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Is the workplace improving for women?

Is the workplace improving for women?

International Women's Day is a day that celebrates women everywhere; it is a daythat is used as a focal point in the women's rights movement and an opportunity to bring attention to women's issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights and violence and abuse against women. Anthony Sutton, director and founder of HR consultancy business Cream HR, is encouraging businesses to ensure that they are looking after their female staff.


The Lichfield based company boss believes that although we are seeing progress, there is still room for improvement.  Since last year's International Women's Day, the government has rejected committee recommendations to pilot workplace menopause leave.


Anthony says: "As a business we support the idea of menopause leave and think that it is something that employers should consider. We were disappointed that the idea of menopause leave was rejected by the Government but it is a step in the right direction that these things are finally getting discussed.  It is crucial that this topic gets attention as it is estimated that around 13 million women in the UK workforce are perimenopausal or menopausal."


"The menopause affects women in different ways, with some women suffering mild discomfort and others facing effects that are severely limiting.  Effects can also be physical as well as mental. An estimated one million women are considering quitting work as a result of a lack of menopause support.  Do companies really want to risk losing skilled and experienced workers because they lack the support they need?  I think it is contradictory for a company to say that they are a supportive place to work if they are not considering the differences and challenges that employees will face and explore ways in which they can support them."


Another area where people are striving for change is childcare.  The UK has some of the highest childcare costs in Europe meaning that many people (usually women) can't return to their previous role after maternity leave.  Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that after the birth of a child, 13% of women leave work, even when they are the higher earner of the couple.  Of women who continue to work, thereis a significant reduction in working hours (a fall of 26% on average). In contrast we see little or no reduction in the paid hours of fathers - even where they earn less than their female partners before their child is born.


Many businesses are recognising this and are adapting their support packages to meet the needs of parents after the birth of a child.  Some companies are matching the time off and pay they offer for maternity and paternity.  The introduction of shared parental leave has also helped to support both parents.  But there is still a long way to go.



Anthony continues: "The provision of childcare in this country is shocking and whilst it would be unfair to say it doesn't affect fathers the statistics show that it is usually the mother's career that is impacted. Sometimes people don't want to return to work full-time after having a child but for many parents the option is taken away because of extortionate childcare costs.  Businesses can help with this by ensuring they have shared parental leave options in place, a decent level of maternity pay and by ensuring that they are a truly flexible employer, not just flexible in a way that ticks the right box but in a way that embraces what flexible working really is.

Anthony advises businesses to look at other ways they can support women in the workplace by looking at life events that predominantly affect women such as miscarriage, fertility challenges and menopause. All of these things can cause anxiety, depression, physical health issues and in many cases cause women to consider leaving their place of employment. It is a topic that should be taken seriously by businesses.

A staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss, and yet most businesses still provide little to no support for women, and men, facing this loss. 


Fertility is another area that Cream HR advises employers to look at when looking at the support provide (for both men and women) In fact, according to a report published by  Fertility Network published in October 2022 when it comes to fertility there are some serious concerns

  • 83% of respondents felt sad, frustrated and worried often or all the time as a result of fertility problems and/or treatment, 47% experienced feelings of depression often or all the time, and 10% experienced suicidal feelings often or all the time. However, a further 30% reported suicidal feelings sometimes or occasionally, so in total 40% experienced suicidal feelings.
  • 58% felt concerned that treatment would affect their career prospects (8% more than in the 2016 survey), 36% felt their career was damaged as a result of treatment, and 15% either reduced their hours or left their job.
  • 77% disclosed to their employer but only 47% of these said that reasonable adjustments were made, only 45% felt they received really good support from their employer and only 25% reported the existence of supportive workplace policy (and 19% were not sure whether there was policy)

These stats should give most employers pause for thought when considering how their teams may be impacted by fertility issues and treatment and why support is vital.

Support will look different for each person in each situation but some things Cream HR urge employers to consider are:


  • offering a flexible working pattern,
  • enhanced sick pay,
  • sabbatical leave to allow women to take a break from work without having to leave altogether,
  • Ensuring you're providing an open and safe environment where people feel comfortable talking about how they are feeling.

Finally Anthony says "it's really important when trying to maintain a happy and productive workforce to look at what issues might affect them.  It's ok celebrating women on special days of the year but I want to encourage employers to look more at supporting women in the workplace all year round through policies and actions."


A number of big companies such as Kellogg's, ASOS and Tesco are already supporting their female workers in various ways including increased support around fertility and menopause including additional leave for fertility treatment cycles and leave for pregnancy loss amongst other things.


To find out more about Cream HR