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The Landscape of the Working Woman

Women are involved in every part of society, but there are some matters that affect us more than others.

Gender stereotypes, reproductive rights, fewer role models in senior positions, the gender pay gap, and having a family whilst balancing a career are just a few of the issues that face the working woman in 2022.

If an organisation doesn’t realise the importance of women in the workplace, they are missing out. The Centre of Creative Leadership asked hundreds of working women questions about their workplace environment in December 2019 (just before the Covid-19 pandemic), and the results were pretty staggering: having a higher percentage of women in the workplace equated to higher job satisfaction, more engagement and dedication, and less reports of stress and burnout.

A more recent Deloitte global survey of 5,000 working women (2021) found that since the pandemic, 51% were now less optimistic about their career prospects. The survey indicated that the women as a whole were more stressed due to an increase in both work and home responsibilities, and faced bias and discrimination on a more regular basis within the workplace.

These are some of the most common topics currently being addressed by women in the workplace:

Burnout

Burnout is on the rise for nation as a whole, but especially amongst women. Burnout is known as complete physical and mental exhaustion, brought on by long-term stress in your job role. Someone who is burnt out will feel overwhelmed, helpless, drained, detached, and will have a negative outlook when looking at situations. There isn’t an easy ‘quick fix’ for this, but if the current pandemic has brought anything into our lives, it is more flexibility in the workplace. For women, this could mean an improved work/life balance when trying to separate their work and personal life. Focusing on a good support network and positive relationships is a key lifestyle factor to reverse the impact of burnout. However, the down side to more flexibility, if there aren’t clear boundaries set in place, is that ‘flexible work life’ can easily mean we are ‘switched on’ all through the evening and at weekends. Companies need to start defining their expectations, as most employees end up having to establish their own boundaries, especially when working remotely. To add to workplace burnout, women can spend more time than men doing household chores and responsibilities, leaving even less of their day allocated for personal time.

Work / Life Balance

The Thomson Reuters Foundation embarked on a huge task a few years ago, asking almost 10,000 women across the globe about the issues that most affect them at work. For women, there is a fine line between family obligations, and a demanding job. It can be a vicious cycle; you start a family, come back to work but then can’t resettle. A negative performance review might be thrown in, which then impacts any chance of promotion opportunities. The shortage of affordable childcare, combined with changes in job hours is largely to blame for women feeling torn. Flexible working arrangements are one way to help women manage their career and personal life. Pre-Covid 19, flexible working was seen as an employee benefit, however fast forward to 2022, this is now a great tool for organisations to attract the top talent, and implement cost savings measure to reduce turnover and absenteeism.

Children and Career

In the same poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, they found that women in countries like Brazil were the most confident about having children alongside a good career. In emerging countries such as Brazil, their maternity laws are generous and they have very close family ties. However, in some of the richest countries like the UK, Germany, and France, the women polled were the least confident about this, and felt that having a family could potentially impair their career. Overall, just under 50% of the women polled were optimistic about having both a career and children. Women can often feel ignored or excluded when returning to the workplace, costing the organisation when looking at job satisfaction, productivity, and intentions to leave. All organisations should be building an inclusive workplace environment to fully support every single employee, regardless of gender.

Career Opportunities

Women are currently not being provided with enough training to succeed in growth & high paying sectors such as construction, transportation, and IT or digital. Boys are typically encouraged to pursue these routes at the expenses of girls whilst at school, and within the workplace, these cultures can be seen as hostile or not flexible enough to the caring responsibilities that tend to fall on women more often. If this continues, there’s a real risk of women being locked out of these sectors, and the gender pay gap increasing further.

Equal Pay

Women globally continue to face a wage gap when compared to men. In 2021, November 18th was marked as ‘equal pay day’, meaning the day in the year where a woman stops earning relative to a male colleague until the following year. Anxieties about money worries can have a huge impact on mental health. Women are more likely than men to be in part-time roles, and often these roles are paid less hourly than the same full-time role. Companies and managers can help improve this by doing regular wage audits and ensuring there are no gaps, implementing ‘no negotiations’ policies, and evaluating promotion and talent development for gender bias. 

