Sustainable engagement of women in the workplace – part 2

Women in the workplace

In part 1 we highlighted that gender balance is important economically and socially and we looked at the challenges facing both women and organisations in creating an engaged and gender balanced workforce whilst recognising the good work already being done.

We posed some questions for you to consider what your own organisation is doing to engage your female workforce.

Now we turn our attention to the solutions and positive initiatives that support female engagement.

At Women to Work we believe in the power of coaching and mentoring – delivering it, training others to deliver it and using it ourselves. Coaching and mentoring programmes to support women in organisations at all stages of their career have a positive impact on engagement and organisational performance.

An article in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2014 highlighted a study which showed a female-only programme focusing on one to one coaching, skills training and internal networking found that; “More than 60 percent of those participating have achieved promotion, while the success rate in operations – where 33 per cent of senior posts are now occupied by women, up from from zero three years ago – has been particularly marked.”

Specific schemes to support maternity returners where a woman is matched with a mentor who has been through having a baby and returned to work are particularly positive. Women often feel alone and unprepared for a return to work and the new challenge of juggling a career and family. Having a mentor to talk to, who has been through the same can be hugely beneficial for women returners. As our own research from 2013 tells us:

“I think it can be quite difficult returning to work after having children.” “We often return to work feeling under confident and undervalued.” “Always good to have support and be able to share questions or issues.”

Ensuring coaches and mentors are regularly trained, developed and given supervision can help to ensure a scheme‘s success, and training that addresses ways to support women with confidence, self-belief, managing work-life balance, guilt and a change of values and career aspirations is of particular value.

Specific workshops and coaching sessions are of great benefit to women at all stages of their careers whether the driver is to get more women on boards and senior positions, or to attract greater engagement and therefore more contribution by the female workforce. Content that focuses on career development decisions, aspirations and action plans, challenges and solutions faced and the individual woman’s role in the organisation is important. Working with a woman to look at her personal values, how her role fits with the strategic objectives, her strengths and personal working identity has a strong effect on her confidence in her ability to deliver.

But it’s not all about the women – workshops for men and other key stakeholders, for example an organisation’s management team, form a significant part of the picture.

Often there is an unconscious bias running through the culture of an organisation. Gaining an understanding of what stereotypes exist in your own organisation, the decisions that are made based on underlying assumptions and how this impacts organisational performance is the first step.

Asking the right questions of this group and facilitating the development of an action plan drives the planned change. Consider why a gender balanced environment is important and what targets are appropriate to make it happen. What role does flexible and agile working play in your organisation and how could the future look different, and better? What initiatives can you put in place to actively engage and motivate your female workforce?

But don’t stop there – we think it is important to ask the questions of the women themselves, to do the research and involve them, supporting them to lead on the changes whilst ensuring critical senior leadership support.

We place the emphasis equally on organisations and the women themselves. Women may need support to recognise ‘having it all’ might not be fully possible but working with their organisaton to create or work towards their ‘ideal’ is a crucial step towards engagement.

Recognising the contribution of women by both organisations and the women themselves, backed up with key initiatives which demonstrate this, is moving us towards a more gender balanced working world. A world where engaged and committed women feel valued and prepared to work hard for their organisation.

Maybe in the future we’ll see a world where both men and women find new ways of working, shared parental leave is common place and organisations are encouraging agile working because the benefits of committed and engaged employees far outweighs the administrative burden of supporting new ways of working.

Contact Women to Work to discuss how we can help your organisation to maximise the potential of your female workforce.

Emma Shute & Jenny Pollock, Founders of Women to Work