02 Mar Why Women’s Issues Are Also Workplace Issues
Women’s issues in the workplace have been well documented. The gap between the genders in pay and representation remains, and is closing very slowly. But less well known is how women’s issues can have a detrimental effect on the organisation itself.
Structural issues in the business are often overlooked for their ‘flashier’ relatives, but can actually put a lot of stress on women at work. Often in organisations there are small structural elements that seem harmless at first glance, but when they are investigated, they are found to be extremely problematic for women.
Take the example of mentoring within the business. Services in businesses that are not essential to business function, but are highly important to the business (like mentoring), are more likely to be undertaken by women and people of colour, as they are mentoring and representing their gender, race, ethnicity etc.
As a result, this work is then more likely to be considered as ‘female’ work because of the necessity of women taking on these roles (like mentoring younger women), whereas men doing similar work is often considered ‘supervising’. The same comparison can be made between ‘advising’ and ‘chairing/leading’ committees. Where women are invited to advise to achieve a gender balance or quota, the same work for men is often just seen as them leading the committee.
This ‘female’ perceived work is often done informally, and left off formal records, whereas supervising and leading committees – the ‘male’ version of this work – is documented and factored into that person’s profile. This causes a huge disparity between the two when it comes time for evaluation or promotion, as one is seen to have done a lot more official work than the other.
Obviously issues like this are a big problem for women, but why are they such a problem for organisations? When this extra burden is placed on women and left unaccounted for, it can happen that they are not given the appropriate time and resources to complete their work, it can end up being left unfinished or finished to a lower standard. With the extra pressure, work slows and productivity decreases, and without understanding the person’s situation it can be very hard for management to understand why, and dedicate time and resources to fixing the problem. This can mean that the problem just goes untreated and over time a lower standard of work becomes the norm. To counteract this, a lot of women just work harder and harder to keep their productivity and standards high, which ultimately leads to burnout.
Another problem that this unaccounted-for labour causes, is when it comes time for promotion. The undocumented service might mean that the person who is best fit for the job is overlooked. Although a woman may have the necessary skills and experience to take on more responsibility, because it was all done on an informal basis her higher ups may not take this into consideration, and someone who would not be as good as she would is promoted over her. This is a lost opportunity for women to become leaders, as well as a lost opportunity to put the best fit in charge.
At home, women are often expected to do the lion’s share of primary care-giving and household management. This can become a huge cause of strain on them if their employee is not accommodating of a good work-life balance. As with the above, this can lead to burnout and productivity issues, as well as a high turnover rate among women. There are many small measures that organisations can do to be mindful of the work life balance, and even promote a better gender balance at home. These are measures such as offering parental leave rather than maternity leave, so either parent can take time off to care for and bond with new children, or offering flexi-time that would allow parents to take time off during the day to take care of children.
This also benefits businesses that need workers early in the morning or late at night (such as in international client services) as working outside of the 9-5 may suit some parents better. Providing mechanisms to help all parents helps ease the burden of care from women as it can be taken up more easily by their partner.
In an age where EDI is so important to such a huge portion of the workforce, organisations that are seen as being less ‘female-friendly’ will struggle to attract talent that values equality, diversity, and inclusivity – including much of the younger generation. And the more that inclusivity becomes important to the workforce, the smaller and smaller the talent pool will become for the firm to choose from – the likelihood of them attracting top talent is very low.
In a similar vein, firms that are not female-friendly are often less diverse, and miss out on a broad spectrum of thinking when it comes to decision making. We know that more inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time, and that diversity is a huge driver of efficiency and productivity, and such firms will lose out on this opportunity simply by not addressing women’s issues (Tweet this). Firms that have problems with EDI are often seen to be intolerant or ‘backwards’ and are less enticing to ambitious potential employees. If a firm has a ‘bad reputation’, and a high turnover of staff, they are likely to have staff morale issues, which may in turn lead to a toxic work culture.
Now more than ever, we need to work to combat these changes. The growth that we have seen in the last half a decade is in jeopardy due to the Covid-19 crisis. Many women had to leave the workforce during this pandemic, and many more still might. If this happens, we will see drops in the representation of women in leadership roles, and less women on track to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Losing women in leadership roles would have a significant impact on the profitability of businesses (Tweet this). The McKinsey report Diversity wins: How inclusion matters showed that there was a direct correlation between the performance of a company and the number of women executives. Outwardly, a company’s shares perform 50% better when women are well represented at the top. Simply put, it is no longer affordable for companies not to deal with women’s issues at work.
Aoibhinn is a 23 year old, recent graduate from Trinity College Dublin. She is a social activist and hopes to pursue a career in diversity consulting. Her motivations to improve Equality, Diversity and Inclusion stem from her drive to see progress in the representation of women and minorities in leadership roles in society and organisations.