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Women are a key part of a growing contingent workforce of freelancers, consultants and part-timers. Despite numerous government policies to attract more mothers back into the workplace, retention is still a significant struggle.
To find out why this is the case, John Williams, Head of Marketing at Instant Offices, explores how employers can tackle retention issues and attract workforce of mothers.
Several data collected indicates working mothers who return part-time, combining professional careers with raising a family, are increasingly frustrated by the type of space they work in. The research shows that the modern workplace often fails to cater for their needs as they face the pressures of combining busy working lives with lifestyle and family obligations.
Blending lifestyle and work for working mums
According to UniSpace, lifestyles and workplaces are blending together, as the working day demands more of our time and technology encourages an “always available” work culture. For mothers, in particular, Office designers have started to recognise the pressure to achieve a lifestyle and workplace balance – particularly for those who are in part-time roles and arguably have to juggle time more than ever before
The data from WorkingMums.co.uk indicates that the number of female workers seeking part-time work, at all levels of the company, is increasing rapidly, but that the number of available opportunities is failing to increase at the same rate.
What do the numbers say?
From a survey of over 2000 women, it shows nearly one in five (18%) UK working mothers have been forced to leave their jobs because a flexible working request has been turned down.
Breaking down the statistics, around 12% said their employer did not even seem to consider their request at all, and over a quarter (27%) said the reason given for turning down the request was not one which is allowable under flexible working legislation.
A further 41% on maternity leave said the refusal of flexible working would mean they might not return to their job, while 50% said they had not even discussed flexible working before going on maternity leave. In fact, a whopping over half of (60%) of women have admitted to changing jobs after maternity leave.
The survey also shows the availability of flexible working is the key career development issue for working mums, with homeworking being valued highly, particularly for those wanting to work full-time. Other barriers included childcare costs – half of women currently on maternity leave said childcare costs could prevent them from returning to work.
The rise of female workspaces
The growth of the contingent workforce has been one of the key drivers behind the move towards coworking. The rise of female-specific coworking spaces is a significant extension to this trend and highlights some of the limitations of conventional space for female workers.
Due to the lack of flexibility, the introduction of female only workspaces such as The Wing, a US based women-only workspace have been created to cater for busy mothers and women by featuring facilities from onsite creches, childminding to gyms, hairdressers and cafes.
While these spaces may initially be viewed as coworking spaces, their ultimate objective is to become networks that facilitate female entrepreneurship and support women at every stage of their journey.
Creating a balanced workplace
Following responses from a survey by Instant Offices, here are some tips that employers should consider in creating a balanced workplace for all employees:
- Flexible Policies that benefit all parents: Offering a number of ‘family days’ for both mum and dad to attend assemblies and doctor’s appointments, etc… would enable a fairer system for all involved.
- Choice of Mobile Working Options: Flexible working with multiple offices/sites and 4G connectivity would greatly help allow fully mobile working for parents who are on the go.
- Work-life by balance and flexibility for all employees: Providing company-sponsored childcare schemes that would include on-site childcare would improve quality and offer a more practical solution. This includes providing more private space to facilitate phone calls to carers, more flexible hours to work around pick up/drop off hours, and a change in working hours during long summer holidays.
Providing integration of workplace and lifestyle elements in the workplace helps to alleviate pressure on work/life balance – and brings to light recognition of the demands the working day places on them.
Careers expert Zena Everett is an executive coach, author and an in-demand speaker on career management and productivity. Here she talks about how to spot and stop burnout in your teams – and yourself.
Don’t wait for a sickness note or resignation for proof of burnout in your teams. Here’s some warning signs to look out for and some prevention strategies.
Burnout is defined as a ‘state of vital exhaustion’. How do you know if you are genuinely exhausted with work rather than depressed? A depressed person will take their black dog with them wherever they go. Burnout, on the other hand, is confined to work. Get away from your desk (and your boss) and up a mountain, on a beach, or wherever you go to decompress, and your energy and mood will be restored.
To state the obvious, people should NOT burn out, take a break, return to work and repeat the pattern (although I know some who do). That’s bonkers from any angle: career, psychological, physical or family.
Your job as a manager is to ensure that your team members are happy, engaged and productive (all three feed into the other). Burned-out colleagues are none of these. What are the warning behaviours? Here’s two canaries in the coalmine I look for when coaching:
Burnout Sign #1: Reduced productivity.
