Sustainable engagement of women in the workplace – part 1

Women in the workplace

“While women need work, work also needs women. By equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women, the UK could further increase GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year, with potential gains of 10% of GDP by 2030.” Women’s Business Council, June 2013

Gender balance is important economically and socially and it’s statistics like this combined with our own experiences and those of our friends and colleagues that led to the set up of Women to Work, a with profits social enterprise based in Sheffield that helps individual women with children to define and create a fulfilling work life; and supports organisations to create sustainable engagement of their female workforce.

Balancing a career and a family can be difficult. Managing the challenges presented to an organisation trying to engage a workforce that includes shared maternity leave, flexible working and parental leave can also be difficult. We believe, though, that with the right environment and support in place as well as positive attitudes from both women and organisations, the future is full of promise. A future that embraces flexible working for all, that gives organisations access to a committed and engaged talent pool who are contributing to the success of their organisation, their families and the economy as a whole. A future full of organisations with a gender balanced positive working environment.

There are challenges ahead – we hear them everyday from the women and organisations we meet. Having attended important events such as the ‘Westminster Briefing: Supporting Women in the Workplace’ in London to the ‘Big Conversation meeting for women with Paul Blomfield MP’ in Sheffield we have heard about the many diverse barriers to women including childcare costs, availability of part-time roles (especially in senior positions), the challenges facing aspiring female leaders, the impact of zero hours contracts on working mothers and the need for shared stories from more female role models at all levels across industry and society. As a consequence, there are women stepping away from their careers altogether or settling for a lower level job leaving them feeling less committed, less engaged and potentially less confident.

But we also heard about some inspiring initiatives that are being put in place by organisations to create working environments that maximise female potential; organisations that are creating flexible working environments, implementing women’s development programmes and that are openly considering the challenges and evolving their ways of working.

As our own Women to Work research in 2013 told us:

It is excellent to encourage women to go back to work. A lot of women are full of fantastic ideas and give up pursuing them to take care of their children which is admirable but the world also needs women in the workplace.”

“I feel that the workplace is very poor at supporting women returning to work, especially women who wish to work reduced hours. We often return to work feeling under confident and undervalued.”

“All women should be encouraged to work. Independence, self esteem and confidence helps us all bring up our children in a better frame of mind. Good for us. Good for our kids.”

So how can organisations maximise the potential of this pool of women who want to work?

“There are over 2.4 million women who are not in work but want to work, and over 1.3 million women who want to increase the number of hours they work. We need to unblock this mismatch and optimise the potential for the UK’s economic growth.”  Women’s Business Council, June 2013

How can organisations attract and really engage them?

Companies with engagement scores in the top quartile had twice the annual net profit of those in the bottom quartile” “Companies with high levels of engagement show turnover rate 40% lower than companies with low levels of engagement” Employee engagement – the evidence. Engage for success 2009

Engage for Success when writing about the Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2014 cite a Management Study Guide article which suggests that organisations should actively involve women in finding out what really disengages women employees and makes them quit. It talks of “providing women with more meaningful tasks depending upon their comfort level, affirming their contribution, giving them an open, collaborative and innovative environment, engaging them in challenging tasks, keeping the doors open when they feel the need to work after delivering the baby or raising their kids and coming up with the options to help them take care of their family, especially kids can keep them motivated to work and perform their best.”

So what does your organisation currently do to engage your female workforce?

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you recognise gender difference? Do you celebrate it and embrace what difference brings?
  • Do you currently work successfully with a flexible/agile workforce – are you an input or output driven organisation?
  • How do you attract the female workforce you want and keep them?
  • What do you do now to actively engage your female workforce?
  • How can you use the information source you have in your current workforce to create full engagement and motivation?
  • How do you measure success in your organisation?
  • Are you aware of the existing unconscious bias within your organisation?


Join us in part 2 as we explore some initiatives to help organisations to create sustainable engagement of women in the workplace.

Emma Shute & Jenny Pollock, Founders of Women to Work.