Four ways to ensure the wellbeing of women at work

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Female employees have a unique set of wellbeing requirements – so why are employers still using a one-size-fits-all approach? As part of World Wellbeing Week, we look at four ways employers can support the women who work for them.

Apparently, women are better at multi-tasking than men. I’m not sure if there’s any empirical evidence underpinning this well-known ‘fact’, but speaking as a woman, I know that I couldn’t run my life without spinning numerous plates whilst juggling many balls.

Sometimes by the time I drop my boys at school, I feel like I’ve done a full day’s work. I’m absolutely sure I’m not alone.

There are still some fairly basic issues with gender equality at work.

Women make up 47% of the UK workforce, yet very few occupy the highest positions in companies.

Analysis from Cranfield University, as part of its 20th FTSE Women on Boards Report, shows a sharp drop in the number of women occupying chief executive (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO) or other executive roles on FTSE 250 boards, and static numbers at FTSE 100 companies.

On FTSE 100 boards, the percentage of women in leadership positions is largely static at 9.7%.

There are only 25 women holding executive roles at 22 companies. It’s a woeful statistic.

Women in general are in lower paid roles, with 41% working part-time (compared to 7% of men working part-time) - and women are more likely than men to remain in low paid work over the long term, according to the government briefing paper Woman and the Economy.

Figures from the Mental Health Foundation reveal that women are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental ill-health at work compared to men - possibly because of the demands on women from work and from home.

In summary, women are more likely to be part-time workers, in lower paid roles, with less likelihood of promotion.

The caring dilemma

There’s a host of reasons behind this, ranging from the fact that women are predominantly child-carers and elder-carers (one in five working women aged 45-59 are also carers), or the secondary earner in a family.

Anecdotally, I know of women who felt that having a baby was a fundamental change in their career, and their managers viewed them differently as a result.

I know of many mothers who feel unrelenting guilt that neither home nor work are getting their full attention.

Women are more likely to be in part-time roles, and part-time roles are more likely to be paid less than full-time. It’s unlawful but it happens.

Women are just as capable as men, so why is this still happening in 2019?

Statistically, women are more likely to be juggling caring with a job. Even when children grow up, many grandparents I know are looking after the kids on a daily or weekly basis.

According to CarersUK, women are more likely to have given up work or reduced working hours to care, particularly in their 40s-60s.

Women aged 45-54 are more than twice as likely than men to have given up work to care for others, and are more than four times as likely to have reduced working hours due to caring responsibilities.

So, what can we do to help?

1. Offer genuinely flexible working

I’m writing this from my house. The children have been delivered to school, and I’m connected to work through email, Skype and Whatsapp. Working flexibly gives me the opportunity to juggle childcare and my work.

It’s also great for my mental health as it reduces travel time, allows me to work with no interruptions (or the right kind of interruptions, such as taking the dog for a walk at lunchtime), and can have a huge impact on quality of life.

Legally, anyone has the right to request flexible working (whether that’s part-time, term-time, home working or any combination of the above).

It’s very popular. Powwownow’s Flexible Working survey 2017 states that 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working, and 58% of people believe that working away from the office would help them be more motivated.

The role of company leaders and a good HR team is to ensure that the best person is promoted, regardless of their gender.

In fact, 40% would choose it over a pay rise. It’s been proven to help reduce stress and anxiety.

While this is all positive, it’s important to ensure that flexible working is managed properly.

Make sure meetings are for days and times where the person is contracted to work.

Most companies have meetings or socials in the evening. It can be hard for carers to attend and creates more guilt and feelings of failure, so consider organising daytime events as well.

Ensure that there are active forms of communication, so the person doesn’t feel lonely and isolated.

2. Provide equal pay

Money worries can have a dire effect on mental health.

Women are more likely to be in part-time roles, and part-time roles are more likely to be paid less than full-time. It’s unlawful but it happens. (Read more about gender pay gap reporting here).

Conducting a review to ensure that men and women are paid the same amount for the same job is a legal, as well as a moral, obligation.

3. Create opportunities for promotion

Although 22% of women worked in high-skilled professional occupations in 2018, compared to around 19% of men, leadership and management is more weighted to men, with 13% of men in these roles compared to just 8% of women.

There are reams of papers written on the reasons for this, which can range from the fact that women have babies (which impacts career development), to the perceived ‘pushiness’ of men compared to women.

The facts are there, however, and the role of company leaders and a good HR team is to ensure that the best person is promoted, regardless of their gender.

Encouraging women to apply, fostering talent, and providing mentorship schemes – all of these can help balance the management layer.

4. Consider your wellbeing strategy

Women who are in predominantly caring roles often don’t spend much time caring for themselves.

Having a strategy that focuses on mental health, financial health and physical health can go a long way to helping women at work.

Think about:

  • Training mental health first aiders to spot potential issues.
  • Providing more opportunities for people to talk. Everyone can suffer from mental ill-health, it’s totally normal, so talking about it in bulletins, newsletters or through initiatives like the Mental Health Awareness week, can help reduce the anxiety or shame that some people feel about raising these topics.
  • Set up weekly walks at lunchtime to encourage people to take a break.
  • Run financial health seminars – helping people with debt or savings advice.
  • Monitor absence patterns to see if someone has sporadic absence. Stress can have physical symptoms such as regular colds or upset tummies. Have back-to-work interviews to try to get to the bottom of issues.
  • Provide access to a GP or other health service so people have the opportunity to talk about their issues with a trained professional. Prevention is better than cure, but at any stage, help can be provided.

Interested in this topic? Read How can HR create change for women at work in the Post-#MeToo era?

About Vicki Field

Vicki Field, HR Director at private GP clinic, London Doctors Clinic

Vicki Field is HR Director at London Doctors Clinic.

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25th Jun 2019 09:31

This article is titled and aimed specifically at women and their wellbeing in the workplace, and has some helpful suggestions for supporting women at work, however as usual there is the underlying assumption that women = mother = caring responsibilities. I appreciate that for many women this is the case, but this excludes many others. For example there are a significant number of women for whom they have either chosen not to or have been unable to have children (for a variety of reasons). More than one in 5 women in their 40's are now childless, this is a significant and growing number and we need to start including these women in our considerations. Articles and conversations referring to women rarely make any reference to childfree or childless women and often actively exclude them by focusing on mothers. In particular when discussing the need for wellbeing, childless women should be included; many have been through incredibly painful experiences and continue to battle regularly with their situations. These are still valid women who can significantly contribute to the workplace and society as a whole and have as much right to wellbeing as any other.

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