One of the biggest changes the UK workforce has seen in the past 50 years are the number of women in employment; there’s been a near-continual rise of women aged 25-54 in employment1. Women account for 47% of the UK workforce2, and attracting and retaining female talent is a top priority for employers. The financial incentive for supporting exec-level careers for women is clear; research has shown that FTSE companies which have women in executive roles have higher profit margins3.
But does today’s workplace fully reflect the wellbeing needs of women?
The short answer is ‘probably not’, certainly for most workplaces.
We often talk to employers who are looking at how they can tailor their wellbeing initiatives to meet the demands of specific employee groups. This includes taking a gender-based view of health, and considering the specific and unique health demands of each group.
Many workplaces are not oriented to women, and their varying needs. It’s important not to view women as one homogenous group either; lived experience can vary depending on factors such as health, age and pregnancy.
From appropriate toilet provision4 to male-focused air-conditioning leaving female workers feeling the cold5, working environments may not necessarily consider the female experience. When designing or upgrading an office space, it’s important to ensure all voices are represented within the decision-making process. Whilst regulatory guidelines provide a good starting point, they should be validated and verified by those with lived experience. Perhaps your toilet stalls are too narrow for someone who is 30+ weeks pregnant, or the cupboards shelves too high for someone who’s 5ft 3in.
Uniforms and dress codes are another consideration for employers. Is your uniform inclusive to women of all ages? Does the material need to be thicker for women (who have a lower metabolic rate) versus the men’s version?
When designing an employee benefits scheme, it’s important to look at the wider lifestyle trends of your employees. Over 90% of firms offer private medical insurance to their employees, and yet medical benefits can often fall short in supporting specific women’s health needs such as infertility or menopause support.
A good benefits strategy is reflective of the workforce you have; employee listening tools can help assess the current state of your workforce and any opportunity gaps. However, employee surveys should be segmented to produce valuable gender-specific insights.
Creating an accepting and open culture is the foundation of prioritising women’s health. You could have incredibly generous IVF benefits available, but if female employees aren’t comfortable asking leaders for time off for treatment then they will invariably go unused.
Storytelling can be a powerful way of increasing awareness of key issues, and helping to develop peer-to-peer empathy. Colleague-led conversations around key women’s health topics such as menstruation, pregnancy, infertility, pregnancy loss and menopause can foster acceptance and promote empathy.
Companies should not overlook the bigger picture to employees’ lives. In 2021, 38% of working women with a partner reported that they have the responsibility for domestic chores and childcare6. Flexible working is one way that employers can provide support to women who are potentially juggling multiple care responsibilities, a commute, domestic life and their own interests and hobbies.
In a similar vein, companies should ensure that employee benefits and wellbeing initiatives are rolled-out in an inclusive way; recording webinars and 24/7 access could help increase engagement for workers who are taking a flexible approach to their working day.
Taking a holistic approach to women’s health will help companies create an environment where women can thrive; it’s not enough to just focus one piece of this multifaceted issue. If you’re looking to improve the health and wellbeing of the women in your workplace, please get in touch.
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