There's a new crop of health,wellness and work/life balance benefits (unrelated tochildbearing) employers can take advantage of to be moreappealing to women. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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There is a battle raging in the employment market. It'sthe fight to recruit and retain the best, most productiveemployees in what is rapidly becoming an overheated market.

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Consider this: the overall unemployment in the U.S. brieflydropped below 4 percent earlier this year – the level whicheconomists consider “full employment” because there is alwaysturnover among employees. In particular sectors, the competitionfor talent is especially fierce.

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“This is far and away the most competitive the market has beenin six years,” said Todd Jamison, head of the permanent placementdivision at Stratacuity, a search firm that focuses onbiotechnology. “We've had many instances with candidates with two,three, four offers on the table. It's really a perfect storm.”

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For companies looking to attract and retain top women employeesin particular, the situation is complicated by an additionalfactor: for most of the 20th century, the unemployment rate washigher for women than men. But starting in the 1980s, that hasflipped, and women typically have a lower unemployment rate thanmen.

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Related: 5 great places to work–for parents

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This situation is exacerbated in recessions, when jobs dominatedby men – such as construction – experience bigger losses than thejobs dominated by women, such as food service. For the first halfof the year, the unemployment rate for women in the U.S. wasseveral tenths of a percentage point lower than the correspondingrate for men.

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HR experts say that money alone won't drive prospectiveemployees' decisions. Benefits, company culture and a sense of corporatemission are just as important to many applicants, they say.

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The result can only be called a benefits arms race. What are thelatest lures deployed to attract employees in hot markets?

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Truly flexible work hours: employees set theirown hours to preserve work/life balance.

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Unlimited vacation: employees can take as muchvacation as they like, provided they stay up-to-speed on theirtasks. (This has the added benefit to employers of eliminatingunused vacation time, which often accrues and becomes a majorliability payable when an employee leaves.)

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Work-from-home options: Forget Marissa Mayer'sgambit at Yahoo a few years ago, when she eliminated telecommuting,which she claimed was hurting productivity. This work/life balancebenefit is more popular than ever.

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And there are more benefits intended to appeal specifically towomen. Apple and Facebook made a splash four years ago when itoffered to pay for women to freeze their eggs, enabling them to put offraising a family while they advanced their careers. Now, at manytech companies, this is old hat. Other benefits that appeal towomen include paid maternity leave, lactation rooms for nursing mothers, onsitedaycare and childcare allowances.

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The latest trend to attract and retain women is the provide morebenefits that aren't tied directly to childbearing and raising.What do these look like?

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Many are not traditional benefits, but are instead part ofcompany culture. It is well known that women across the U.S. onaverage still earn less than men in comparable jobs. A proactiveequal pay policy is very important toprospective woman employees. The same goes for opportunities foradvancement: women are underrepresented in management and boardroles. Eliminating that disparity makes a big difference to jobapplicants.

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A final piece of the company culture: formalizing mentorshipopportunities for women, so they have greater chances to advancewithin the organization.

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There are also a new crop of health, wellness and work/lifebalance benefits that appeal to women. Benefits that boost health,productivity and satisfaction are the most popular among women,according to a study recently published by Harvard Business Review. More than 60 percentof women say better health, dental and vision benefits “would betaken into heavy consideration,” compared to only 47 percent ofmen. The study also found that 80 percent of employees would chooseadditional benefits over a pay raise.

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There are several new services and technologies employers canoffer to enhance their health care offerings, particularly forwomen. Every woman in the U.S. starting at age 40 will undergomammography screening for breast cancer detection. A service likeMammosphere can make breast cancer screening more efficient,effective, and reduces the anxiety, time away from work, and costsassociated with callbacks or false positives.

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Other innovations that appeal to women:

  • Twitter, a leader in novel benefits, has introduced on-siteacupuncture.
  • Airbnb offers employees a $2,000 annual travel stipend(provided they stay at a venue listed on the Airbnb service).
  • Tufts Health Plan, a leading payer in Massachusetts, isoffering once-a-month manicures.

Women value fitness-oriented benefits more than men: yoga, Barreand spin classes are all gaining in popularity. These fitnessbenefits typically pay dividends to the companies that sponsor themin the form of healthier employees that lead to lower medical spendfor self-insured employers and potentially lower insurance ratesfor those with third party payers.

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The path to attracting and retaining top women employees in ahot job market is clear: create a winning company culture thatvalues, compensates and promotes men and women equally. Focus onthe benefits that promote work/life balance. And sweeten the potwith innovative, health-oriented benefits that appeal to women andhave a disproportionate impact on job satisfaction.


Matthew A. Michela is CEO of lifeIMAGE, aNewton, Massachusetts, company providing market leading solutionsfor medical image exchange.

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