Your high performing, perfectionist, people-pleasing, nothing-is-ever-good-enough-for-me, piece of expensive Talent ceases to deliver. They work even longer hours but the standard of their tasks tails off. Talk to them about it. Say that you have noticed the changes and ask what they think is going on. It could be that they are just bored and need more responsibilities. Or they could be overwhelmed by their workload and their own relentless drive to excel. Those are predictors of burnout. Coach them to manage the demands of their role and the pressure they put on themselves.
Burnout Sign #2: Cynicism.
This varies from an increasingly apathetic approach to the job, when people fall prey to office and digital distractions, to downright pessimism about the impact of their work. You’ll hear previously positive people make snidey comments about the customers, other team members, other departments, or senior management. ‘What’s the point anyway, nothing changes around here,’ ‘I don’t mind teaching, it’s just the parents and the children that spoil it’, ‘not him again, what does he want this time?’ etc. It’s sort of funny in the moment, but it’s not actually. Negativity and disengagement will drive more motivated team members away. It’s certainly not enabling a collaborative culture that screams service, success and energy.
What can you do to prevent burnout happening and restore resilience? Step up to the plate and actively help your people to do their best work in a healthier way.
Restore the boundaries.
Employees are happiest and most motivated when they make daily, incremental progress towards their goals.* That’s all it takes! Allow them to get their meaningful work done – with clear role descriptions, targets, performance metrics, deadlines, training and all the resources they need.
Then get out of their way.
When I meet stressed-out people they are often overloaded with pointless projects, routine administration, complicated reporting systems, badly-thought out management initiatives and lengthy meeting schedules. All of these are obstacles to real work. Be brave. Re-evaluate the output you expect from people and clarify how they can achieve it. Then cut out everything else that takes up their time. They’ll thank you for asking some hard questions and challenging fatty work cultures that inhibit productivity. ‘Why are we doing this? Is there a better, more efficient way of achieving the same result?’
Walk the talk.
You are a role model for high and healthy performance. If you are rushing from one meeting to another, snapping at people, over-promising and under-delivering and working stupid hours, then you’ve no time to step back, listen, think strategically and nip problems in the bud before they escalate.
Delegate, manage upwards, push back, re-negotiate and say No.
All of these are crucial yet basic leadership skills. Don’t send out of hours emails (save them in your draft folder or use the timed sending facility if you really must write them), or finesse tasks that don’t need finessing (that power-point deck is just fine). I hear of so many managers who CREATE stress.
- Get proper training on the granular details of managing work-flow.
- Only hold meetings that are absolutely necessary, keep to an agenda and don’t let anyone waffle.
- Be on time.
- Look like you can cope with more responsibility, not that you are about to combust.
Disconnect and build real connections.
No one can be ON all the time. Do less but think more: you’ll be more valuable that way. You rarely get your best ideas in the office.
- Encourage your people to take their holidays.
- Exercise. Breathe.
- Find a hobby or a challenge outside work that nourishes you.
- Take a real lunch break and eat with your team.
- Talk, don’t email.
Someone said at one of my recent Crazy Busy™ sessions that the only creative thing their Creative Director did was create email chains.
Reward results, not presenteeism.
Flexible working is a no-brainer. Trust people with the freedom to do their work in the most appropriate place and don’t be petty about checking up on them. There is no correlation between long hours cultures and productivity, quite the opposite. A sense of control over where and how we do our best work is a crucial aspect to motivation.
Build co-worker support systems.
Eating together, talking about how to improve processes, doing pre- and post-mortems, building in planning time, asking for support and advice. I’m not sure that hackneyed team-bonding initiatives like away days are as effective as regular, shorter team pow-wows when you can really communicate, allow everyone’s voice to be heard and get solutions from the people at the front line. Problems don’t get solved by paint-balling.
*Conclusion of a reassuring three-year study by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School on how to create forward momentum with clear goals, autonomy and a genuinely respectful culture. It confirms what your management instincts have been trying to tell you: HR interventions that work are lean, honest and relatively obvious. Read her book with Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using small wins to ignite job, engagement and creativity at work.
I hope that’s helpful and I’d love your feedback and experiences. As ever, please feel free to share with anyone you think would benefit.
Pick up the phone if I can help build resilience and coping strategies with my executive coaching or if you need a lively, practical speaker on career management or productivity topics at your next conference.
Phone: +44 20 3287 9505 | Mobile: +44 (0) 7968 424650
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Here’s my short animation on how to stop our brains getting so frazzled
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UK workplace culture stalls women’s careers say three in four women and two in five men reports year-long study involving almost 6,000 UK employees.
