“A woman’s work is never done” runs the old adage and speaking as a woman, it does feel true. As a working mother, there is the relentless trudge of making sure the children are dressed, packed lunches are made, homework is done, that they’ve had porridge and fruit rather than Jammy Dodgers for breakfast, the bins are out, the washing is on, the dishwasher is unloaded, the dog is fed and they are delivered to school on time – remembering if it’s a school trip or sports day or fancy dress.
This isn’t about bashing the boys. It’s looking at the specific pressures facing women in the workplace and what HR representatives can do to support them. Women make up 47% of the UK workforce. According to the government briefing paper Woman and the Economy, women in general are in lower paid roles with 41% working part-time compared to 7% of men working part-time. And to add on, women are more likely than men to remain in low-paid work over the long term.
In summary, women are more likely to be part-time workers, in lower paid roles with less likelihood of promotion. There’s a host of reasons behind this ranging from the fact that women are predominantly child-carers and elder-carers or the secondary earner in a family. It does, however, mean that women are more likely to be juggling caring with a job.
According to the Mental Health foundation, 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.
A good gender mix has significant benefits for companies. McKinsey recently conducted a study to show that companies with female representation at the board consistently outperform all-male boards by 41% in terms of returns on equity. It can be hard to reach the board as there’s still a significantly higher number of men in senior roles across every business and industry.
In London Doctors Clinic, nearly 70% of the workforce is female. So how do we make it work?
(1) Flexible working
I can work from home after ensuring the children are 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 this has a huge impact on quality of life.
Flexible working is the future. 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 and 40% would choose it over a pay rise.
(2) Equal pay
Money worries has dire effects 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. Conducting a review to ensure that men and women are paid the same for the same job is a legal as well as a moral obligation for head honchos.
Although 22% 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 8% of women. There are realms of papers written on the reasons, 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 and the role of a company leader and a good HR team is to ensure that the best person is promoted regardless of gender. Encouraging women to apply, fostering talent, providing mentorship schemes – all of these can help balance the management layer.
(4) Wellbeing strategy
Women are predominantly in a caring role which can mean that they don’t spend much time caring for themselves. Having a strategy focusing on mental health, financial health and physical health can go a long way to helping women at work. Think about:
- Training mental first aiders to spot potential issues
- Talk, talk, talk. Everyone can suffer from mental ill-health, it’s totally normal. So talking about it in bulletins, newsletters 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.
If entrepreneurs prioritise better mental health for their female employees, we can be sure their startups will prosper. After all a company is only as strong as its team.