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A sensitive guide to supporting your female colleagues in the workplace

A sensitive guide to supporting your female colleagues in the workplace 36

Inclusive company culture and leadership are crucial to creating an environment where female staff can thrive and give their best. Here, Sally Evans, Director of the experts in office space Making Moves, offers some tips for how you can start to form supportive structures in your business.

Increasingly, companies are becoming aware of support structures that can help female employees be fulfilled and productive at work, such as menstrual leave policies and acknowledgement of the difficulties of menopause. This changing environment is a perfect time to reconsider your own company’s leadership methods and anywhere that you can make things more inclusive and supportive for women.

Here, we’ll take you through some ideas for how you can make sure the women in your workplace are empowered, supported, and can be their most productive selves.

Inclusive leadership methods

Being an inclusive leader is an important part of making your company more welcoming to women. It’s important to understand that unconscious bias often means that we don’t notice sexism or workplace policies that can feel exclusionary. For instance, it might be the case that female employees are always the ones being asked to make tea or coffee, or prepare a room or table for a meeting. While these things are small, they can add up over time and make female staff members feel that they are being treated as inferior to their male counterparts. 

So, become a more inclusive leader by completing unconscious bias training yourself, and then either deliver it yourself to your team, or have an organisation visit to deliver this training. It can make a world of difference to have people in your company be aware of these small implicit biases they might hold, allowing them to reflect on their own behaviour and how they can change the company culture where needed.

Another area that might be covered in this training, is that when female leaders are assertive, they fear being perceived as aggressive or overly ambitious, in contrast to their male colleagues. Being an inclusive leader also means supporting your female workers or colleagues in discussions to ensure they feel able to express their points without this worry.

Understanding women’s health

You can also make a difference in how inclusive your work environment is by understanding women’s health issues and making accommodations at work to help them feel more welcome. For instance, menopause can come with many difficult symptoms, such as hot flushes, fatigue, sleep difficulties, and fluctuating body temperature. Having flexitime at work can allow women to organise their workdays more in line with their health needs, and leadership being amenable to women taking time out for health appointments can also make things easier.

Flexitime and work from home policies are also great for women who are pregnant, as they can allow them to continue to meet their targets while still looking after their health needs. Working from home can be particularly useful as it allows women to work from a comfortable environment. To make your office space more welcoming too, ensure that you have good toilet facilities for women, and that they are well maintained and clean.

Offer mentorship and networking

While women are increasingly stepping into varied (and often male-dominated) careers, there are still more men in leadership roles than women. The number of women in leadership in FTSE 100 companies in the UK has risen to almost 40%, compared to only 12.5% 10 years ago (UK Government). Companies with over 250 employees also have to publish figures comparing men’s and women’s salaries across the organisation on a government web page. However, there is still more to be done in this area, and offering women supportive networks and mentoring is a great way of encouraging them to reach higher in their careers. This also comes with the bonus of allowing your brightest and most ambitious employees to learn and develop within your company.

There are a variety of ways that you can integrate this into your company — you might choose to host networking events for women in your field, run leadership workshops for women, or do school visits to talk to the next generation of female staff about the potential of your industry area.

Adapting policies for your workforce

When you are formulating your policies and deciding how to organise your company, it’s important to keep in mind that some things might work for other businesses and not for yours, and vice versa. So, take time to garner feedback from your female staff members to see how the changes you are making are influencing their experience at work. Using anonymous company surveys is a great way to do this.

If you gain good or bad feedback, make tweaks to your approach in order that everyone in your company feels empowered and included. This will not only mean your ideas are more tailored for your workforce, but it can also help people to feel more motivated and invested in the business.

Improve parental leave policies

In the UK, statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, and this is comprised of ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ for 26 weeks, and ‘Additional Maternity Leave’ for another 26 weeks. Pay is only received for up to 39 weeks, and the rate of pay is reduced proportionally after the first six weeks. Meanwhile, men might be entitled to two weeks of paternity leave, but it’s often unpaid.

Improving both your maternity and paternity leave offerings will go a long way to improving your workplace environment for women, making your company more inclusive and welcoming to employees who decide to have children while being a part of your team. Not only will this create a better environment for the employees you already have, but it will also attract many female employees who want to pursue their career while balancing it with starting a family. 

Overall, there are many things that you can do within leadership roles to ensure that female employees are supported and feel able to progress within your company. This will lead to a workplace where everyone feels respected and able to bring their best performance to work.

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