International Women's Day 2023, on March 8, will once again turn the spotlight on the pressures that women often face in the workplace, from harassment or discrimination through to fitting caring duties around their working hours.
Supporting women at work is something most employers take seriously, partly because sex is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, but also out of a genuine realisation that being proactive and flexible often means a positive outcome on both sides.
So what issues are there, and what can employers do to make sure they are supporting women at work?
Any employer with 250 or more employees must report their gender pay gap, the difference between the average pay of men and women in an organisation, on a specific date each year. The data does not take into account people’s roles or seniority, so it is possible for an employer with an effective equal pay policy to still have a gender pay gap if the majority of women in the organisation are in lower-paid jobs.
What the data often does, however, is shine a light on the imbalance of women in terms of leadership and management roles and possibly encourage an organisation to look at its recruitment, training and development opportunities and decide whether they can encourage more women into higher paid roles.
Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly because of any one of a number of reasons, including age, disability, religion and sex. Harassment is classed as unwanted behaviour related to protected characteristics. This could be a one-off incident or repeated behaviour, and can include spoken or written words, gestures, mimicry, jokes, pranks etc.
Whether or not an employer believes discrimination, harassment or bullying is an issue in the workplace, it’s important to ensure that everyone in the organisation is given training not only about their own behaviour and accepted standards, but also to recognise signs that a colleague is being victimised in some way.
The 2011 Census showed that women carry out an overall average of 60% more unpaid work than men, including cooking, childcare and housework. Figures showed that women aged between 26 and 35 delivered the most unpaid work of any other category, putting in 34.60 hours of unpaid work a week.
Women are often the main carer of young children, and many also take on the roles of carers to infirm or elderly family member.
Employers can support those in caring roles by allowing flexible working hours – around school drop-off or pick-up times or to allow an employee to take a relative to a medical appointment, for instance.
Another area to consider is maternity and paternity provision, thinking about how you can make it easier for parents to take leave and return to work.
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. According to an article at www.nhsemployers.org, for every 10 women over 50 in employment, six say that the menopause has a negative impact on their work, to the extent that 49% of the menopausal workforce say they have considered taking early retirement.
Menopause sits somewhere between a taboo subject and a humorous, even those going through it may make fun of themselves, or feel self-conscious that symptoms – which can include physical manifestations such as hot flushes or extreme fatigue, and less obvious effects, such as poor concentration, memory problems, anxiety or depression – are affecting how they do their job.
Educating all staff to recognise and take seriously the effects of the menopause so that they can support their employees or colleagues during this time and make all the difference to a menopausal woman’s productivity, mental wellbeing and confidence.
Certain industries have a disproportionately small number of women. Construction, engineering and manufacturing, for instance. Employers can do more to attract more women and break down the stereotypes.
From recruitment policies to workplace culture, employers should try to create an environment that is equally open and welcoming to men and women alike. And from there, remember the saying ‘if you can see it you can be it’ and try to ensure that women in your organisation are considered for promotion and development in the same way men are. A young female coming into the business will see a very different picture than women in senior roles.
Supporting women is not just about seeing ambitious career women rise to the top. If you can support women in all areas of your organisation, and remove the barriers to them continuing to work for you, contribute to the success of your business and improve and develop themselves, you’re creating an environment that is positive for all.
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