Female workers want respect, commitment

For generations, stand-up comedians have made their livings talking about the differences between men and women. Now, according to a new study, they have something else to talk about, although it’s no laughing matter.

A study from Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) Work Network, called Men’s and Women’s Quality of Work in the New Canadian Economy, provides new evidence on what men and women want – and actually receive – from their jobs.

The study, compiled by Karen Hughes, professor of women’s studies and Graham Lowe, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta and Grant Schellenberg, former director of CPRN’s Work Network, is based on a telephone survey of 2,500 Canadians conducted in 2000 by polling firm EKOS Research Associates.

According to Lowe, the surprising gaps in responses occurred along gender lines rather than along age lines.

“Not only is there a gap between men and women, but women are bringing somewhat different expectations into workplaces than men,” he said. “These findings have direct relevance on employers’ HR policies.”

First, employers need to realize that not one size does not fit all for the recruitment and retention of university-educated workers, Lowe said. According to the study, women with university degrees put a greater emphasis on the “soft stuff” in the workplace, such as respect, communication, loyalty, commitment, relationships at work and a work/family balance.

However, many women said they’re not finding those qualities in their jobs, a symptom that the study refers to as a “job-quality deficit.”

One-third of the women surveyed report a job-quality deficit in the area of work/family balance. A quarter say that commitment and respect on the job falls short of expectations, while another 25 per cent receive lower pay, benefits and security than desired. One in seven are not satisfied with the level of communication within the workplace. All of these deficits are much higher than those reported by men with a university education.

“Women are really looking for a commitment from their employer, and are willing to make a commitment in return. As employers are trying to forge new forms of loyalty, women are going to be more receptive to these initiatives if they’re genuine and meaningful,” Lowe said.

This is especially true in the IT industry, said Kirsten Watson, the CEO of Ottawa-based recruiting firm Hire Top Talent. Watson, a veteran of the technology industry, said that she herself recalls being in many situations where she felt that her reactions were based on her gender.

“I remember being in rooms in technology with males who have a certain way of debating something around a boardroom table, and as a recipient of those styles of communications, I felt like saying ‘back off!’ There’s a nicer way to communicate feedback. I remember the men leaving and it all rolled off them, but it was too intense for me,” she said.

The study also found that women are more likely to experience frustration in finding employment that meets their expectations than men, and according to Watson, most women are looking for these qualities of respect, good communication and commitment before they even start a job. She recommends interviewing some of the other people who work in a company before taking a new job.

“People in general, but women in particular, really care about honesty. We’re not stupid and hate being sold a story that everything’s perfect because we’ve never seen that to be real. We expect to hear about issues here and there, and being straightforward and honest adds a lot more credibility right off the top,” she said.

Employers that provide their employees with commitment, loyalty, respect, communication and a work/family balance are bound to have an equally committed employee, the study said.

“If any group in today’s knowledge economy really fits the notion of the footloose freelancer who just puts himself first, it’s the male university educated worker,” Lowe said.

“The female knowledge worker is looking for a two-way commitment to an employer and is far less likely to be willing to move from employer to employer,” he said.