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In July, the British Standards Institute (BSI) published a new whitepaper which suggested that women are leaving the workplace earlier than men, but not out of personal preference. Reasons for their workplace departure included caring responsibilities (for parents or children), structural factors that hindered their advancement, health-related concerns such as menopause and/or because employers didn’t value their contribution.

Second glass ceiling

Termed the second glass ceiling, this trend in women abandoning their careers is worrying. If only employers could recognise and understand the underlying conditions, they may be able to support those women better, enabling them to remain in work and fulfil their potential.

A one size fits all approach will not work here. What is required is improvements in work-life balance and the quality of working conditions. This means offering greater levels of independence and flexibility, so that workers can live healthier and more sustainable lives. With the added advantage that employers will see a rise in engagement, happiness and productivity, positive mental and physical health and wellbeing, combined with lower absenteeism or presenteeism and a fall in turnover.

Flexibility is key

If your business operations can accommodate it, allowing employees to work flexible schedules can help them to manage caring responsibilities and ensure that they remain working for your organisation. Whilst proposals to make flexible working a day-one right are currently being considered by parliament, by law, employees currently have the right to make a flexible working request if they:

  • Have worked for you for at least 26 weeks
  • Are legally classed as an employee
  • Have not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months

Of course, you can refuse a request, there are eight valid reasons you can choose. But if you are struggling with staff retention, you might want to think again and perhaps come to a compromise instead. It’s worth pointing out that you need to be mindful of claims of discrimination, especially when it comes to childcare disparity. You also must remember that the results of employment tribunal judgements are now published online, so you do not want future candidates or recruitment campaigns to be compromised or damaged by claims of an unfair culture or worse!

Become an employer of choice

But it’s not just about offering flexible working. Employers must also think about age and gender appropriate occupational safety and health policies, practices and risk assessments, this will ensure that working conditions for women affected by menopause, anxiety or other debilitating conditions.

It all really starts with having a conversation. Asking women what they want and then acting on it. Making support available and accessible will help to reverse the trend and enable more women to thrive and climb the ladder at work. And from there it’s about making small adjustments to either policies or levels of flexibility which allow women to decide, how, when and where they can work. Finally, you need to take a holistic approach to prioritise health and wellbeing, this will in turn strengthen trust and engagement, meaning in the end you will get a more resilient organisation.

How can I help?

We all have a duty to take urgent steps to help older women to remain productive in the workforce for longer, for help and support with policies, please email caroline.robertson@actifhr.co.uk