Inclusive work cultures – a priority for International Women’s Day 2022

Inclusive work cultures – a priority for International Women’s Day 2022

Today marks International Women’s Day (IWD), and it feels like no time at all since I wrote about IWD 2021, when the movement used #choosetochallenge as a message to encourage us to re-think gender norms.

This year, the theme is #breakthebias. We are being asked to imagine a gender equal world, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive, and where difference is valued and celebrated.

This is a big ask, of course, and some days it might feel like progress is slow. On others, it’s easier to see how far we’ve come.

One of the strands of equality that we must keep returning to is that of women in the workplace. IWD 2022 wants us to forge ‘inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated’.

Of course, this makes great business sense, for why would we not want to support this talented cohort of the workforce? But the reality doesn’t always match up – and it can feel like it’s one step forward and two steps back.

So, what else still needs to change? Take the gender gap for instance. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021, another generation of women will have to wait until there is gender parity – whether that’s in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival or political empowerment.

Its research shows that, since 2020, the time it will take for the gap to close has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years. One of the reasons for this is COVID-19, which has hit female-dominated industries, such as the consumer sector, non-profits and media and communication, particularly hard. This, combined with the additional pressures of providing care at home for children or vulnerable family members, has resulted in the re-opening of gaps that were beginning to close.

You could argue that no-one was ready for the full impact of COVID-19. We didn’t see it coming because we’d not seen it before. A mistake maybe, but one we can probably be forgiven for. Less forgivable is where we do nothing about the things we do know about – and menopause and the workplace is one of these issues.

According to the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey (Q2 2021), women of menopausal age (45-54) make up 11 per cent of all people in employment and 23 per cent of all women in employment – equating to 3.5 million women.

Some employers seem to want to dismiss the menopause as a cultural taboo that they can sweep under the carpet.  But things are changing. And about time, too.

According to figures from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the rate of employment tribunals referencing menopause has jumped from being cited in only five cases in the last nine months of 2018 to ten in the first six months of 2021.

These statistics demonstrate that while a problem clearly exists, the female workforce is finding its voice, as well as the confidence, to challenge the issue that unfortunately permeates workplaces up and down the country.

Such confidence is resulting in employment law specialists encouraging their clients to update their policies urgently to avoid litigation. But should it really take the threat of legal action for this to happen? Shouldn’t we all be looking at it through a much more positive lens, so it’s to do with the progressive reasons for supporting your female workforce and creating a collaborative workplace culture?

At Freshwater, we take the issue extremely seriously. We have launched a menopause policy to support our female colleagues and to educate our whole workforce as it is of relevance to everyone. We’re training managers to raise awareness, encourage dialogue and ensure that everyone feels empowered to raise issues openly and sensitively.

Even the government is cottoning on to the issue and doing something about it.  The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a team of 50 Plus Champions, a national network of advisors, who offer support to employers to help them retain their workforce over the age of 50, including women who are experiencing the menopause. Meanwhile, a new government menopause task force, co-chaired by Minister for Women’s Health, Maria Caulfield, and Labour MP for Swansea East, Carolyn Harris, will consider various methods of support, including sharing best menopause practice in the workplace.

And significantly, Wales is leading the way by offering menopause treatment – Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – free on prescription.

With almost one in four women with serious menopause symptoms forced to leave work, it’s about time we create workplaces where women thrive throughout their career. Let’s not lose their experience, knowledge, skills, commitment and loyalty – just because we can’t talk openly about the menopause.

This article was written by our chief executive, Angharad Neagle, and featured in the Western Mail on 8 March 2022

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