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    Cultural Change

Shining a Spotlight on the Untapped Potential of Women

Progressive employers can benefit from supporting female careers at every stage.

Progressive employers can benefit from supporting female careers at every stage

There are many ways employers can boost the fortunes of women and help them thrive at work. Reproductive life stages, caring responsibilities, and gender bias can be some of the persistent challenges women face during their careers that can be addressed with a range of workplace strategies.

Unlocking the potential of women across the entire career arc – supporting them earlier in their careers when establishing their skills, then while juggling caring responsibilities, through to creating leadership role models and keeping women at work for longer – can offer organizational significant benefits.

In short, it can make good business sense to create a work environment that supports women throughout their career lifecycle.

Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling

BSI’s recent report – Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling – found that only 59% of women of all ages, from a survey of 5,000 women across four continents, are confident their generation will receive the same levels of flexibility and support to stay in the workplace as long as their male colleagues.

Meanwhile, 42% of working women globally agree that it is uncommon to see older women in positions of leadership. The ‘Second Glass Ceiling’ invites a reframing of the conversation around mature women at work and highlights an opportunity to break down gender and age barriers and ensure gender diversity.

Leadership could be a good place to begin, as having women in decision-making positions offers the potential to support women of all ages. BSI’s poll showed that 73% of respondents agree that the presence of more experienced female colleagues would be beneficial to the development of young women in the workplace. Only 4% of women polled disagreed with this position.

The value of supporting women to stay in work

Research has found that women tend to have higher levels of emotional intelligence (EQ) in specific areas of competency, such as empathy, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility.

When gender diversity is explored specifically, the following has been found about more gender-diverse organizations:

  • 2% report increased profits and productivity
  • 8% report an increased ability to attract and retain talent
  • 4% report greater creativity, innovation, and openness
  • 1% report enhanced company reputation
  • 5% report a better ability to gauge consumer interest and demand

Other recent research backs the benefits of having and keeping women in the workplace for longer. LeanIn.Org and McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace Report showed that female leaders do more than their male counterparts to support employee well-being and foster diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). These factors improve trust, retention and employee satisfaction and are particularly important to younger female employees.

Unlocking career pathways for women

Attracting and keeping mature female employees can present one valuable potential strategy for organizations looking to achieve gender parity, higher productivity and greater innovation. Support at earlier career stages offers another.

Career paths for many women could also be unlocked through the provision of employment flexibility and carer-friendly workplace policies. Some women will have 'sandwich' careers, where parenthood is the filling between early and later-life periods of employment. Many will experience 'double duty' careers, where maintaining a professional life is mirrored by caring responsibilities at home for young, elderly or disabled family members. Some will attempt to achieve a part-time career, often finding that their two, three or four-day week workload stretches to the five-day norm.

According to BSI’s Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling report, a fifth of women say they expect to retire before the official retirement age for their country, while more than one in four (27%) have already retired, left the workforce or significantly reduced their hours. Caring responsibilities and health considerations are the main barriers to remaining in the workplace until or beyond retirement age (cited by 29% and 41% respectively).

Organizations looking to achieve gender parity can invest time and creativity into redesigning job roles to fully embrace part-time, hybrid and job-share options and create enhanced flexibility in working patterns. School term-time-only contracts, such as those recently piloted by Amazon, are designed to support both working parents and grandparents.

Menopause

Addressing women’s biology also presents potential for organizations to position themselves as an employer of choice. Experiences of menstruation and menopause vary significantly, so to keep women in work and enable them to be productive, organizations can consider individual experiences and provide effective support, flexibility or job adjustments to keep this critical source of talent in work and productive.

According to Bloomberg, global menopause productivity losses top $150 billion a year. Simple adjustments can keep women working rather than leaving them with no choice but to depart the workplace. To give one example, thermal stress may increase when wearing protective clothing or PPE during the (peri)menopause, so trying different PPE or adapting the role can be a way to minimize this. General risk assessment processes offer the opportunity to account for different physical, mental, biological and reproductive risks, with individual risk assessment and adjustments made as appropriate. Educating all colleagues on (peri)menopause symptoms (men included) can also be beneficial to break down stigma and create a supportive environment.

Closing the gap

According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 132 years to close the gender gap across 146 countries surveyed. Continued pay disparity isn't just about dollars and cents, it reinforces the ripple effect into other areas, such as career development and health inequalities.

Female employees can add enormous value to your workplace. With flexibility and creativity and the right intent, there is the potential to maximize their performance at work. Putting women's careers in the spotlight can enable society to reap the rewards of previously untapped talent.

About the author

Kate Field is BSI’s Global Head of Health, Safety and Well-being. She brings over 20 years of experience across all sectors and is the creator and author of BSI’s Prioritizing People Model. She is a champion for cultural change that embeds a people-centric approach, benefiting individuals and helping the organizations they work for become more resilient.