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How can leaders create a workplace that works for women?

I won't present another business case on why workplaces should be made more inclusive for women. If you have made it this far I believe you are already on board with this.

The challenge many of us face is we don’t know exactly how they can be more inclusive, or for the glaringly obvious areas - where to start. Let's first look at why it doesn't work for women.

Why is the current workplace not working for women?

Workplaces are not always inclusive for women for a variety of factors, including implicit bias, discrimination, lack of sponsorship, and inflexible working arrangements.

Additionally, the lack of representation of women in leadership roles can create a culture that is not welcoming to women in these roles as the organisation is melded through perspectives that don't include the female lens. It reinforces stereotypes and societal expectations that play a role in creating these environments. Some studies found that women are often seen as less competent, less committed, or less suitable for promotions, and even if they do get promotions they face more negative stereotypes. The gender pay gap exists in most workplaces highlighting the difficulty for women to progress in their careers.

"Don't think about making women fit the world — think about making the world fit women” Gloria Steinem

A common narrative is women are held back because they prioritise family, however, the Careers after Babies report highlights rather that organisations are not supporting women. Similar findings around menopause highlight how unequipped workplace environments and cultures are in creating a space for women to thrive. At both these junctures we see women who would otherwise be heading for senior positions drop out of the workforce in droves. A paper explaining the Persistence of Gender Inequality details that "Women weren’t held back because of trouble balancing the competing demands of work and family—men, too, suffered from the balance problem and nevertheless advanced. Women were held back because, unlike men, they were encouraged to make accommodations, such as going part-time and shifting to internally facing roles, which derailed their careers. The real culprit was a general culture of overwork that hurt both men and women and locked gender inequality in place."

Actions you take to improve your workplace are not just for the benefit of women, but also for the overall success and productivity of your organisation. Providing a supportive and inclusive environment for women can attract and retain talented employees, as well as promote creativity and diversity of ideas.

Here are 3 tips for creating more inclusive work environments:

Offering Flexible Working Hours

Flexible working hours are a highly praised perk that everyone enjoys. It is especially impactful for women who are pregnant or have young children. This can include options such as flexible hours, remote working, and job-sharing. Flexible working hours can increase productivity and job satisfaction while also decreasing the likelihood that women will have to leave the workforce. It is important to ensure this is for everyone in the organization and does not impact career progression. If you offer flexible hours maybe reflect on who in your organisation is using it the most.

If it is less prevalent in senior positions maybe you have internal biases to work through that are preventing highly capable employees advance because their working patterns differ from the perception of being in a senior position in your organisation.

Focus on the physical work environment

Often not enough thought goes into the physical space we occupy at work, yet this has a big impact on how we work. Having spaces to rest at work benefits all staff and your overall productivity, but it is especially beneficial for women going through maternity, menopause or period pain. This can make a huge difference in their work experience. Feeling like working from home is the only way to manage menopause, maternity, or period pain symptoms when you want to be in the office is frustrating. Having rest spaces allows your employees to take the time they need to rest and manage their symptoms without having to sacrifice their career or their health. According to the National Women's Law Center, approximately 18% of women in the workforce are pregnant at any given time, and many more are experiencing menopause or period pain.

Menopause research is finding exclusive work environments are making it hard for women to manage their symptoms, resulting in a large number of talented women leaving the workforce, which can negatively impact the economy and society as a whole. As women reach menopause, many aim for boardroom positions, however many leave instead as they cannot see themselves in that position when work environment does not provide what they need.

Design your working practices and policies to be inclusive

Setting the standard and expectation that you are a workplace that promotes an inclusive culture is important. There are several ways you can do this. To start with review your compensation policies and ensure they are fair and based on qualifications, performance, and experience. Reflect on where people are being held back from promotions due to working part-time, or not fitting into the mold.

Another way is encouraging and supporting employee-led groups to promote diversity and inclusion. They can often uncover the challenges employees are facing day to day.

You can also try actively increasing the representation of women in leadership, this can bring in the perspectives needed to create more inclusive environments.

Often our hiring practices and job descriptions get the same results because we keep doing the same thing. There isn’t a lack of capable women to lead. Organisations should look at what they can do to attract them. A good starting place is to question your job descriptions with scrutiny. Are you unknowingly excluding amazing candidates? Do you really need 10 years of experience in a particular domain for that leadership role, or is someone with experience leading people more valuable? Does the role really need to be full-time? What can they bring to the organisation if they come from a completely different industry?

This list is not exhaustive, but it can serve as a starting point for making your workplace more inclusive. Keep in mind that inclusion is an ongoing process, and it's important to continuously assess and improve the policies and practices you have.


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