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Women are good for business. But is business good for women?

04 March 2015

Women are good for business. But is business good for women?

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It's International Women's Day on 8th March. The good news is that girls are outperforming boys at every level of education and research shows companies that employ women at the highest levels are 18-69% more profitable than those that don't.1 

The bad news is that the gender pay gap between men and women in their 20s has doubled in the last three years2 and millions of women are at increased risk of developing mental health disorders, due to the intense pressure of sustaining successful careers while continuing to shoulder the bulk of domestic duties at home.

So what's the solution?

The price of the ‘second shift’

Despite going out to work in ever increasing numbers, female breadwinners continue to spend three times as long on domestic chores, such as cooking, cleaning and washing, as their husbands or partners. On average, working women spend 17 hours a week on household chores, compared to just under six hours for men. Gender inequality in this area is so strongly rooted that one in five men admit to doing nothing around the home.3 The upshot is that, while the majority of men continue to come home to meals prepared by their partner, nicely laundered clothes and have time to go to the gym or relax at home, most women complete their working day only to come home to a second shift of domestic chores and childcare duties.

The price a woman pays for relentlessly working these two shifts is her health. As Madeline Bunting, author of the book Willing Slaves, found, the things that women sacrifice in order to fit in all of their work, both in the workplace and at home, are: „sleep, exercise and spending time on their relationships - the very things that nourish their mind, heart and soul.‟ All of which can take a worrying toll on their physical and psychological wellbeing, increasing their risk of becoming sick with stress, anxiety or depression.

It's a viewpoint backed up by the novelist Alison Pearson, who described herself as a „sandwich woman‟ having both dependent children and dependent parents. Discussing how the stress of the situation had resulted in crippling depression, she said, “We always suspected there would be a price for having it all, and we were happy to pay for it, but we didn‟t know the cost would be our mental health.”

Inequality at home causes inequality at work

Perhaps working women with care duties should be given free domestic help or be allowed to work one hour less a day than their male counterparts, for the same pay, so they can do the grocery shop or blitz though the housework before they do the nursery run. Maybe they should be given free yoga, Pilates or exercise classes at work, on the understanding that they have next to no time for themselves to do this outside of work. Or maybe any male reading this should be encouraged to ask himself if his partner is getting a „fair deal‟ and commit to doing, at the very least, half of what it takes for the home to function.

For this to happen in any genuine way, significantly more men will need to start taking advantage of flexible working. This will also progress equality in the workplace because it‟s only once men in leadership roles start working flexibly that we will start to associate flexible working with leadership qualities. Until then, the assumption is that if you‟re trying to run a home as well as a successful career, you simply don‟t have the time needed to commit to the top roles, regardless of what you‟re actually delivering while you‟re in work.

Either way, we have big questions to ask about why the distribution of childcare and domestic chores remains just so unbalanced between the sexes. Of course there are those men who have more than stepped up and do their fair share to allow their partner‟s career to progress, but far too often it‟s just assumed that women who work should still do all the cooking, cleaning and bedtime stories. To go into why would require another blog, but suffice to say that until we have equality at home, women will struggle to achieve equality at work.

When MP Yvette Cooper justified her decision not to stand for the Labour party leadership in 2010, she cited the gruelling double shift she was responsible for, saying: “It‟s not weak to admit children affect work choices. To ignore or scorn such choices is to fail to understand the lives of millions of working parents, especially women.” She was widely criticised for her decision. No one criticised her husband, MP Ed Balls, for not doing more at home to allow her career to flourish.

She has since risen up through the ranks to become the Shadow Home Secretary and was ranked as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK in 2013. Maybe that‟s enough. Maybe, given that the UK is ranked 50th in the league table of women in parliament, it‟s a sign that our parliament is underperforming due to its inability to enable women to thrive in both their careers and home lives.

Keeping women healthy under pressure

Flexible working is one thing. Giving women equality outside of work so that they can achieve equality in work is another thing entirely. Until then, at the very least, employers need to be mindful of the incredible pressure working two shifts can put people under and give women access to mentors and resources that can help them stay healthy while we redress the balance. This includes giving them some breathing space at work to reflect on the pressure they‟re under and look at ways of reducing this, by considering the following areas of their life:

- Relationships: Do they have a partner or friends they can talk to and how can they reduce the burden at home to allow more time to nurture their relationships?

- Sleep: Are they using an alarm clock to drag themselves awake or allowing themselves to get the rest needed so they can stay mentally healthy?

- Relaxation: Where can they find five minutes in the day to 'find the horizon' and empty their mind? Is work able to offer a lunchtime meditation course?

- Diet: Are they finishing their children‟s leftovers for dinner or are they aware of how to eat for vitality to keep their energy levels high?

- Exercise: How can they find simple ways to boost their physical vitality and reduce stress levels by building more exercise into their day?

Help female employees cope with their ‘double shift’

If you would like to run a workshop to help your female employees stay healthy under pressure, please contact Mandy Rutter via contact page or call +44 (0)1494 685200

Notes:

1. The 25 Fortune 500 companies with the best record of promoting women are between 18% and 69% more profitable than other Fortune 500 companies in their industries, Adler, The Bottom Line: connecting corporate performance and gender diversity, 2004.

2. Overall women earn 80p to every pound that men earn and the pay gap between men and women in their 20s has doubled since 2010, going from 2.6 per cent to 5.3 per cent. Office for National Statistics

3. Survey of 1,800 men and women, Daily Mail, 2013