Women need a workplace that works for them, not against them

Women need a workplace that works for them, not against them
BY Virgin Active South Africa
Posted On 17 August, 2023

“Although significant strides have been made in recent years in recognising the value of diversity and inclusion in corporate South Africa, women in the workforce still grapple with unique challenges that demand special attention. As progressive workplaces seek to empower their employees and create an inclusive environment, a well-crafted corporate wellness strategy that caters specifically to women is not just beneficial but essential.”

writes Jessica Spira, Managing Director of Virgin Active South Africa.

Climbing the career ladder is an entirely difference experience for women. The expectations placed on working mothers are often unrealistic and rigid, forcing them to strike a delicate balance between professional ambitions and family responsibilities.

Women may also battle gender stereotypes which can lead to feelings of isolation and under-appreciation. Sexual discrimination of varying dregrees is still very real and negatively impacts women’s mental and physical health.  The result is an unrelenting juggle of time and energy, leading to exhaustion and, in the worst case scenario, burnout.

A recent survey has revealed that 32% of working women suffer from burnout, with over half of women in leadership positions saying they feel burnout on a consistent basis. The survey also revealed that in terms of parental burnout, 68% of working moms experience it, compared to 42% of working dads. To understand the full gravity of these numbers, we must first understand that burnout isn’t simply a buzzword.

Burnout is a very real workplace issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been effectively managed. Although not classified as a medical condition, prolonged exposure could result in a number of physical, physiological and emotional problems including insomnia, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches, high blood pressure, depression and even heart disease, to name but a few.

Because this chronic stress syndrome is directly related to the workplace, organisations must recognise that there is incredible value in creating corporate wellness initiatives that enable women to find a better balance without having to compromise in any area of their lives.

These initiatives can include:

  • Flexible working arrangements – Women have been conditioned to power through their needs instead of focusing on them. Flexible time allows women to have an inclusive work and family schedule for example. It’s crucial to recognise the essential role that flexible work arrangements play in promoting gender equity and empowering women in the workplace.
  • Corporate wellness programmes – Comprehensive wellness programmes that address women’s health needs, including physical activity initiatives, nutrition counselling, stress management techniques, and relaxation practices create a supportive environment for women to prioritise their wellbeing. Regular workshops on work-life balance, time management, and coping strategies, for example, can equip women with the tools to navigate their personal and professional lives more effectively.
  • Mental health support – Recognising and addressing the mental health challenges that women face is crucial. Companies should be offering counselling services, mental health workshops, and stress management programs tailored to the unique needs of working women.
  • Mentorship and leadership development – Companies should actively promote women’s participation in leadership roles and mentorship programs. A strong support system and access to role models can inspire and empower women to advance in their careers.
  • Maternal and paternal leave policies – Comprehensive and inclusive parental leave policies can significantly reduce the burden on working mothers. Encouraging fathers to take an active role in childcare from the beginning can foster a more balanced home environment, allowing women to focus on their careers with lesser external pressures.

Unfortunately, for a large percentage of the female workforce, their employers may not recognise the need for these types of interventions yet. So what can women do to ensure they are managing their stress in the workplace?

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Take time for personal care – Women must prioritise their physical and mental health. Diet and exercise play an incredibly important role in stress management. Finding a way to make time to do some exercise, even if it’s only for a walk, can do wonders. At Virgin Active we offer a variety of options for our members to take charge of their health and wellness. This ranges from fitness solutions, including group exercise classes, to experts and personal trainers who can help guide women on the best approach for their particular needs.
  • Set boundaries – It’s important to set boundaries between work life and personal life. This means learning to say no to extra work, switching your phone off while spending time with the family, taking breaks and scheduling personal time.
  • Speak up – It is crucial for women to speak up if they experience stress or harassment in the workplace. They must not be afraid to talk to a manager, HR department, or a trusted colleague.

Being a successful and strong women doesn’t mean never showing vulnerability. In fact, it is often this vulnerability that makes women such incredible leaders. The key for companies is to understand that no two employees are the same and that it’s crucial to ensure a workspace that empowers women to find their work life balance and thrive.