UNLEASHcast: Future of work focus #1 – International Women’s Day special
UNLEASH’s senior journalist Allie Nawrat and social media manager Annabelle Price sit down to talk about this year’s International Women’s Day.
Why You Should Care
From the gender pay gap to promotional equality and caregiving, not all workplaces are equal yet. We all have more to do.
Get the thoughts of two of UNLEASH's many great women here.
Listen above or read the full transcript beneath, which has been edited for clarity.
Allie Nawrat: Hello, welcome to UNLEASHcast. My name is Allie Nawrat, I am the talent and recruitment lead here at UNLEASH in the editorial team. And I’m here with my colleague Annabelle. How’re you doing today Annabelle?
Annabelle Price: I’m good, thank you. How are you?
AN: I’m good. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your role in the UNLEASH editorial team?
AP: Yes, I think I have quite an interesting role in editorial team, because I work primarily on the social media side of things. So I’m the social media manager at UNLEASH, and I work with the team to make sure all of the news gets out onto each of the platforms.
AN: Annabelle is the genius behind all our fun polls and our videos that you might have been seeing popping up on UNLEASH social media channels over the last two or three months or so. So we wanted to do an International Women’s Day podcast episode for you. We thought we’d have some women on it.
AP: Yeah, we thought we’d go through some of the news stories that have been popular over on UNLEASH over the last few months and chat through what we think of them.
AN: It will have to start a little bit negatively, sorry about that, but we’ll hopefully get to some of the areas of progress and the areas where people can keep focusing on their diversity, equity, and inclusion, which obviously isn’t just a gender issue, but in this in this podcast, we will be focusing on that in light of International Women’s Day.
So the first piece I think we’re going to discuss was this story I wrote a few months ago back in September, about how – and it’s obviously not just a September issue, but that’s when the stats are from – over the summer in 2021 the US jobs market was rebounding. Obviously, we have the ‘Great Resignation’, but the economy was coming back up, even if a lot of people were still quitting their jobs. And it’s turned out that women only accounted for 11.9% of the job rebound. Pretty shocking.
AP: Yeah, yeah. That is shocking. I think it says a lot about how women were feeling after the pandemic, especially.
AN: It says a lot as well about how women were bearing the brunt. I think of juggling their job working from home having to homeschool their kids, obviously, men were also juggling with this. But given that the stats suggest that women were disproportionately taking on some of that burden.
AP: I think we definitely saw it play out within our friends and family members as well. And we could see that this was going on, and potentially it made women less likely to go back to previous jobs or, or suffer more from things like burnout and things which we have spoken about previously.
AN: Yeah, I think there was a McKinsey study that showed that 42% of women are suffering from burnout compared to 35% of men. I mean, that’s a 7% difference.
AP: That’s pretty awful, really. It’s awful how much burnout was going on just in workforces overall. But I think due to the pandemic burnout has gotten worse for women. And yeah, we can definitely see that.
AN: Yeah, I think this study spoke a lot about this ‘always-on’ culture, which is definitely something I saw with my mum, for instance. Obviously, it’s pre-pandemic but she was always trying to pick up bits of work that she hadn’t finished because she had to look after me. And my dad obviously was helping, but he did a more typical nine-to-five, and she was more all over the place.
AP: Yeah, and I think there’s been a huge push on hustle culture for women as well. And we’re trying to always prove ourselves in the workplace, which means that we might work more hours and we’re less likely to take breaks.
AN: Yeah, definitely. I think the one other element that we have written quite a few stories about is obviously the frontline employees. And women make up a large proportion of these frontline sectors. So retail, hospitality, leisure tourism, have really struggled in the pandemic. And I think that this original study we talked about, did say that women were more susceptible to losing their job during COVID-19 just because they’re more represented in sectors like frontline.
So all in all, it’s been a bit of a melting pot of a lot of issues coming together and pushing women out of the workforce, which is a big problem for society. We want our society productive, we’re living through an economic crisis. So we need as many people working as possible, we don’t need people on unemployment or unemployed. People want to be working, they want to be earning money.
AP: Yeah, I think women especially want to want to prove themselves in the workforce, and the fact that the sectors that they’re in have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 has just made that much harder. So yeah, the fact that we’re burning out I think is very clear. And how can companies then help women in the workforce when they are burning out? And how can they spot the signs of burnout as well? Because I think we’re probably very good at hiding it.
AN: Yeah, I think there is a concern isn’t there for everyone that, you don’t want to be seen to not be able to handle your workload or not be able to cope? Because then if then promotions come up, are you going to get passed over for opportunities? Like, ‘…well, they couldn’t possibly cope’.
I think women probably worry a lot more often, stereotypically worry a lot more about that, they’re not necessarily very good at talking about stuff – a lot of people aren’t in general, but I think there is a slight gender element to this, I definitely notice it. I think men often struggle to talk about it. Obviously, there’s the stigma about they probably have more pressure to not talk about it. But I think women probably worry more about the implications. I think men worry about losing face, whereas women it’s more like, ‘Oh, how is this going to affect what my manager thinks about me?’
AP: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of pressure to perform and a lot of pressure to feel like people are recognizing your achievements. And that plays into it. I think also coming back into the workforce after potentially a break from having children and things like that can affect your confidence. Women definitely get more affected when they take an extended break.
AN: Definitely. So obviously, the big golden question is what can companies do better? What can they do to have a more inclusive workforce, that not only encourages people to speak up when they are burning out, because obviously, with burnout, you don’t want people to burn out, you need to nip it in the bud before they get to that level of crisis. So what can companies do? What is the best thing for them to do? What do you think?
