WOMEN AND WEALTH
What Do Women Need from the Workplace?
The last couple of years have not been a particularly good time to be a woman in the workplace. Studies have shown that the pandemic disproportionately impacted women, with women more likely than men to lose their jobs as they took on the brunt of caregiving and household responsibilities.
In this Q&A, Michele Parmelee, chief people and purpose officer at Deloitte, explores the main pressures and challenges facing women in the workplace and suggests how companies, both large and small, can create more inclusive cultures.
Sally Percy: What are the main pressures women face in the workplace today?
Michele Parmelee: Women worldwide face a burnout epidemic driven by rising stress levels, a lack of mental health support, and an ‘always-on’ work culture. Additionally, despite significant shifts in working arrangements since the start of the pandemic, flexibility is still not a reality for many women.
Many of us thought that hybrid work models would provide women with the flexible working models they needed. But these models aren’t delivering the benefits that they could. Many women are reporting poor work-life balance and increased responsibilities at home, while harassment and microaggressions in the workplace are on the rise.
Percy: Why aren’t hybrid working models benefiting women?
Parmelee: Despite significant shifts in working arrangements since the start of the pandemic, our report, Women@Work 2022: A Global Outlook, shows that flexibility is not a reality for many women. Only a third of the women surveyed said their employer offers flexible working policies. Even more alarming, 94% of women believe that requesting flexible arrangements will affect their likelihood of promotion, and 90% believe their workloads won’t be adjusted accordingly if they request flexible working arrangements.
Exclusion is another concern. Almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from meetings and interactions, and nearly half say they do not have enough exposure to leaders. Women who have experienced exclusion in a hybrid environment report much higher stress levels and worse mental health. They are also more likely to have taken time off to cope with mental health challenges.
Hybrid and flexible working models have the potential to provide immense benefits, but only if employers go beyond policies and make a clear commitment to fostering an everyday culture that supports those who wish to work flexibly.
Percy: What are the greatest concerns of younger women in the workplace?
Parmelee: The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey highlighted that financial concerns were top of mind for both generations, particularly among women. The cost of living was the top concern for both Gen Z men (26%) and women (32%), and millennial men (33%) and women (39%). Day-to-day finances and long-term financial futures are top stress drivers across these cohorts as well, but women are again more stressed about their finances than their male counterparts.
In addition to financial anxiety, both generations also struggle with consistently high stress levels and a lack of work-life balance. Our survey found that stress levels are more pronounced among women, particularly for Gen Z. This year, 53% of Gen Z and 41% of millennial women said they regularly felt stressed or anxious, compared with 39% of Gen Z and 36% of millennial men.
Percy: Why are LGBT+ women and women from ethnic minority backgrounds more likely to experience discrimination and micro aggressions at work?
Parmelee: Systemic biases continue to exist in workplaces around the world, and women who are perceived as the cultural ‘other’ are often more likely to bear the brunt of these biases. Employers that don’t have clear policies in place, and don’t work to create a respectful, inclusive work culture, can unintentionally foster this type of behavior.
Percy: How can employers create workplaces that are more inclusive of women?
Parmelee: There are a number of crucial actions employers can take. First, employers must address the burnout epidemic. At a time when employers need to focus on retaining women, failure to address burnout is not an option. We need to focus on eliminating the stigma that prevents many women from discussing mental health in the workplace or taking advantage of mental health resources when available.
It is also clear that flexible working remains a challenge for many employers. It is not just about policies – employers need to make a clear commitment to those women who wish to work flexibly. This means, for example, ensuring that team leaders can lead meetings and interactions in a way that includes all present, whether in person or remote, and ensuring that those who are not physically present have much-needed access to leaders and sponsors.
Finally, employers need to create environments where non-inclusive behaviors, including microaggressions, are not tolerated, and, when they are experienced, women should feel able to report them without concern of negative repercussions.
Percy: What are the risks to employers if they do not create workplaces that are inclusive of women?
Parmelee: The biggest risk businesses face is losing talent. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of women working for companies that lag on gender equality plan to leave their employers within the next two years, compared with 9% of those working for companies that build high-trust, inclusive cultures where women feel supported.
Organizations that do not work to instill a truly inclusive culture are fostering a culture where women are burned out, unmotivated, unproductive, and are often driven to look for employment elsewhere.
The contents in this article are being provided for educational and informational purposes only. The information and comments are not the views or opinions of Union Bank, its subsidiaries or affiliates.