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Out-Law News 2 min. read

Women call for more open and supportive workplace culture

The results of a wide-ranging English survey focusing on women’s health have highlighted the need for employers to put in place more open workplace cultures and support packages for female employees.

The Department of Health & Social Care issued a call for evidence in March 2021, surveying almost 100,000 people to inform the women’s health strategy for England. The results of the survey showed that women generally do not feel comfortable talking about health issues at work, and that there is a need for improvement in several areas.

Respondents said a more open workplace culture, an improvement in implementing existing workplace policies, and the creation of further new workplace policies and support packages for women in the workplace would help women reach their full potential at work.

Only a small majority (53%) of women said their current or former employers had been supportive with regards to health issues, and 62% said a health condition or disability had impacted their experience in the workplace – such as by raising stress levels, impacting their mental health, or impacting productivity.

Employment law expert Kerry Finch of Pinsent Masons said many employers were already carrying out an ‘inclusion review’ of their policies, including looking at how these impact on women’s health issues such as the menopause. Many of those were doing so in response to requests from employees, whilst others were implementing best practice as part of their attraction and retention strategies.

“Including the perspectives of minority groups when undertaking policy reviews is hugely important. Often those that find themselves in the minority in the workplace will find it harder to have their voices heard. This can include women who feel reluctant to speak up about health concerns. Having policies in place that are inclusive and accessible for all will be a key tool for attracting the best talent in their future careers,” Finch said.

Survey respondents gave positive examples of how their employers had helped them through situations such as miscarriages, periods or fertility treatment, but others said there needed to be better support for those returning from maternity leave or living with women’s health conditions.

Flexible working was highlighted as a positive trend for women in the workplace. Many respondents said their workplace already had flexible working options, but there was a consensus that more flexible working would support women – especially during pregnancy.

“As the restrictions of the pandemic are now ebbing away, the positives that were created from that period allowed many women to see a new future in both their working and family life. It is going to be a priority for many women when seeking new employment, and should be at the top of employers’ lists when looking to retain employees,” Finch said.

“I can see a shift coming that all forward-thinking employers will be looking at moving to a flexible working model as a new working pattern, rather than the contractual amendment that is currently required for those wishing to be flexible,” Finch said.

Finch said a combination of agile working models and diversity and inclusion policy reviews would help employers show they were “best in show” in these areas, and enable them to retain their best talent.

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