How small businesses can recruit and retain women

Even with fewer resources, there are strategies to help small businesses attract and retain more female talent.

An entrepreneur chooses a health insurance plan for their business.

It’s a tough time for businesses and women. The pandemic resulted in alarming numbers of women leaving the workforce, and highlighted hurdles in American work culture – from pay inequity to childcare issues – that make it tougher for women to stay at work.

Recruiting women to work for your small business can sometimes feel like a challenge, but there are several strategies available to smaller companies, even with fewer resources available. Here are some things to try:

Pay women what they’re worth

This may seem obvious, but equitable pay is a good place to start. In a recent Monster poll that asked women what benefits they value most in the workplace, 82% of them chose “fair and equal wages.”

“Women want to know that they are being paid fairly and equally to their male counterparts,” says Claire Jarrett, marketing expert and founder of Jarrett Digital. “Small businesses can implement regular pay audits and make salaries publicly available to create a culture of transparency and trust.”

This is especially important in an era of increasing pay transparency requirements. Several states have laws requiring salary disclosures in job advertisements, and others allow internal employees to request the salary range for their job title. Make sure you understand the legal requirements in your state (and in the states around you, which are competing for your talent).

Promote a career path

Sixty-three percent of women Monster polled said they value having a clear vision for the future of their career. “Many women leave their jobs because they feel like they’re not given the opportunity to grow,” says Henry Purchase, lead of organic growth at online menu maker Menuzen. “If you give women opportunities to grow their skills and learn new things, they’re more likely to stay with your business.”

This is true for interviewees — who may be looking for clues about where they’ll be in five years if they join your firm — and for existing employees, who may be struggling to move up the chain.

“Women who work in male-led offices often struggle to be seen and heard, says Jocelyn Bermudez, a business consultant specializing in team development. “This can make earning a promotion, climbing the ladder, or even getting publicly recognized more complicated than it needs to be, no matter how qualified they are. Lay a clear pathway toward promotions.”

Focus on women in the workplace

Nearly a third of women (31%) in Monster’s poll said they value having female mentors in the workplace, and 45% of women said they’d consider turning down a job offer if the company lacked female leadership or female employees.

“Demonstrate your commitment to the long-term success of your high-potential female employees by linking them with leaders who can assist them in preparing for the next step of their career development,” says Edward Mellet, director at career site Wikijob. “A role model or mentorship program can make a significant difference for women seeking job advancement.”

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for women can also help bridge the gap. “ERGs can provide a safe space for women to connect with other women in the workplace and provide support for personal and professional growth,” Jarrett says.

Read Monster’s advice on small businesses and ERGs.

Offer women-friendly benefits

A quarter of women in our poll said they value maternity leave and/or childcare benefits at work.

Competitive benefits that meet women’s needs can go a long way. That could mean paternity and maternity leave, childcare assistance or tuition reimbursement, among other things. If it’s too expensive to manage on your own, consider pairing up with a professional employer organization, or PEO, which can pool your needs with other companies and land lower-cost benefits for everyone.

“Setting up a competitive benefits package will show that you value the contributions of female employees and make them more likely to stay with your company for the long term,” says Alex Capozzolo, co-founder of real estate company SD House Guys in San Diego.

And don’t underestimate the impact of lower-cost perks for your employees, including having a pet-friendly office, casual dress code, wellness stipend, and even unlimited vacation, which makes employees feel trusted and valued.

Be flexible

Another perk you can tout: flexibility. Thirty-seven percent of women polled said they’d consider turning down a job offer if a company lacked adequate flexibility for working parents.

As a small business, you may have more leeway than a larger corporation to offer a nontraditional workday, including remote work options and flexible scheduling. There’s also the four-day work week, which is gaining steam since a large UK study showed that employees trying it felt less stressed and were more satisfied with their jobs.

“It is crucial that a company’s culture demonstrates that women will not be punished for choosing work-life balance options,” says Joe Troyer, CEO and head of growth for SEO firm Digital Triggers. “In addition, the advantages of emphasizing work-life balance are evident. Many employees who achieve a healthy work-life balance tend to be happier, more focused, and less susceptible to burnout.”