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Is Poor Work-Life Balance Holding Women Back?

It’s no secret that gender equality in the boardroom is a real issue for businesses. In fact, the number of women holding the most senior jobs in Britain’s biggest companies actually fell last year. Only 30 (6.4%) of full-time executive roles at FTSE 250 firms are held by women. On FTSE 100 boards, the percentage of women in leadership positions has flatlined for a fourth straight year at 9.7%. *

There are plenty of theories as to why such an imbalance exists. I wonder if, for some women, another kind of balance is taking priority: work-life balance.

I suspect many feel forced to choose between career and family.

But should it really be like that? Surely, we can change it?

I remember the chat with my dad about how these things work. Males are, more often than not, involved too. And life changing events like this can have a huge impact on both parents. It is now understood for example that post-natal depression can affect dad, and not only mum. Strangely however, becoming a parent doesn’t seem to slow (or completely destroy) his career. How curious.

Despite legislation like the Equality Act 2010 being in place, business leadership still does not reflect the societies in which they exist.

With initiatives like shared parental leave now in place, things are looking more positive – but it’s not an option to just sit back and let the government pick up the slack.

As an employer, you have a responsibility to make sure all employees, feel confident and secure in the workplace­. Yes, even the ones who might decide to have a baby.

Babies aside, men are just better at handling the high-pressure jobs.

Oh really? I would urge you to think again.

While it is true that women are twice as likely to experience mental health issues like anxiety and stress**, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny that they are weaker or less capable than men.

Women are anecdotally more likely to talk about their emotions or problems.

Whereas men are more likely cover up their issues; be drug or alcohol dependant; have an addiction such as gambling and take their own lives.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day campaign is #BalanceForBetter – gender balance, that is, and specifically in the workplace. The campaign’s mission is to build a gender-balanced world, where everybody, whether male or female, is treated equally. Equal opportunities, equal pay, equal respect.

And embedding a culture of openness around work-life balance and wellbeing has to be led from the top.

So, what can you do to help? Here’s my advice…

Lead by example

This is probably the most important thing you can do to encourage work-life balance. If you work late every night, miss family events, take your work on holiday and answer your emails 24/7, your employees will feel obligated to do the same. Think about the message you’re giving out, and make sure you take your own advice.

Try to empathise

Remember that you employ the whole person. They are not a robot who clocks in at nine and finishes at five, switching off home life and who they are between those hours.

If an employee is having a particularly rough time, don’t just leave them to deal with it themselves, even if it is nothing to do with work. Consider how they’re feeling and what you could do to help. Could they do with a day off? Do they need a space to cool down? Could they leave a bit early today?

Talk about it

Believe me, I know it’s not the easiest thing to talk about mental health at work, but it doesn’t have to be scary. If an employee is struggling, try to start a conversation with them, and really listen to what they have to say. Quickly asking them if they’re alright just before you nip into a meeting is not enough. Give them time and space to talk.

Putting this advice into practice won’t only help create a more open and comfortable environment for the women in your workplace, but for every employee.

Work-life balance isn’t just a myth or a throw-away buzzword – it can make a huge impact on your entire workforce. Studies have shown that employees who are given a positive work-life balance do better at their job, feel more motivated, and have a better relationship with management. *** It makes business sense. Now that really is #BalanceForBetter, don’t you think?

*The Guardian,

**Remes O, Brayne C, van der Linde R, Lafortune L. A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations, Brain and Behavior.