gender imbalance in the technology industry also but much of that has been attributed to the fact that fewer women graduate with computer science degrees than men.

"I think industries or companies that are global tend to have a more equalized way of looking at roles versus the role to the gender; they look at the skill set," Igbhy adds. "But I find companies that aren't as global and don't have more than 10-20 countries attached to them don't fare as well."