If the Workplace Was Built for Women, How Different Would It Be?

As women, we’ve grown accustomed to accepting discomfort. For far too long we’ve simply had to adapt, persevere, and work twice as hard to navigate a system that wasn’t even designed for us in the first place. The corporate world, as we know it, was predominantly built by men for men. And in many ways, it was the pandemic that really pulled back the curtain and revealed the depth of impact these structures have had on women.

The workplace was never set up for women managing responsibilities outside of work to actually succeed. Now, with the record-breaking number of women switching jobs, it’s clear that we’re done settling. If companies hope to win us back, they’ve got some serious remodelling to do to meet us where we are.

Women are fleeing unfit workplaces in unprecedented numbers

According to the 2022 Women in the Workplace report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, more women leaders than ever before are saying “enough is enough” and walking away from jobs that don’t cater to their realities. And they’re doing it at a much faster pace than men in similar leadership roles.

What’s pushing these women out the door? There’s a laundry list of reasons, to be honest – but according to research, unequal pay, stress and burnout, experiences of harassment and microaggressions, lack of flexibility, and limited career advancement opportunities are the main factors driving women away.

All these challenges collectively point to a broader issue: the workplace was predominantly built without due consideration for what women need to succeed.

Given that women are already significantly underrepresented in the corporate realm, this could spell disaster for companies who are aiming to promote diversity and inclusion. It’s been proven time and again that teams with diverse leadership do better than those without. Companies that aren’t ready or willing to rebuild their workplaces to fit what women need might end up losing the few valuable women they do have.

How can organisations create a workplace that focuses on supporting women?

A workplace designed for women is not solely beneficial to women themselves. The most successful businesses out there have figured this out. When women feel supported and understood in the workplace, it enriches organisational culture, fosters innovation, and improves productivity.

Here’s how companies can start rebuilding with women at the centre:

Provide flexibility in terms of where, when, and how women work

According to this year’s Women in the Workplace report, “The pandemic showed women that a new model of balancing work and life was possible. Now, few want to return to the way things were.” For organisations that want their women leaders to stick around, they need to be open to flexible arrangements such as remote or hybrid work and adaptable schedules.

The McKinsey report highlighted that nearly half of women leaders prioritise flexibility as one of their top three factors in job mobility. However, despite many companies advocating for flexibility, only 33% of women, as per a Deloitte study, report their employers actually offering flexible work policies. To exacerbate matters, 94% of respondents fear that seeking flexible options would hamper their prospects for promotion.

Accommodate childcare and parenting responsibilities

This one is closely tied to providing flexible working options. Balancing work with parenting is probably the biggest challenge for women in the workforce. We know it’s no secret that a lot of the time, the weight of parenting responsibilities falls heavily on women, even when they’re also holding down a job. So many women feel a sense of embarrassment or guilt when they need to bring their child to work occasionally due to unexpected caregiving or emergency situations.

It would make a world of difference if more companies had designated spaces for feeding where women can nurse in privacy and embraced a culture where employees are not just permitted but actively encouraged to tend to their babies in meetings when needed. It’s small changes like these that can have a huge impact on women’s active participation and engagement in the workplace.

Back women’s careers through offering the right networking opportunities

Women have their own unique style when it comes to networking in the business world and it’s often quite different from the way men approach it, if women even get the chance to engage in networking at all. In certain business sectors and leadership roles, there just aren’t as many women around, which can make it harder to connect with the right people in those higher-up positions.

Organisations can offer support by helping women make those crucial connections with top executives and leaders through one-on-one introductions and meetings. These efforts can significantly enhance women’s visibility and expand their networks, which is incredibly important for fostering career growth and opportunities.

Address unequal pay

Discrepancies in compensation between men and women persist due to several factors. Often, leaders delegate pay decisions to HR processes or rely on predetermined formulas during performance evaluations, which inadvertently contributes to this disparity. Today, however, there’s an abundance of available data that leaders can harness to strive for more equitable outcomes.

Initiating peer compensation reviews by comparing roles with male counterparts or utilising “comparison-ratio” data, providing an unbiased benchmark for similar job positions, can significantly aid in rectifying this imbalance. It’s also important to shift away from solely tenure-based compensation models.

Evaluating employees based on their competencies, accomplishments, and potential, rather than solely on tenure, is pivotal in ensuring a fairer compensation structure. This could also alleviate potential disadvantages for women who may have taken career breaks for reasons such as maternity or childcare.

Authentically prioritise DE&I

According to Rachel Thomas, CEO of LeanIn.Org, women in leadership roles often go the extra mile. They handle the same business demands as men, yet they invest more time in checking on their team’s well-being, mentoring others, and championing diversity and inclusion.

And this tends to go unnoticed and unrewarded in most organisations. While almost all companies evaluate managers based on business goals, less than 40% consider factors like team morale and progress on diversity goals. Thomas also points out a common struggle for women when they’re promoted is striking a work-life balance. Many women end up juggling both professional responsibilities and a heavier share of household duties, which creates a double workload.

As we progress in our careers, we often continue carrying the bulk of household responsibilities, while senior men tend to step back from these tasks. The prioritisation of DE&I must be a workplace-wide commitment, involving everyone—regardless of gender. After all, creating an inclusive environment benefits everyone and should be a collective effort, not just a concern for one gender or group.

The bottom line

The massive surge in women leaving their jobs is a clear sign that change is long overdue. Companies need to overhaul their structures to match the diverse needs we have as women, or they risk losing us.

Simple changes like flexible schedules, support for childcare, fair pay, improved networking opportunities, and a real commitment to diversity and inclusion are some good places to start rebuilding the workplace with our needs in mind.