February 28, 2020

5 Practical Tips for Supporting Women in the Workplace

Posted at 14:39h in Diversity, Equality by Feyi Osiyemi

Women’s experiences of the workplace are wide-ranging and it is up to organisations to create environments that are inclusive of women, who experience the world in various ways, rather than the onus being on women to hide, bend and change the way they are to fit into organisational structures.

To mark International Women’s Day, I have created a list of practical ways employers can support women in the workplace – many of which can be actioned right away!

1. Collect intersectional EDI data on women

As with any other demographic group, women are not a monolith. There are so many different experiences of being a woman. These experiences can be shaped by a woman’s race, class, disability, sexual orientation, migration status, faith, caring responsibilities and more. A woman shouldn’t have a less positive experience of the workplace due to any of these intersections.

The goal is that when you ask employees about their experience of the workplace, it isn’t less positive because they are a black woman, a mother, lesbian, or have a disability, for example.

Racialised women the world over can tell you about negatives experiences they have had in the workplace, from their hair being grabbed to being paid less than their counterparts and more junior staff, to having their professional credibility constantly questioned. Recent research by the TUC has shown that almost one third (31%) of BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) women report being unfairly passed over for or denied a promotion at work, this rose to nearly half of disabled BME women (45%). More than one in three (34%) BME women have experienced racist jokes and so-called banter at work and 30% have experienced verbal abuse. Furthermore, ‘close to half (45%) of BME women say they have been singled out for harder or unpopular tasks at work compared to their white counterparts.’ [1]

Not only do racialised women have to deal with gender biases and inequality in the workplace but they are also faced with racism – from systemic racism to daily microaggressions. This calls for an intersectional approach to creating gender equality in the workplace.

By collecting intersectional data, a company can understand how different women experience their workplace and put measures in place to make improvements. If this data isn’t collected and we don’t understand the different experiences of women in the workplace, we have no hope of creating equitable and inclusive work environments. The saying goes ‘what gets measured gets managed.’

Do get in touch with The Equal Group if you need support with your company’s equality, diversity and inclusion data collection and solutions:

2. Listen to women

If everyone is being heard, it benefits the whole team. Diverse perspectives challenge people to think and come up with great ideas. Ensuring everyone is heard, including women, is the very essence of teamwork – there is no point working as a team if you are only going to acknowledge the perspectives of a few people.

Various studies have shown that men tend to speak more in meetings than women. Not only this but women are also interrupted more frequently and ideas appropriation is more prevalent towards women. [2]

As a result of such findings, a number of apps have been developed to track the amount of time men and women spend speaking in meetings, raising awareness of gender biases in the workplace.

Employers and team members can provide women with opportunities and platforms to speak if they become aware of gender disparities in who is being heard. I would also encourage people to challenge microaggressions towards women that may come in the form of being frequently interrupted or overlooked as contributors in meetings. A leader can simply call on a woman who is being overlooked in a meeting and ask for her point of view, or say they would like to hear a woman finish her point if interrupted. These are basic ways to value people and treat them with respect, and should be extended to all staff, regardless of their gender.

3. Review your policies

From shared parental leave to a carer’s leave – there are a number of workplace policies that can be enhanced to support women. It is also important to check for gender bias in policies and processes such as recruitment, learning and development and compensation. Are women being disadvantaged in your recruitment or progression processes? Are women equally represented in your most beneficial development programmes?

Does your organisation have a menopause policy? Research by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine highlights that nearly 8 out of 10 women of menopausal age are in work.[3] With nearly 1 in 3 British workers being over the age of 50,[4] this means many women in your organisation will be experiencing the symptoms of menopause, which often impact working life, such as hot flushes, sleep disruption, fatigue and problems with memory and concentration. Furthermore, many women experience menopause before the age of 50. Research also shows that ‘the majority of women are unwilling to disclose menopause-related health problems to line managers, most of whom were men or younger than them’.[5]

Creating a policy can raise awareness about the experiences of women going through menopause, and remove the isolation many women feel. This policy should not lie dormant but be spoken about and followed with training and guidance for line managers. This is a key way to support women in the workplace and will lead to open conversations about menopause so women do not have to suffer in silence.

4. Take periods seriously

Though periods are one of the most natural and regular processes that take place in human beings and impact a large proportion of the working population – people feel very uncomfortable talking about them. Periods affect women physically, emotionally, and mentally and can of course have an impact on carrying out work activities.

Research shows that 42% of women have experienced period shaming and 71% of women have hidden a pad or tampon from view on their way to the bathroom.[6]

Many women feel uncomfortable stating their period as a reason for time off work and may use a different reason, such as a stomach bug or flu. I actually read an article that encouraged women to do this, which I completely disagree with as a way forward! By acknowledging and taking periods seriously in the workplace, women will feel more comfortable, valued, and better enabled to do their jobs well.

Whenever we go back to the office, provide free menstrual products for employees. This will not only help women on days they are caught off guard but also normalise the existence of periods in the workplace, which will enable women to get the support they need.

Consider introducing flexible working for all employees, which will enable women to take unplanned work from home days when needed. This leads to my next point…

5. Enable flexible working

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being able to work flexibly is helpful for everyone, not least women. It is well known that women have been hit harder by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic than men, for various reasons, including the increased risk of domestic abuse, increased caring responsibilities and the loss of jobs.

A report by the Fawcett Society reveals that 1 in 3 working mothers have lost work or hours due to a lack of childcare during the pandemic.[7] A survey of 19,950 working mothers by Pregnant then Screwed found that 46% of mothers being made redundant blame a lack of childcare provision during the Covid-19 pandemic.[8]

Though many of us are currently working from home, this doesn’t necessarily mean we are working flexibly. Managers and leaders can support women, who bear the brunt of caring responsibilities, by allowing all employees to work flexible hours – be it compressed hours, job-sharing, set hours, term-time working, and of course, continuing to allow employees to work from home. Many global employers have already changed policies to reflect this after assessing the positive impact of working from home during the pandemic.

For women to thrive in the workplace, men need to be enabled to be more involved in their caring responsibilities.

These are just 5 practical ways employers can support women in the workplace today. Which ones are you already doing and which one will you start working on today?