Achieving gender balance at all levels in the corporate world is imperative built on a sound business case.
It’s a way to combat rising skills shortages. While recruiters bemoan growing challenges in finding skilled candidates to fill vacancies, the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, has reported over 50,000 women a year being pushed out of jobs as a result of pregnancy and maternity leave.
Gender balanced teams are likely to design better products and services that will appeal to a wider audience and generate more profit. In her newly published book ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In a World Designed for Men’ Caroline Criado-Perez shares examples of the way products ranging from bricks and bags of cement to iPhones have – so far – been designed by men for men. While in some instances the consequence is simply fewer purchases by women, in others (such as police body armour designed for men’s bodies) it can literally mean the difference between life and death.
These are convincing arguments for the working world to take more action and #BalanceforBetter. So how can HR provide support?
The starting point is to understand that gender balance and work-life balance go hand in hand. Efforts to improve the latter will pay dividends in improving the former.
Despite changing attitudes among younger fathers there’s considerable evidence that mothers continue to shoulder the bulk of caring responsibilities (for both children and elderly relatives). Consequently many mothers hold themselves back at work in order to find that elusive work-life balance – a fact that’s been confirmed for the second year running by Working Families (in their Modern Families Index). To help these women progress employers must make a commitment to ensuring flexible working is available for everyone, not just those in junior roles.
Some employers will claim they already offer considerable flexibility in their agile working environments. The problem here lies in the risk that this informal flexibility can lead to #AlwaysOn working. Since women also take on a bigger ‘mental load’ when it comes to managing household responsibilities and the result can be higher stress levels and depression. HR needs to step in with a clear work-life balance policy along with guidelines for when and how employees should switch off from work.
Women’s career trajectories are very different from the masculine model on which many talent management strategies are based. In an era where life expectancies are reaching 100 HR must rethink approaches to combining career and caring. For example, Returnships which encourage the re-entry of women into the workplace at senior levels, are currently growing in popularity. In the longer term it might prove fruitful to supplement these with career breaks and by rethinking promotion criteria to accommodate flexible and older workers.
As we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day let’s also make a commitment to upgrading HR practices to better support working women and to #BalanceforBetter.
Anna Meller is the UK’s leading work re-balance expert. Her new book #Upcycle Your Job will be published on the 29th March. (Buy Now)