What does it take to create a healthy workplace for women? It is clear that part of this lies in providing a healthy work environment for everyone in general, but there is also a need to focus on creating high performing and supportive workplaces for women in particular.
Oftentimes when people think about meaningful work, it conjures up images of Mother Theresa or Michelle Obama, but everyone has the capacity and opportunity to do purpose-oriented work. Simply talking about things that matter is, at best, a first step (at worst, a cynical distraction). What sets healthy workplaces apart is they create an environment where the impact they have as an organisation has the people that know them best – their own people – waking up in the morning inspired to be part of the work.
People want to be part of an environment where there is a clear purpose to their work, they understand how it fits into the overall aim of the organisation and know that the organisation is also delivering on what is important for any individual. For women specifically, there can be a lack of role models in some roles, leading to a dissonance between what they want to achieve and where they see current opportunities. Healthy workplaces actively support this. This comes in many forms, and a simple example is providing mentoring opportunities for female employees, seeking them outside of their own organisation if necessary. Understanding how others in similar situations have handled their career trajectory and sustained high performance can have a huge impact on an individual’s sense of purpose at work.
Pursuing work that encourages learning, achievement and growth is critical in the fast moving business world of today. It also results in expansion of a person’s self-worth, opportunities and potential careers. In choosing a role or organisation that fosters learning, people are preparing for any path they ultimately choose. As their skill set widens, people become more resourceful and increasingly likely to be successful at whatever career they end up pursuing. Lifelong learning also yields significant wider benefits for individuals, including their health.
This becomes particularly pertinent as more people looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break – often taken to look after children, or elderly or sick relatives. Healthy workplaces often have strong mechanisms in place to support the transition back into the work environment. These programs are open to all, but the majority of applicants are women. Those who are successfully selected are coached and mentored, updating role relevant skills, and preparing to take on a permanent position.
Research has shown that when people are given more control over the work that they do, they are more likely to give discretionary effort, going above and beyond the minimum effort required, and drive high performance. This will translate differently in various organisations, often depending on the industry and type of work being done. For some organisations, giving people a sense of control of their work means they are allowed to set their own schedules. In others, it may simply mean people can decide how their work should be done. Whatever the makeup, people want to feel that they are able to make judgments and make choices at work; they will not simply be a cog in a machine.
Healthy workplaces acknowledge this, doing what makes sense for the organisation and workforce. This supports all staff, and often specifically women, who want to deviate from the traditional working hours of 9 to 5, and establish a routine that enables them to blend their work and personal life. Managers moving from a ‘why’ to ‘why not’ attitude when receiving these requests are changing the face of modern workplaces, and creating a more inclusive and high performing environment.
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