Everyday examples of unintentionally gender biased behaviour in workplace culture are stalling women’s careers, according to a year-long study released on 13 February 2019 by Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge.
Involving 5,814 UK employees, this research sheds new light on the implications of the way people tend to think about the strengths, attributes and potential of men and women. This is not a simple issue. Few people are intentionally sexist. The research found that gender double standards are perpetuated by both men and women.
Almost three in four (74%) female employees believe their workplace culture makes it more challenging for women to advance their careers than men. 42% of men agree. While many studies have focused on women’s perceptions alone, this research also reveals men’s views and the gulf between the two, identifying where focus is needed to ensure equality of opportunity.
These findings are released as part of Murray Edwards College’s Collaborating with Men programme. Delivered through research and workshops with large UK employers, the initiative enables employees across the genders to work together to solve cultural issues in their own workplace. It was launched after a 2014 survey of the all-female College’s alumnae reported workplace culture issues to be a greater barrier to career advancement than challenges relating to balancing work and family life.
Perhaps surprisingly more senior women report greater challenges to career progress. Half of senior female employees say their own workplace culture ‘often’ or ‘always’ presents career advancement challenges for women, compared with 36% of junior female employees. This has implications for career development and promotions.
The research found that the culture of UK workplaces is especially failing women of colour. Over half (56%) of women from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic or mixed race background say their workplace culture ‘often’ or ‘always’ presents career advancement challenges for women. This compares to 48% of white females.
Dr Jill Armstrong, lead researcher and Murray Edwards College Bye-Fellow comments:
Women are well equipped to excel in leadership positions, but they’re not rising from middle management in the same proportions as men. Those involved in the study have been surprised by the gender gulf in perceptions about the effect of unintentionally gender biased thinking. It’s workplace culture that has to change if we are to create equality of opportunity. That has to be done in partnership with men.
The latest study explores seven key ways in which gender stereotypes and unintentionally exclusive behaviour can damage women’s career progression opportunities:
- Women being judged more negatively when they behave in the same way as men
- Men and women being evaluated differently due to stereotypes around strengths
- Informal (social) networks that are important for decision making being male-dominated
- Men having more access to sponsorship from senior leaders
- Women not always being credited for their contribution to meetings
- “Benevolent sexism”, which is well intentioned but still hinders promotion prospects
- Women being interrupted in meetings
Double standards at root of women’s career progression challenges
Women being judged more negatively for behaviours that male colleagues also exhibit is one of the key examples of gender bias for organisations to address, according to the research.
43% of female employees say they have directly experienced being judged more negatively than men for the same behaviour in the last 12 months.
Dr Jill Armstrong comments:
Both male and female employees acknowledge that in many workplaces men get away with behaving in ways that are not considered acceptable for women. Female anger is still particularly unpalatable – we saw that with the uproar about Serena Williams at the US Open. What is perceived as decisive and strong from men, can be caricatured as bossy or aggressive from a woman.”
More than half (53%) of women have seen these double standards affect other female colleagues in the last 12 months. Yet only 18% of men have noticed this happening to female colleagues over the same year, suggesting that while many men are aware women face greater career progression challenges, they rarely notice the ways in which this manifests.
Crucially, the researchers found these double standards are perpetuated by female as well as male bosses. Well over half of the employees surveyed (55% of men and 59% of women) report personally being treated differently because of their gender by a female boss.
Stereotypes lead to women losing out on challenging opportunities
According to the participants’ rankings, one of the other most important issues for UK employers to address is stereotypical views on men’s and women’s strengths. This is likely to lead to biased decisions when filling leadership positions.
Previous academic research has established that traits commonly valued in potential leaders such as ambition, a single-minded commitment to work and risk-taking are frequently associated with men. Today’s study found these assumptions are perceived to affect women’s promotion into leadership positions.
According to two-thirds (64%) of female employees, stereotypical views about female traits, such as building good relationships, attention to detail and strong admin skills leads to them being perceived in their workplaces as good managers rather than good potential leaders. Only 29% of men believe this happens.
Kirsty Peacock, HR Director, Dentons UK & Middle East LLP, who has enrolled teams onto Collaborating with Men workshops comments:
I’ve tried many gender equality initiatives and this is the first one that’s started the conversation in a constructive way. Staff fill in a survey beforehand and the workshop begins by sharing the results. Being confronted by your own colleagues’ experiences is really powerful and the anonymity reduces the emotion that often comes with this subject.