Harassment

HR Buddy defines harassment as ‘unwanted conduct related to sexual harassment or discrimination that is unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical contact or unwelcome propositions’. A recent 2022 survey by HR Buddy revealed that 58% of women had experienced harassment at work, and 3 out of 4 women were not confident they wouldn’t experience harassment in the future. The poll showed that harassment happened mainly in silence, with only 4 in 10 women reporting it – and women needing more support to feel positive about working through this & changing the culture. Women at any level of employment are effected by harassment in the workplace. It remains a widespread issue, and inappropriate behaviour can cost the employer in a few ways: absenteeism increases, job turnover increases, and engagement and productivity levels fall. Women could then develop mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, or even quit the job altogether to avoid continued harassment.

Wellbeing Initiatives

Women want their employers to provide them with wellbeing initiatives that cater specifically to their needs; this could be on topics such as periods and PMS symptoms, pregnancy, or the menopause. Women often don’t spend enough time caring for themselves, especially if they are in caring roles. Having health and wellbeing strategies in place that focus on their health, both mentally and physically, can go a long way to helping women across all sectors. These initiatives could come in the form of regular newsletters, bulletins, weekly lunchtime talks, webinars and workshops, health assessments, an employee assistance programme or a workplace women’s network (to name just a few).

This combination of workplace issues can cause huge anxieties for women across the globe. To help manage these worries, here are our top tips:

Get outside

Spending more time in nature is one of the best ways to help regulate our circadian rhythm and improve our sleep, which itself is a great way to improve levels of burnout. We can spend so much of our time being digitally connected that by escaping our laptops, phones, and TVs, being outside can help us properly ‘switch off’, reduce stress and improve our mood due to the natural light. We can also increase our levels of vitamin D with regular sunlight exposure, and improve our physical activity levels, releasing those happy hormones or endorphins in the process.

Schedule time to recharge

Self-care is consciously doing things that improve your physical or mental wellbeing. This is anything you can do for yourself to make you feel better! Think of things you especially enjoy: going for a brisk walk or doing your favourite exercise, listening to a great album or watching a favourite film, cooking a healthy meal, practicing gratitude, spending time with loved ones, running yourself a nice hot bath in the evening, practicing mindfulness or breathing techniques.. all of these ideas can count as self-care!

Slow down

We miss so many little things when we’re constantly in a rush. Things can easily become a blur, and you cannot engage in every aspect of your life. Speed has been ingrained into us, and is now rewarded in society with career promotions, praise from our colleagues, and being more efficient and productive (or so we assume). Slowing down and simply being in the moment allows you to feel more peaceful and grateful for the things you do have in your life. You enjoy your time more more when you stop rushing around, you worry less, you can care for and be kinder to others, and actually make fewer mistakes because you’re more engaged and focused.

Be mindful

We can link this to the previous point as mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment, being aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis has now been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, improve memory, and concentration, help you to identify and manage your own emotions, and build stronger relationships with others. Mindfulness may not be right for everyone, and it’s certainly not a one-size fits all approach, but it can be a great wellbeing tool with a range of apps and guides available to try.

Have more fun

This one sounds very simple, but it’s something we can all forget to do! We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of this one. We need to be scheduling fun into our calendars, the exact same way we would do anything else. That way, we’re prioritising fun, and improving our work/life balance. Having fun releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our mood. When this is released, our resilience and energy levels improve, and we make positive, healthy lifestyle habits part of our daily routines when we’re having more fun.

Have some screen-free time

There are many health risks associated with spending too long on screens, from eye strain and poor posture, to a loss of cognitive ability, poor sleep, impaired social skills and mental fatigue. It’s imperative that we switch off our devices occasionally, unplug from the digital world, and take part in activities that are really enriching to us! Most phones now have a ‘screen time’ or ‘digital wellbeing’ feature which breaks down how long you’ve spent on that device over the day, and include an option to set limitations on apps.

Focus on what is important to you

Your health and happiness are vital to everything you do; it’s great to achieve goals, but your health and happiness should never take a back seat. So make sure you start creating those boundaries for a better work/ life balance. Daily planners and calendars can be a great way to stick to that to-do list, and try to make the above points part of your daily routine to really reap those benefits!

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