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Supporting Women’s Mental Health and Well-Being at Work
Changing Landscapes and Labor Markets
In the pursuit of excellence, employers are constantly working to motivate their people to do their best work. The last few years have seen seismic changes in the relationship between employers and their teams. The global pandemic and the ensuing Great Resignation, the rise in remote working, and several emerging socio-economic conditions have completely upended the paradigm of work in the US. Workers began prioritizing culture, well-being, mental health, inclusivity, and diversity in their workplaces and, for the first time en-masse, changed roles accordingly. Businesses that want to stay successful in this new landscape by reducing turnover and retaining top performers have adapted to these changes. They are committing to improving and expanding diversity, inclusivity, and equity. However, on a larger scale, there is much more to be done to ensure that everyone has quality opportunities at work. On a smaller scale, it is vital for leaders to go beyond inclusivity and take steps to support the mental health and well-being needs specific to women on their teams.
Supporting Women’s Mental Health in the Workplace
Mental health support from employers is one of the top benefits workers are looking for, and offering those services is one of the top ways employers are looking to attract talent. Offering comprehensive well-being solutions is a vital step, but it’s important to realize that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Business leaders need to consider the specific needs of their team members when implementing these benefits.
In addition to the typical stresses of work and modern life, the latest Women in the Workplace study found that nearly two-thirds of women experience microaggressions and other forms of discriminatory behavior at work. While it’s true that men and women experience mental health conditions at similar rates in general, studies like the one mentioned above are proof that women experience additional stressors and are further burdened by the weight of systemic oppression and sexism in the workplace. Beyond that, it’s important to make sure any well-being benefits are inclusive as women do experience a higher rate of certain diagnoses and mental health concerns than men. For instance, women experience depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD at twice the rate of men. Facing gender-based violence and discrimination, caregiving responsibilities, and additional struggles can take a toll and are all risk factors for common mental health issues. Add to that the difficulty of coming to work only to face ongoing pay inequity, sexual harassment, underrepresentation, and lack of upward mobility, and there exist clear burdens for employers trying to create a safe and welcoming work environment for women.
What Should Employers Do?
Looking beyond traditional employee support and adapting to the needs of modern employees is the only way to create a positive work environment, which will in turn, foster engagement and works to retain your company’s high-performing women professionals (as well as all your top performers). There are some concrete steps business leaders can take to improve company culture and begin working towards these goals:
1. Destigmatize mental health in the workplace:
Accessibility to and lack of stigma around mental health are vital to effective mental health support for women professionals. Mental health support is effective only when it can be easily accessed. Removing barriers to care by offering a multitude of services, modalities, and opportunities using digital apps, telehealth, and live phone conversations with licensed counselors are some of the most effective options.
2. Consider your company’s commitment to inclusion and representation.
Intentionally cultivating a diverse team across all levels of your business is key - women throughout the organization will see themselves represented, which will help them to feel confident that their needs are understood. Moreover, this will encourage them to seek help and counsel when necessary. When a business hires and promotes women as managers, supervisors, and executives, it helps nurture a workplace where women will feel comfortable speaking up and empowered to do good work. Employee resource groups and planned conscious conversations are great ways to build on this idea and create a safe space for all at work.
3. Beyond hiring, focus on leadership development programs:Leadership development programs are a great way to identify high-performing individuals who can grow with your business and become valuable resources in the long term. Building these programs around diversity and inclusivity with women in mind is vital to promoting a culture of upward mobility for high-performing professional women in your organization.
4. Create a flexible environment with flexible schedules:According to McKinsey’s most recent Women in the Workplace study, working mothers are twice as likely as working fathers to deal with stress that their caregiving responsibilities will foster undesirable perceptions of their performance on the job. Additionally, women in senior positions have been experiencing burnout at higher rates than men in similar positions – 39% compared to 28%. Offering flexible schedules, temporary or permanent work-from-home opportunities, and openly discussing and championing those with caregiving responsibilities at work can help reduce this stress.
It's been clear for decades now that supporting and empowering women in the workplace is key to organizational success. With the added stressors of the pandemic, employees, especially women, are motivated to find jobs that will support them and their mental health. Moreover, the playing field has never been so open regarding the options that are available to high-performing women professionals. While there is still a long way to go on our road to women’s equality, thankfully, the progress made in recent years has led us to a place where women have more options than ever before. This progress means that employers must continue to step up their support for women to attract and retain top talent in an ever-changing and fiercely competitive labor market. Successful businesses with an eye on the future will continue expanding on the comprehensive mental health, and well-being supports that women in the workplace want and need.