Welcome to our Phoenix for Employers Blog by Phoenix Wellness Coaching. I am a regular blogger and have a YouTube channel that supports women experiencing menopause, but I recognise that we need a different approach to help employers, and to this end, I launched my employers’ blog. In this monthly blog I will answer the big questions you have around how to support your menopausal co-workers.
Alongside these blogs I will be launching a bi-monthly Phoenix Menopause Roundtable online discussion open to HR Directors, CEO’s and other senior leaders who want to talk about their challenges in developing a menopause-friendly organisation. I am looking forward to opening these conversations with you.
What do I mean by the “talent brain drain linked to the female biological journey”?
It quite simply relates to the number of women who either consider, or do, leave the workforce due to a range of menstrual health issues including infertility or fertility treatment, pregnancy, and miscarriage, painful or heavy menstrual periods, endometriosis and menopause.
At all points in a woman’s life our biology can have an impact on how productive we feel, how anxious we feel, whether we are fulfilling our full potential. Our biological journey impacts our ability to get the best jobs that utilise our full range of skills, or impacts our ability to achieve career progression, or impacts our ability to earn a good living and remain economically active or our ability to remain at work for as longer as our male colleagues – globally women are leaving the workforce faster than men!
What part do societal norms play in re-enforcing these issues?
To understand how societal norms re-enforce these issues we need to go back in time to the 1300s when serfdom was the way we organised society. Before then, women worked in the fields, were able to own land and property just like men. Then along comes serfdom – a condition in medieval Europe in which a tenant farmer was bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of the landlord. Most serfs in medieval Europe existed by cultivating land owned by a lord. Serfdom took away land and property ownership for men and women alike.
In the 19th Century gendered roles started to become prevalent where roles were looked upon as separate spheres. A woman’s place was in the private sphere of family life and the home, and a man’s place was the public sphere of politics and economic, social, and cultural activity.
Many experts wrote about how these separate spheres were naturally rooted in each gender. Women who sought roles in the public sphere often found themselves looked down upon and identified as “strange or unnatural”. They posed an unwelcome challenge to cultural assumptions. Plus, women were legally considered dependents until marriage and under coverture after marriage. This left them with no separate identity and few or no personal rights. This status was in line with the strongly held belief that a woman’s place was in the home and a man’s place was in the public world.
But times were changing, and in 1918 women in the UK were given the right to vote, on equal terms as men. The even bigger change came through World War II. Women were needed more than ever and started taking on roles that in peace time were carried out by men – working the fields, working in factories, delivering planes to airfields etc.
In many respects the world of work was traditionally designed by men for men, and this was especially seen after the end of the second World War when men returned from military life and needed to fit back into their civilian lives. Work and workplaces started to model the military frameworks men had been used to – male dominated and in the hierarchical military image.
How does caring play into women’s working decisions?
Whilst we have all the mechanisms at our fingers tips to enable us to work as long as we wish, this isn’t always the reality for many women. Women generally remain the primary caregivers in family groups. It is the accepted norm for women to take time out in the early years of our child’s life to care for them, and whilst this is changing with the introduction of more policies to support families such as shared parental leave, paternity leave and shared maternity leave, it is still the woman who puts her career on hold to take on the important care role for the children.
Many women can find their career prospects weakened when they return to work after maternity leave as they still need to provide the lion’s share of the care (women in the UK continue to provide the majority of the childcare at 23.2 billion hours per year versus 9.7 billion hours a year for men). We also know that many women return to the workplace on part-times hours – less than 60% of women return to fulltime work after maternity leave. This has a consequence on the type of roles we can undertake as most of the more senior and higher paying roles are still designed around fulltime working. Despite family friendly and flexible working policies many women will return to roles below their capability level because parttime hours are not available to them. This impacts the gender pay gap which in the UK which currently stands at 14.3%.
