Supporting female staff in the workplace should be a long-term strategy. Acknowledging women that have ‘done well’ isn’t enough, organisations should be thinking about how to help all women – all year round.
Here are five ways to make a start.
1. Clamp down on microaggressions
Microaggressions are a form of discrimination that if left unchecked can make a workplace toxic. In a 2021 Women in the Workplace Study, around two-thirds of female respondents said they had experienced microaggressions. Examples of microaggressions include mistaking a senior female leader for a junior employee or questioning a female professional’s ability and judgement because of their gender.
Allyship is crucial to stopping microaggressions from happening. Colleagues need to call out these instances when they happen but education on what microaggressions are and workplace examples are key to this being successful so staff can identify these discriminatory behaviours in the first place.
Signposting the women in leadership positions in your organisation is a good way to combat microaggressions. Featuring women in prominent positions on an organisation’s website or making an effort to include them in meetings and explicitly referencing their roles and responsibilities could help too.
2. Make provisions for female biology
In the workplace, there are women of varying ages, and for ciswomen in particular, (those that were born with female reproductive organs), they could be dealing with a range of biological issues including period pain, endometriosis, pregnancy, and menopause. While these conditions differ, a large proportion of women in the workplace will experience them, which can affect their wellbeing and productivity.
Some businesses offer ‘period leave‘ for women who are in discomfort at work, and the same could be offered for those with other conditions, even if this is a work-from-home option while symptoms persist. Period and menopause leave could be taken on as mainstream policies in a similar way that some organisations now offer employees mental health days, where days can be taken off work entirely.
Another wellbeing initiative businesses could pursue is providing women’s sanitary products including tampons and pads just as they provide toilet rolls and waste bins in office lavatories. This could help prevent feelings of embarrassment when women require these products.
3. Include diverse women in female initiative ideas
When leadership is starting to think about how to support their female workers in the long term, before they can get on with strategies, they need to understand that women make up a group that encompasses people with various sexual, cultural, religious, racial, and ethnic identities. If employers try and establish a women’s initiative in the workplace without considering these differences, they could leave some out.
If a male leader devises a strategy in conjunction with a woman in a senior position, unconscious bias, (if they are both white, for example) could occur. This could mean that any policies devised might unintentionally represent their own positions and interests rather than women from other positions, such as women of colour. Instead, ensure women from diverse backgrounds are included in decision making processes regarding initiatives.
4. Support female retention and progression
Some of the reasons why the gender pay gap endures are due to the lack of women in leadership positions and women taking large periods off work or leaving altogether due to childcare obligations.
To encourage career progression including promotions and pay rises for women, mentorship should be encouraged between senior women in an organisation and younger female employees and even between male leaders and their less senior female counterparts that show promise.
This way, ambitious women can set themselves career objectives and aim to move through the ranks. Employers should also try and offer flexible working conditions including a mixture of office, remote and flexible hours options for working mothers as these allowances could mean the difference between them staying or leaving.
5. Keep an eye out for gender bias
Gender bias against women can include hiring bias. If hiring boards are male-dominated in an organisation, there is a chance they will hire talent that looks and sound like them, which could leave women out.
Gender bias can also be found in men’s attitudes to women in the workplace, including how they are expected to act. The aforementioned Women in the Workplace study also found that women think their gender makes it harder for them to advance at work, and that female requests for pay rises and promotions despite being made as much as their male counterparts weren’t at successful.
This could be down to embedded attitudes that male decisiveness is a positive workplace attribute, while for women, it isn’t seen as attractive by leadership.
Ultimately, to combat any sort of bias in an organisation, leaders and other employees have to first admit that they all carry unintentional bias, and only by admitting this can something be done about it.
In this article, you learned that:
- Calling out microaggressions against others when they happen is a form of allyship
- When devising workplace initiatives for women, ensure a diverse group of women are involved
- Make hiring boards gender diverse to stop unconscious hiring bias from happening