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How to support and empower women in the workplace

How to support and empower women in the workplace - Apryl
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In the UK, 15.66 million women over the age of 16 were in employment from October to December of 2022, according to the ONS UK labour market bulletin. The most common sectors for female employees are health and social work, with 77% of jobs held by women. Women are still underrepresented in historically male-dominated fields such as construction, where just 16% of jobs are filled by women and even then, most of these are administration and secretarial roles.

However, the number of women in high-level positions continues to rise. In July 2022, 39.6% of FTSE 100 directorships and 38.9% of FTSE 250 directorships were held by women although there is still a long way to go to equality. 91% of women on FTSE 100 boards are in non-executive director roles and just nine women hold CEO positions.

While the number of women in male industries and senior positions is increasing, retention of female leaders remains an issue. They are leaving their companies at the highest rate ever seen; for every woman at the director level who gets promoted, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.

Knowing how to support and empower women in the workplace can make a big difference in keeping hold of employees and attracting female talent to your company. In this article, we discuss ways that employers can champion women in the workplace and create a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Foster a safe and inclusive environment

According to a recent poll, almost two in three young women have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work. 62% of women aged between 25 and 34 have faced harassment and unfortunately, most of these aren’t isolated incidents. 57% of women have experienced three or more incidents of bullying at work and 43% have dealt with at least three incidents of sexual harassment.

However, less than a third of women who said they experienced sexual harassment at work told their employer what was happening. For those that did report it, 39% worried they would not be believed or taken seriously, 37% felt it would negatively impact their work relationships and 25% believed it would harm their career prospects.

For women to feel safe at work, employers need to demonstrate zero tolerance for harassment and bullying, supported by robust policies and disciplinary procedures. Employers should also create awareness of women’s safety through workshops, discussion groups and companywide activities. Furthermore, women should be encouraged to express their discomfort. Businesses should work to break the stigma that still surrounds being a victim of harassment and bullying, making women feel confident that they can report incidents and that they will be taken seriously.

Embrace a family-friendly culture

According to figures from the ONS, in 2021, three in four mothers in the UK were in work. Yet due to the cost of childcare, 76% of mothers who pay for childcare say it doesn’t make financial sense for them to work, with 26% of parents who rely on childcare saying it costs more than three-quarters of their take-home pay.

Family-friendly employee benefits and policies can help women in the workforce achieve a better work-life balance and demonstrate that you are an employer who doesn’t expect them to sacrifice family life for their career. These benefits and policies can take many forms including flexible working arrangements, time off work for the adoption process, or subsidised childcare.

Many companies are also using fertility benefits to attract top talent. Fertility benefits can be invaluable to women in heterosexual couples with infertility, single women wanting to become mothers, LGBTQ+ employees who face additional barriers to treatment and women of colour who suffer disparities with regard to reproductive health care.

Eliminate the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is decreasing but there is still a significant difference in the money women receive for doing the same or similar work to men. In April 2022, the median hourly pay for full-time employees was 8.3% less for women than for men. However, because more women are employed part-time than men, the median pay for all employees was actually 14.9% less for women than for men.

For employers to further close and ultimately, eliminate the gender pay gap, they need to take a multi-faceted approach that addresses the factors that contribute to the problem. Regular pay audits will help to identify inequalities. Transparent pay practices bolstered by equal pay policies and in line with industry standards will demonstrate a commitment to equal pay and help reduce pay discrepancies.

What’s more, employers should promote diversity in leadership and facilitate mentorship, training and career development opportunities so that women can build the skills they need for advancement.

Promote intersectionality

Intersectionality acknowledges that individuals’ experiences and challenges are not solely determined by a single identity but are shaped by the intersections of multiple identities and social categories.

Many women experience bias not just because of their gender but also because of their race, sexual orientation, or disability. As a result, these groups of women often face high levels of microaggressions and more barriers to advancement. For example, research has found that Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are at the greatest disadvantage on key metrics of workplace equality, such as pay and labour participation,  compared with all other ethnicity and gender combinations. It is more common for colleagues of Latinas and Asian women to comment on their culture or nationality compared to women of other races and ethnicities and LGBTQ+ and disabled women report experiencing more demeaning comments about them.

Employers can promote intersectionality in the workplace by recognising individual identities, educating the workforce, creating a culture of acknowledgement, and capturing data to inform policies. Improving intersectionality can also make a positive difference when it comes to how to support LGBTQ+ employees and those from other marginalised groups.

In summary, knowing how to empower women in the workplace involves fully understanding their needs, their aspirations, and the problems that they face and then implementing benefits, policies and practices that address them. If you’d like to learn about how offering fertility benefits can support your female employees, then get in touch.

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