How can we make the workplace better for women?

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March is a month that celebrates women from International Women’s Day to Mother’s Day.  Whilst these days are an opportunity to show appreciation and support for the women in our lives and the world over, are employers doing everything they can to make the workplace enjoyable and accessible to women?

Midlands based company Cream HR believes that there is much more that businesses could be doing to attract and retain their female staff.  Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that after the birth of a child, 13% of women leave work, even when they are the higher earner of the couple.  Of women who continue to work, there is a significant reduction in working hours (a fall of 26% on average). In contrast we see little or no reduction in the paid hours of fathers – even where they earn less than their female partners before their child is born.

However, companies are recognising this and are adapting their support packages to meet the needs of mothers and fathers after the birth of a child.  Some companies are matching the time off and pay they offer for maternity and paternity.  The introduction of shared parental leave has also helped to support both parents.  But there is still a long way to go.

Cream HR advises businesses to look at other ways they can support women in the workplace. Events predominantly affecting women such as miscarriage, fertility challenges, and menopause can cause anxiety, depression, physical health issues and in many cases cause women to consider leaving their place of employment. It is a topic that should be taken seriously by businesses.

A staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, and yet most business still provide little to no support for women, and men, facing this loss.

HR Consultant at Cream HR Gemma Thayre said: “Last March I experienced a miscarriage at 12 weeks. It was one of the most challenging times of my life. I was at the stage of being about to share the news with my colleagues, family, and friends and instead I was telling them I had lost my baby. I then experienced further complications and more time in hospital. In simple terms, I was not in the best place. Whilst the miscarriage alone was physically and mentally challenging, I had the additional worry of how I would keep up to date with both my family and professional life.

I was one of the fortunate ones during this time to have an incredibly supportive employer and working environment at Cream.  I was allowed the time I needed to get well, be there for the rest of my family and given the time to get the help and support I needed.

Now almost a year on it I still have challenges around what happened.  But the support I was given from work has made me even more committed and loyal to the business, more engaged in the work we do and keener to support the growth of the business. I am also more committed to my own personal development. Simply put, I work harder knowing I am working in an environment that I enjoy being in and feel cared for in.”

Another area that Cream HR are asking employees to consider providing additional support in is menopause.  In the past year menopause and perimenopause have been hot topics in the media with TV presenter Davinia McCall making a programme about it bringing the often-taboo topic into the mainstream. But how does menopause affect work?   It is estimated that around 13 million women in the UK workforce are perimenopausal or menopausal. The effects of this range from discomfort to severely limiting and can affect people physically as well as mentally.  An estimated one million women are considering quitting work as a result of a lack of menopause support.

Support will look different for each person but some things Cream HR suggest are to consider offering a flexible working pattern, enhanced sick pay or even a sabbatical leave to allow women to take a break from work without having to leave all together.  The most important thing is to create an open and safe environment where people feel comfortable talking about how they are feeling.

Another issue faced by women (and men) is challenges surrounding fertility.  In fact, according to the Fertility Network Survey a recent study found that 38% of employees had considered leaving a business due to the lack of fertility support. For those suffering from fertility issues, 91% experienced feelings of anxiety, 89% experience stress and 88% suffered from depression.  This alone shows how debilitating going through fertility issues can be.

Anthony Sutton, Director of Cream HR, added: “it’s really important when trying to maintain a happy and productive workforce to look at what issues might affect them.  It’s ok celebrating women on special days of the year but I want to encourage employers to look more at supporting women in the workplace all year round through policies and actions.  Big businesses are already taking a stance. Kellogg’s have moved forward with supporting their 1,500 strong team from across the UK with increased support surrounding miscarriage, fertility and menopause leave and ASOS are making similar changes, providing 10 days’ paid leave for those suffering a pregnancy loss and 5 days’ paid leave per cycle for those who need to attend fertility appointments. They also want to allow more flexibility for employees going through the menopause by allowing time off at short notice. Tesco have recently been involved in setting up pilot menopause support groups. It would be great if we saw more businesses doing the same.”

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    AUTHOR

    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien