How To Empower Women At Work: An Employer’s Guide To Creating A Supportive Work Environment

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Despite all the progress we’ve made towards gender equality, women continue to face unique challenges in the workplace. From the gender pay gap to unconscious biases, women at work aren’t always guaranteed a supportive work environment. 

In fact, there’s still a massive underrepresentation of women in the workforce which heavily impacts the Australian economy. The numbers don’t lie: removing obstacles stopping women from entering and re-entering the workforce would boost the level of Australia’s GDP by 11%.

So, how do we do it? We’ve created a guide to help employers understand the unique challenges women face at work along with practical strategies and tools they can use to foster supportive work environments that meet the needs of working mums and women across all life stages.

What are the unique challenges women face at work? 

Currently, women are more present in paid employment than ever before, with a workforce participation rate of 62.1% (in comparison to a 70.4% rate for men). But this only shows part of the picture. 

Women at work face a stack of unique challenges, and there’s still a long way to go in creating supportive work environments for all women. 

Challenge 1. The gender pay gap

Did you know that, as of November 2022, women earn 87 cents for every dollar a man earns? That means on average, women earn $253.50 less than men each week, adding up to $13,182 a year. 

It doesn’t stop there. Women from migrant backgrounds are 11.9 times less likely to be employed than white women and Indigenous women earn $349 less per week than non-Indigenous men. 

This is due to a whole host of factors, including female-dominated industries attracting lower wages than male-dominated industries and women being less likely to receive pay rises than their male counterparts (more on that in a second). 

Challenge 2. Barriers to achieving salary increases

It’s a common misconception that women are too scared to ask for raises – but the research says otherwise. 

The issue isn’t that women don’t ask for salary increases: the problem is they are dismissed. One study found no differences between the chances of asking for a raise between men and women but women who asked for a raise only received one 15% of the time. 

On the other hand, men received a pay rise 20% of the time. While this doesn’t sound like much, over time these numbers start to add up to a substantial gap in wages between men and women.  

Challenge 3. Conscious (and unconscious) gender biases 

Despite the number of professional women in the workforce, women are still under-represented in leadership positions and over-represented in less senior, lower-paying positions. 

In relation to pregnant women, The Australian Human Rights Commission found that 49% of women reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. These negative beliefs were largely based on gender stereotypes about what the exemplary worker should look like. 

And, 18% of women revealed they were made redundant or that their contracts were not renewed either during pregnancy, when they requested parental leave or when they returned to work. 

How can employers create a supportive workplace culture for women at work?

Diversity, inclusion and a supportive work culture start from the very top. With the right company attitudes, processes and policies in place, employers can play a crucial role in helping women feel supported at work. 

From unbiased hiring practices to generous parental leave policies, here are the practical steps employers should be taking to foster female-friendly, parent-friendly workplaces:

  • Tackle unconscious bias head-on: educating your team about unconscious bias can help you address it head-on. Establish clear communication against discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and caregiving responsibilities and implement policies that challenge bias in your hiring and recruitment practices (such as removing gendered wording from job ads and conducting blind skills testing).

 

  • Leadership development and mentoring: elevating women to positions of leadership starts with giving them the skills to succeed in these roles. Ensure the women in your company have access to professional development programs that foster the skills they need to confidently take a seat at the decision-making table.

 

  • Provide flexible working arrangements: offering flexible working arrangements (like flexible hours and hybrid work arrangements) allows women to balance personal and work responsibilities. This not only helps women with the transition back to work after starting a family but also means the men in your teams are empowered to share the load of these responsibilities, too. 

 

  • Establish inclusive policies and environments: implementing policies doesn’t just relate to parental leave but also your team’s transition back to work. You can support new mothers with incremental return-to-work programs to help them ease back into the workforce and provide easily accessible and private facilities for breastfeeding mothers. 

 

  • Offer employee wellness programs: employee wellness programs are a great way to foster a supportive culture in the workplace where your team knows you take their physical and mental health seriously. There are a heap of ways to implement this from mental health support to wellness initiatives either in the workplace or through employee benefits programs. 

 

We know there’s still a long way to go before we can truly say every workplace has been designed with women and their needs in mind. But, these practical tips and strategies are a powerful first step towards a fairer, more inclusive environment for women at work. 

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