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How To Better Support Women’s Well-being In The Workplace

Written by: Adriana Leigh, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

These days we are all struggling to stay afloat at work. Women have faced disproportionate pressures during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it be home-schooling children, caring for family members, and/or taking on additional emotional labour.

Research in 2021 estimated that the pandemic had a near-immediate effect on women’s employment and that one in four women in the US were considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers. See Seven charts that show COVID-19’s impact on women’s employment, McKinsey & Company.


How can employers better support the well-being of women during this time?


1. Consider unpaid, emotional labour


First, remember that many women are more concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on themselves and their families as they disproportionately carry care work. Some call this emotional labour, or “worry-work,” which is invisible, unpaid labour.


Women often carry the “worry-work” of the household in their head, and that is tenfold since the pandemic hit. This is added to their “paid” duties in an ever-changing work landscape.



Acknowledging the burden of unpaid labour for many women is a good starting point to learn how your organization can better support their well-being.


2. Consider women in all their diversity


Women are a diverse group. For women with children, closure of schools and daycares, in addition to the loss of recreation and other activities can lead to overworked parents. This can be compounded for some groups of women, like newcomers with less family support.


The well-being of certain women, for example, those who identify as part of the LGBTQI+ community, women with disabilities, young women, black workers, and women of colour have been disproportionately affected by the current situation.


We know from research there is a significant emotional tax on women of colour in workplaces – they are often on guard for acts of discrimination and bias, compounded by recent media representation of racism. See Emotional tax: Catalyst research series on the emotional tax levied on Asian, Black, Latinx, and multiracial employees. Those who are the "only" in a room may also feel less safe to speak up.

To understand the viewpoints of women in all their diversity, some organizations I work with have created employee resource groups (ERG) and/or focus groups. I gave a session on individual and collective well-being for a DEI ERG this year, which was an opportunity to take stock of individual and systemic challenges that women are facing at work, build strategies to support each other, and how the organization can better support them.


3. Take stock of your benefits and well-being policies


If you have an Employee Assistance Program, do you have mental health practitioners that are culturally, racially and gender diverse? Do you have practitioners that specialize in domestic and gender-based violence (which has increased during COVID)? In terms of health risks, the World Health Organization notes that there “are gender-specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women” and LGBTQI+ people and employees who are women may have restricted access to prenatal care, menopause treatment, screening for breast/cervical cancer, and other specific health care needs. Think about how your organization ensures that workplace benefits recognize and protect sex and gender differences. See As workplaces diversify, inclusive health care benefits can lend a competitive advantage, Diego Ramírez & Kavitha Hariharan, Marsh McLennan and Blueprint for gender equality leadership in the Canadian private sector, Global Compact Network Canada.


4. Build emotional safety


Many of us have heard of the term “psychological safety.”


These days, I prefer the term “emotional safety.” Feeling emotionally safe means employees feel able to speak up and communicate openly. I prefer using the term emotional safety, because, more than ever, leaders need to build workplace cultures where it is safe to share feelings.


Creating emotional safety has tangible benefits. Beyond building a sense of trust, motivation, innovation, engagement, and retention, one company I worked with found that creating safer spaces for women to discuss feelings about work enabled them to identify gaps in health insurance coverage for women.


Leaders can start with regular wellness checks with teams to de-stigmatize talking about feelings. I have tried different creative approaches, using colours, for example. See what works for your team, and the kinds of conversations you need to have.


One key to creating emotional safety is to resist our learned and socialized tendency to immediately problem-solve and pathologize a woman when she brings up something bothering her, for example, focusing on what is “wrong” with her, and/or quick fixes. See Report: Social Entrepreneurial Pathways to a Culture of Wellbeing, Ashoka Changemakers Learning Lab.


Finally, remember that emotional safety is good for everyone! The “masculinization” of the workplace where emotions were traditionally not allowed is not good for anyone. We can all benefit from creating more space to show vulnerability and emotion.


5. Support yourself as a leader and model care


Start by asking these questions:

  • Is self-care an issue addressed in your organizations, groups, or workplaces?

  • Is self-care seen as something “unproductive?" or “luxurious?

  • Do you, as a leader find it difficult to think of yourself as a person who deserves care?


When I speak of self-care, I am not referring to bubble baths, but doing things to maintain emotional, psychic, and physical integrity, such as making sure to eat lunch, move during the day, and have healthy boundaries with work.


So many of us tell ourselves lies to make it through. Women leaders and employees are particularly vulnerable to trying to care for everyone, and I was no exception when I led a team. Lies we tell ourselves include: “it is not so bad” “no one else can do this” “people are depending on me.” All leaders, including women leaders, should take care of themselves so that other women on their teams know they can do the same. See Burnout response for leaders. This needs to be modelled and encouraged at all levels of the organization.


We have the chance to re-imagine workplaces right now for women and build healthier ones for everyone. Let us do it. We can be better; we can be great.


I look forward to hearing how you are supporting women’s well-being in your organization.


Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

 

Adriana Leigh, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Adriana Leigh is a Canadian self-described recovering lawyer” turned global gender consultant, facilitator and trainer, writer and speaker, She builds safer, gender-equitable, caring, and inclusive workplaces and organizations, free of sexual harassment and gender-based violence.


She brings a much-needed human and heart-centred, rather than a merely compliance-centred approach to these issues, combined with her legal and subject matter expertise and background in human rights education.


Adriana delivers global workshops, sexual harassment and violence policy and reporting processes development, implementation coaching to managers and human resources and thought leadership. She works cross-sector with UN agencies building the capacity of partner organizations, international human rights organizations, in addition to private sector clients and universities.


Her work has been showcased by Charity Village, Medium, UN Women, Sexual Violence Research Initiative, Mtavari Channel, Brainz Magazine and World Pulse, among others.


She is the recipient of a World Pulse Spirit Award in the Champion category, and was featured by World Pulse in the article: “Her Story Makes History: 21 Women Leaders to Watch in 2021” in the company of a group of 21 changemakers from 13 different countries who are connecting online to power change on the ground.

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