AP: I think a big thing is creating an environment where people are happy to speak about their stresses. And that the feeling that they don’t get judged. So I think that’s a huge one is feeling like you can talk about the pressures of the workplace within the workplace because often we’ll go home and speak to our other halves about it, or friends and family. But that doesn’t solve any of the problems if your manager is not aware. And if your manager is not open to having those conversations, then that’s a huge one.
AN: Another thing that companies can do is as well as creating this inclusive workplace, as you said, is, maybe rethink their benefits a little bit, make sure they have these inclusive benefits, they make sure that they offer flexible working. So women more often than men, as we’ve already said, do a lot more of the caring responsibilities, not necessarily with children, with the elderly, with all sorts of people, and therefore, we’ve proven that we can all work from home, if anything more productively.
And I think, giving people the option to work from home when they need it, not making it a big deal, giving them flexible hours. So they can log on earlier, they can log on later, they can log on in the evening, obviously, you’ve got to make sure that they’re not burning out while they’re doing this, and they are creating boundaries. But at the same time, if it does allow someone to do their job better, and that they feel like they’re on top of it, maybe with those people managers need to step up a bit and make sure they’re checking in with those employees.
AP: Yeah, I think the remote workforce is often quite overlooked when it comes to burnout. And potentially, because they’re not seen, it’s harder to see if someone’s feeling stressed and to see it play out. Whereas in the office, you could read people a bit easier. So I’d say that working within a remote workplace means that you have to be more on top of checking in and being more open about it and having those open communications.
AN: Yeah, definitely. And making sure when you check-in, it’s a genuine check-in, it’s not just ‘oh, I’ve done it. I messaged them’, it’s like, make sure that they know they can actually say, I have been working too much this week, I’m gonna take Friday afternoon off. Yeah, I am struggling to manage my time because X, Y, and Z is happening at home or even just, I’m struggling to switch off because I’m getting emails all hours of the day or anything like that.’ I think it’s something that employers should do for everyone. But maybe they need to be a little bit more aware of women – especially women with families and young families.
AP: Sometimes those benefits that we were talking about earlier can help some make sure you don’t have to have those conversations either. So things like a four-day working week or compressed hours can be arranged so burnout doesn’t happen. And that makes it easier so we don’t have to ask for these things.
AN: I think definitely employers need to make it more like they offer rather than people have to ask, I think, is it a little bit like with flexible working now, you expect it as a given, you don’t expect, back in the day, you’d have to request working from home. Whereas now it’s like, a lot of companies are – obviously, not all companies – but the vast majority are very much like in your contract, it might say, oh, come in two days a week, or it might say we’re remote first, or it might say, we’re flexible, we’re hybrid, whatever.
But I think we need to get to that point. Maybe it’s not just location, it’s flexibility around hours and flexibility around, as you said, compressed hours for a week, if that suits the business, and if it suits the individual.
The other thing with benefits is things around maternity leave/paternity leave, making sure these things are a bit more even. I was talking upstairs with one of my colleagues who’s a man, he’s just had a baby and wants to spend time with his newborn baby; they don’t want to be back at work in two weeks.
Maybe back in the day they did, but now caregiving responsibilities need to become more even. But it is hard for men to do their bit when they’re like, oh, I’ve got to go back to the office. And you’re the woman is stuck there for potentially six months, with sometimes limited support if you’re far away from family or stuff like that. So I think there’s a lot of inclusivity that needs to go around leave, it’s not necessarily just more leave, it’s just balancing it a little bit more.
AP: Yeah, and having flexible leave options. And even things like women being able to take leave when they’re on their periods. That’s a huge one. And PMS can be a huge stressor for women the week before. So having things like that in place, so you don’t have to always tell someone, you can just adjust your working hours accordingly, so you can have a better work-life balance.
AN: Definitely, a lot of companies have been doing that around menopause a lot more now. And letting menopausal women or perimenopausal women come into work a bit later. So they’re not having to deal with these hot flashes. And these really horrible symptoms on a really busy bus or train in the morning, they can come in at half-ten, and maybe leave earlier.
But again, talking about flexible working, they can go back in the evening and do a bit more if they haven’t done enough in the day. And even just yeah, not making it a stigma. We don’t necessarily want to have hugely open conversations about period pain and stuff like that. But at the same time, if people want to have those conversations, they should have them.
But if people feel a bit shy, they have these procedures in place that they know they can do without worrying about telling their potentially male manager, I’ve got really bad period pains, I can’t work today, or can I have a nap in the middle of the day? When actually, we’re supposed to be moving to an outcome-based work where it’s not about how many hours you worked. It’s about what did you produce? So why does it matter if someone has a nap in the middle of the day because they’ve got really bad period pains?
AP: I think we’ve seen it work well in some circumstances, and not so well in others. I’ve seen a lot of companies implementing things like duvet days, but they seem to be more of a vanity thing. And don’t actually put the people first, it’s more about having something to say about creating a wellbeing culture.
Actually, those companies aren’t always speaking to their people about what they want. So I think is important to actually consult your employees and see what they would like their leave to look like and how flexible they want it. Most of the time, they will opt for ultimate flexibility, but yeah, it’s important to have that consultancy stage as well.
AN: Yeah, the employee listening is essential. We write a lot about that it ties into the whole employee experience and you want if you want your workers to be productive, the happier they are, the more productive they are.
AN: I think that’s a pretty good place to leave on.
AN: Well, Happy International Women’s Day. Thanks so much for listening.
This is the first in our ‘future of work focus’ series, but there are more…
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Editorial content manager
Jon has 20 years' experience in digital journalism and more than a decade in L&D and HR publishing.