Stereotypes remain strong across society and the world of work and these play into the roles women and men take on:
These stereotypes also impact the monetary value we place on roles – nurses’ and teachers’ incomes are often lower than those roles in finance. In fact, as a society, we are saying the roles that tend to be seen as more “female” are of less importance than those that men traditionally take on. These are sweeping generalisations, but we know many women in care roles are paid barely above the living wage!
Why is this a problem?
It is an economic and societal problem that we need to address. We need to take steps to recognise that women’s needs from a workplace are different, but equally important, to those of men. The ramifications of women choosing to take themselves out of the workplace, whether that is due to needing more time monthly to manage their period symptoms, or to care for children or older relatives, or because menopause has made them feel overlooked, can be huge in terms of productivity losses, loss of talent and knowledge, removal of mentors for future generations to loss of creativity and innovation.
By having the policies and processes in place to enable women to work for as long as they feel, or at least to have productive and rewarding careers as long as their male colleagues, an organisation can reap numerous benefits:
- It is an investment in your current and future workforce – enabling more women to progress into senior leadership roles is an investment in your future workforce. The presence of female role models has a positive impact on the development of younger talented women in the workforce.
- It is an opportunity to boost growth, enhance innovation and accelerate progress towards a more sustainable world – with an ageing global population with higher life expectancy, the ability for countries to offer state pension and health benefits becomes an economic burden. Enabling women to work longer means they become more financially stable and independent.
- It boosts economic growth – enabling women to remain working longer extends their earning potential, strengthening their financial security which contributes to economic growth.
What can you do to create a culture that enables women to work for longer?
There are many different approaches we can take to ensure that if a woman wishes to work longer, that she can do so. Below are six recommendations that employers can adopt that will start to break the second glass ceiling and the link between career progressing/talent retention and the female biological journey:
- Open a dialogue. Talking about the issues facing women, whether that is around their menstrual health, fertility, pregnancy, miscarriage or menopause will start to break down the stigma attached to these conversations. Consult with your staff: ask women what they want or need to make working easier for them, carry out exit interviews and ask women if their decision to leave was linked to any of these issues or how they were treated as a result, start to understand the barriers and above all else, act on the feedback.
- Ensure support is available. Having a policy to support women through these times in their lives but not making it readily available to staff is not going to change the dial. Make your policies easily available on your intranet, show people how to find and access the support, make use of awareness days/months to talk about the issues and tell people what you can do to help.
- Build understanding and knowledge. Training is key. Provide training for leaders, colleagues, and managers around the impacts of these issues and how to access support, talk about these issues regularly and openly developing an understanding of the language you use, developing a shared and acceptable language.
- Provide workplace flexibility and adjustments. Making simple adjustments to when, how and where people work can make all the difference. These changes can be small but will have a big impact on the woman such as flexible start/finish times, more shorter break periods, working from home to manage symptoms etc.
- Develop a culture of care that prioritizes people. Talk about wellbeing in the broadest sense. Increase communication and education to foster greater understanding. Make your workplace a safe place to have conversations around wellbeing so staff feel confident to share their concerns, but most of all listen with empathy and care.
- Learn from others. Sharing best practice and collaborating with other organisations across your sector, industry or location can help your organisation to grow and learn. Sharing strategies and actions that have worked, can mean your organisation can resolve these issues quicker.
It is important that work works for everyone regardless of their gender or other protected characteristics, but we need to understand that due to the pandemic more women left the workplace than men, and now three years on, fewer of those women have returned to the workplace. We need to open an honest conversation to understand what the barriers are that women in particular face that causes them to leave the workplace and decide not to return. We need to be open to make small adjustments to how, where and when we work to ensure that all of our people can reach their full potential and have fulfilling and productive working lives. When we do this our organisations will develop greater resilience, sustainability, and profitability for longer.
For more help
If this discussion resonates with you and you want to make a head start on becoming a more woman-friendly/menopause-friendly organisation, then we can help with awareness raising workshops, manager training, employee consultation and risk assessing your policies and processes. Reach out to learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the Employers section of our website at www.phoenixwellness.co.uk