It’s moved the conversations we’re having away from blame and defensiveness towards a positive dialogue, with everyone creating the solutions together. We already have great gender equality policies and processes, but this is enabling us to think about our culture on a deeper level.
Jason Ghaboos, researcher and Murray Edwards College Bye-Fellow comments:
Men can sometimes wonder whether it is their place to give a voice to these issues, and I have heard from male allies that their motives for being involved in gender issues are questioned; by both men and women. It needs to become more normal for men and women to talk about this.
Gender inclusivity is not a ‘women’s issue’. To class it as such is unhelpful and masks the complexity of the issues, and the nuance required of interventions. Often solutions in the past have focussed on what women need to do to improve the situation. In truth, meaningful change can only occur when women and men work together to improve the workplace culture for all.
2 in 5 UK Business Directors Lack Workplace Harassment Training, study finds
Leading ethics and compliance software and services company NAVEX Global® highlighted research finding more than 44 percent of UK business directors have never received training on workplace harassment, and 21 percent have only received one training session, according to the report available here.
Twenty-eight percent of the UK non-managerial level workforce have either never been trained or only received one session on workplace harassment. This represents a significant proportion of the workforce inadequately trained to be aware of and spot harassment, as well as what constitutes such behaviour. The comprehensive report, Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, indicates UK organizations require a continued focus if sexual harassment is to better addressed.
11pc increase in workplace harassment reports
A promising finding is an 11 percent increase in workplace harassment reports since initial news reports that led to what is now known as the #MeToo movement. Independent research has shown a clear association between increased use of internal hotline reporting systems like those used to report workplace harassment, and improved business performance. The report also found positives in the 57 percent of respondents who stated they expect to improve their training.
It’s reassuring to see an increase in reporting, and employers need to make additional progress with training, procedural changes, awareness and improved company culture, said Bob Conlin, NAVEX Global President and CEO.
Only then will we see a more impactful improvement in our culture. This needs to be supported and led by every organization’s board. Our findings show the higher you move up within a business, the less training and awareness there is of sexual harassment. Given how power and workplace harassment can be a poisonous mix, this is troubling and needs to be addressed.
The report also cites the Young Women’s Trust finding that one in two human resources directors and decision-makers who are women think their workplaces are sexist, and a third of EU women report experiencing sexual harassment at work.
Other key points in the report include:
- Building trust in reporting mechanisms was found to be the most pressing harassment issue in UK organisations, followed by basic harassment awareness
- One in eight large organisations in the UK are aware of unreported sexual harassment in their workplace (Young Women’s Trust)
- The biggest reason cited for not reporting misconduct is fear reports will not be confidential (74%)
We’ve come a long way in the UK and the European workplace, making it safer and more supportive than ever before,” said Conlin.
However, what our report highlights is there’s still a lot of work to be done if we’re to reach our full potential.
Perhaps most shocking of all the Report’s findings are that:
- 1 in 4 workplace harassment perpetrators are customers or clients
- 1 in 2 female HR directors think their workplaces are sexist
If you’ve experienced harassment in the workplace you can report it, confidentially, to TalkToSpot
Scope of the inquiry into use of NDAs
Following its recent inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, which recommended that the Government should clean up the use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases, the Committee launches a new inquiry to look at the wider use of NDAs in cases where any form of harassment or other discrimination is alleged. This might include, for example, pregnancy or maternity discrimination or racist abuse.
Women and Equalities Committee Chair Maria Miller said:
Use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases is only part of the picture. This new inquiry will focus on their wider use in other cases involving other forms of harassment or discrimination.
Send your views
The Committee is inviting written submissions to the inquiry. Questions which the inquiry will focus on include:
- Are there particular types of harassment or discrimination for which NDAs are more likely to be used?
- Should the use of NDAs be banned or restricted in harassment and discrimination cases? What impact would this have on the way cases are handled?
- What safeguards are needed to prevent misuse?
- What is the role of internal grievance procedures? What obligations are there on employers to ensure these are fair and thorough?
- How easy is it for employees and employers to access good quality legal advice on NDAs? How can quality and independence of legal advice for employees negotiating severance agreements be assured when advice is paid for by the employer?
- Do some employers use NDAs repeatedly to deal with cases involving a single harasser? If so, is appropriate action being taken to deal with the behaviour?
- What should the role of boards and directors be? And should employers be obliged to disclose numbers and types of NDAs?
The deadline is Wednesday 28 November.
Please use the written submission form to submit your views to the committee.