Earlier this year we conducted research to listen to the voice of women and hear what they think about their life, career, wellbeing, burnout, gender bias, authenticity, leadership, confidence, resilience and more. We surveyed 1200 women of various ages, ethnicities, employment industries, experience levels and roles; and discovered many insights on what it’s really like to be a woman right now – how women feel in the workplace and what holds them back.
Above all, according to 84% of women, the most important ingredient women need to thrive at work is a good relationship with and support from their manager.
This is good news for managers and leaders of women, as this is within their sphere of influence. With insights, come opportunities.
Here are the 5 Most Important Ways That Leaders and Managers Can Help Women Thrive at Work.
1. Invest in their career and give them somewhere to go.
Almost three quarters of women (74%) say they would leave their organisation if their employer did not invest in their career development. 64% deem investment in their career as essential for them to thrive at work.
Career development is key for employers to retain women, and with almost 40% saying their employer has not invested in their career and/or leadership development in the past 18 months, organisations are at risk of losing women.
The top reason for lack of career progression, impacting 40% of women, is nowhere to move up within their organisation. In addition, 34% have changed companies in the past 18 months, with almost a third (31%) citing lack of opportunity to advance as the reason they left.
- As part of your performance review process for female team members, include dedicated time to discuss each woman’s aspirations, any blocks they may have, and what support they need to achieve their goal. Co-create a transition plan from current level to the next, with a commitment to helping her take action.
- Sponsor your women to take part in external workshops and women’s leadership development programs, such as the Women Rising Program, to help women gain clarity in their career goals, identify what may be holding them back, build confidence in their capabilities, and reach their potential.
- When setting the annual budget, allocate funding towards women’s development, either to go towards external workshops and training programs or to easily approve development opportunity requests women present to you. Mindfully look for areas of your budget where you can cut costs on less valuable initiatives to accommodate for women’s development funding.
2. Help them build confidence.
Confidence is a significant issue for women at work, with only 6.5% feeling confident all the time, and 45% feeling confident only some of the time or not at all. The biggest factor undermining women’s confidence at work is their own inner critic and self doubt, with 61% of women feeling the impact – a concerning statistic considering the impact this has on actions women will or won’t take.
Lack of confidence is getting in the way of career progression for women, with 38% disinclined to put themself forward for a promotion, and 38.5% reluctant to ask for a payrise.
- Learn how to identify low confidence in your team members, and apply confidence-building language and strengths-based leadership into your management approach.
- Routinely check in with your female team members to understand how they’re feeling. Ask them how confident they are feeling, if anything is getting in the way of their confidence, and how you can help.
- Celebrate successes widely and ensure credit is given to women for their work. Make an effort to praise, compliment and thank your team members for their positive attributes, effort, and contribution – either in person, via email or a written note.
3. Help them avoid burnout and stay well.
Only 8% of women are thriving at work and in the past 18 months, most women (81%) have experienced increased levels of stress in the workplace – indicating a key focus area for organisations.
Seventy-eight per cent of women have felt burnt out in the past 18 months and more than half (55%) say they currently feel at risk of burnout. For women who are managers, 25% often feel they are at risk of burn out because of their management responsibilities. According to 41% of women, being on the ‘burnout train’ derails them from meeting their potential.
The greatest contributor to women’s stress levels is too much workload (50%), with 55% taking on more work than they should. Almost half the women surveyed (49%) don’t say no or set boundaries, 51% say they avoid conflict, and 45% identify as people pleasers.
- Create a team culture that values and celebrates wellbeing, and act as a role model demonstrating positive work/life balance.
- Help women in your team identify and address common behaviours that lead to burnout such as perfectionism, people-pleasing, overachieving, reluctance to delegate or ask for help, and being self-critical. Create a speak-up environment where women can put their hand up and ask for help if they’re struggling, without negative consequences. Prioritise mental and physical wellbeing.
- Don’t overload your team members with more work than they can handle. Regularly check in to ask if they are comfortable with their workload and help find solutions if it is too much. Even if they respond in the affirmative, look for non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions, and hesitancy, that suggest displeasure and discomfort.
4. Deal with bias in your workplace.
Women are feeling the effects of negative bias at work in alarming numbers. The most common experiences include being talked over or interrupted in a meeting (74%) and someone taking credit for their ideas or work (64%).
These statistics are concerningly high, and a telling message for organisations that they have work to do to stamp out microaggressions and bias in the workplace.
Nearly two thirds of women (62%) have experienced negative bias due to their age and this is prominent across all age groups, particularly women aged 18 – 24 years (88%) and 25 – 34 years (77%).
More than half the women surveyed (57%) have been undermined by a male leader, half (50%) have experienced negative bias at work because of their gender, a fifth (20%) due to their culture, and 19% due their race.
Only 40% of women say their manager is an inclusive leader all of the time, and only 18% believe their leaders consistently match their company rhetoric on gender diversity – a concerning statistics for organsiations.
- Establish an employee action group within your organisation, made up of women and male allies, dedicated to advocating for and progressing gender equality and women-focussed initiatives.
- Run an education campaign to help employees understand what bias is, how it shows up (including micro and macro aggressions), how it makes women feel and what can be done to eliminate it. Share stories of women who have experienced negative bias in the workplace, as well stories of male allies advocating for women.
- As a manager of women, participate in a women’s leadership development program such as the Women Rising program to learn how to better support and become an effective ally to women. Also, sponsor male members of your team to take part in the Male Allies program.
5. Provide better support and opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship.
Eighty-four per cent of women say a good relationship with and support from their manager is what they need to thrive at work. In addition, 32% are challenged by a lack of leadership competence and/or executive presence; and 29% by not receiving enough support from managers, mentors or sponsors.
Just over half the women surveyed (51.5%) do not have a supportive mentor, and only 36.5% say they have a supportive sponsor in their organisation. Only 7% of women always feel supported within their organisation to progress their career, and 69% feel supported only some of the time or never.
- Get male allies in the workplace to help support women. Share resources or run a campaign on what it means to be an ally. Sponsor male members of your team to take part in the Male Allies program.
- Allocate sponsorship funding to support women’s leadership development programs and opportunities.
- Schedule routine check-ins with women in your team to find out what guidance and support they need from you.
What’s abundantly clear from our research is that for women to reach their full potential, and for businesses to thrive, organisations must invest in women’s leadership development that works.