By Vicki Field, HR Director at London Doctors Clinic


Apparently, women are better at multi-tasking than men. I’m not sure if there’s any empirical evidence underpinning this well-known ‘fact’, but speaking as a woman, I know that I couldn’t run my life without spinning numerous plates whilst juggling a handful of balls.

Sometimes by the time I drop my boys at school, I feel like I’ve done a full day’s work: I’ve managed to get them up, washed and dressed in a vaguely clean school uniform, fed the dog, fed the boys, made sure shoes are on, homework is complete, teeth are brushed, logged onto laptop, answered key emails, managed to remember if boys need packed lunches or sports kit (and hope it’s clean), emptied the dishwasher/ loaded the dishwasher and probably had a work related phone call at the same time. And now it’s 9am and time to start the working day’.

And I’m absolutely sure I’m not alone.

There are still some fairly basic issues with gender equality at work. Women make up 47% of the UK workforce. At the highest levels, analysis from Cranfield University, as part of its 20th FTSE Women on Boards Report, shows a sharp drop in the number of women occupying chief executive (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO) or other executive roles on FTSE 250 boards, and static numbers at FTSE 100 companies. On FTSE 100 boards, the percentage of women in leadership positions is largely static at 9.7%. There are 25 women holding executive roles at 22 companies. It’s a woeful statistic.

According to the government briefing paper ‘Woman and the Economy’, women in general are in lower paid roles, with 41% working part-time (compared to 7% of men working part-time) – and women are more likely than men to remain in low-paid work over the long term.

According to the Mental Health foundation, women are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental ill-health at work compared to men. Possibly because of the demands on women from work and from home.

In summary, women are more likely to be part-time workers, in lower paid roles, with less likelihood of promotion.

There’s a host of reasons behind this ranging from the fact that women are predominantly child-carers and elder-carers (one in five working women aged 45-59 are also carers), or the secondary earner in a family. Anecdotally, I know of women who felt that having a baby was a fundamental change in their career, and they were viewed differently by their Managers as a result. I know of many mothers who feel the unrelenting guilt of feeling that neither home nor work are getting full attention. However, women are as capable as men so why is this still happening in 2019?

Statistically, women are more likely to be juggling caring with a job. Even when children grow up, many grandparents I know are looking after the kids on a daily or weekly basis. According to CarersUK, women are more likely to have given up work or reduced working hours to care, particularly in their 40s-60s. Women aged 45-54 are more than twice as likely than men to have given up work to care and over four times more likely to have reduced working hours due to caring responsibilities.

So, what can we do to help?

Flexible working ‘ I’m writing this from my house. The children are delivered to school, and I’m connected to work through email, skype and Whatsapp. Working flexibly gives me the opportunity to juggle childcare and my work. It’s also great for my mental health as it reduces travel time, allows me to work with no interruptions (or the right kind of interruptions, such as taking the dog for a walk at lunchtime), and can have a huge impact on quality of life.

Legally, anyone has the right to request flexible working (whether that’s part-time, term-time, home working or any combination of the above). It’s very popular; Powwownow’s Flexible Working survey 2017 states that 67% of employees wish they were offered flexible working, and 58% of people believe that working away from the office would help them be more motivated, and even 40% would choose it over a payrise. It can help reduce stress and anxiety.

However, it’s important to ensure that flexible working is managed properly. Make sure meetings are on days and times where the person is contracted to work. Most companies have meetings or socials in the evening. It can be hard for carers to attend and creates more guilt and feelings of failure so consider day-time events as well. Ensure there are active forms of communication, so the person doesn’t feel lonely and isolated.

Equal pay ‘ money worries can have a dire effect on mental health. Women are more likely to be in part-time roles, and part-time roles are more likely to be paid less than full-time. It’s unlawful but it happens. Conducting a review to ensure that men and women are paid the same for the same job is a legal as well as a moral obligation.

Promotions ‘ although 22% of women worked in high-skilled professional occupations in 2018, compared to around 19% of men, leadership and management is more weighted to men with 13% of men in these roles compared to 8% of women. There are realms of papers written on the reasons, which can range from the fact that women have babies which impacts career development, to the perceived ‘pushiness’ of men compared to women. The facts are there, however, and the role of a leader of a company, and a good HR team, is to ensure that the best person is promoted regardless of gender. Encouraging women to apply, fostering talent, providing mentorship schemes ‘ all of these can help balance the management layer.

Well-being strategy ‘ women are predominantly in a caring role, which can mean that they don’t spend much time caring for themselves. Having a strategy focusing on mental health, financial health and physical health can go a long way to helping women at work. Think about:

‘ Training Mental First Aiders to spot potential issues

‘ Talk, talk, talk! Everyone can suffer from mental ill-health, it’s totally normal, so talking about it in bulletins, newsletters or through initiatives like the Mental Health Awareness week, can help reduce the anxiety or shame that some people feel about raising these topics.

‘ Set up weekly walks at lunchtime to encourage people to take a break

‘ Run financial health seminars ‘ helping people with debt or savings advice

‘ Monitor absence patterns to see if someone has sporadic absence. Stress can have physical symptoms such as regular colds or upset tummies. Have back-to-work interviews to try to get to the bottom of issues

‘ Provide access to a GP or other health service so people have the opportunity to talk about their issues with a trained professional. Prevention is better than cure, but at any stage, help can be provided.