Deloitte Global recently released its second Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook study
, a research project which aggregates and analyzes the perspectives of 5,000 women across 10 countries. The study reveals that rates of stress, harassment, and microaggressions remain high among a female-identifying workforce. The report also states that women believe that the most important thing their employer can do to improve gender equality in the workplace is to create a truly respectful and inclusive workplace culture.
WorkSpace Connect tapped Michele Parmelee, Global Deputy CEO, Chief People, and Purpose Officer, Deloitte, to discuss how the Great Resignation
is hurting employers and why 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel excluded from important meetings. She also discussed how flexible working patterns could boost the retention of a female workforce and shared ways to eliminate harassment or non-inclusive behaviors at work. She also advised employers on how to counteract these negative trends and retain talent, plus why she thinks building and maintaining a truly inclusive culture should be at the forefront of every corporate agenda.
Responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
More than half of women surveyed plan to leave their employer within the next two years as the Great Resignation continues. Can you explain how these departures could hurt employers? What about the people leaving?
MP: Employees are more willing than ever to leave for new opportunities. As organizations attempt to recover from the impact of the pandemic with fewer people, retention is top of mind for employers across the world. In a recent Fortune/Deloitte CEO survey, nearly three-quarters of CEOs ranked labor and skills shortages as the biggest disruptor of business strategy over the next 12 months.
Women who had left an employer since the start of the pandemic cited a lack of opportunities to advance as the top reason (22%). A lack of work-life balance and insufficient pay are tied as the second cited reason, both at 18%. Among those actively considering leaving an employer but had not yet left, the most cited reason was burnout (40%).
Women are leaving to seek better opportunities, more work/life balance, and higher pay. Employers that don’t make changes to create or preserve work cultures where women feel supported, compensated, and given the flexibility they need stand to lose top talent.
Almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel excluded from important meetings; nearly half say they don’t have enough exposure to the people who could help sponsor their career progression. How can employers address this culture of exclusion and boost access to this untapped talent pool?
MP: We’re seeing the effects of “proximity bias,” the idea that employees with close physical proximity to their team and company leaders will be perceived as better workers than their remote counterparts. We’re not only seeing exclusion in hybrid environments for some women, but it’s also taking a toll on mental health. Women who feel excluded in a hybrid environment report significantly higher stress levels and poorer mental health—and are also more likely to have taken time off to cope with mental health challenges.
Employers must [put in] work to ensure that hybrid working works for all, not just those who are physically present. This [effort] means training leaders to lead meetings and interactions in a way that includes all present, whether in person or remote. It also means ensuring that those not physically present have much-needed access to leaders and sponsors.
Nearly 40% of women actively looking for a new employer cited burnout as the main reason. How can flexible working patterns reduce this burnout and boost retention of a female workforce?
MP: Flexible working has the potential to provide employees with better work/life balance in today’s “always-on” work environment. When employees and organizations align on expectations, flexible working can help foster a workplace culture that is less about presenteeism and more about productivity and performance. It enables people to establish work schedules that allow them to prioritize their work and well-being.
The research shows that only 33% of women say their employer offers a flexible work arrangement. Furthermore, only around one-quarter of women with flexible working arrangements say their employer has set clear expectations of how and where they should work, which presents challenges for those seeking predictability.
An overwhelming 94% of women believe that requesting flexible working arrangements will affect their likelihood of promotion, and 90% believe their workloads won’t get adjusted (accordingly) if they request it. Many women who have reduced or changed their hours since the start of the pandemic report increased responsibilities at home and lower levels of mental well-being and motivation at work.
Flexible working remains a challenge for many organizations. This [challenge] isn't just about offering a flexible working policy—it’s about organizations making sure that flexible working meets the needs of the women who wish to take part.
The report states that non-inclusive behaviors experienced by women in the workplace have increased since last year. Why? And how can workplace leaders reverse this trend?
MP: In the past year, 59% of women have experienced at least one non-inclusive behavior (microaggressions or harassment), compared with 52% last year. Interestingly, this year’s research also found women working in a hybrid environment are significantly more likely to experience microaggressions than those working exclusively on-site or remotely. This worrying trend could result from the fact that there is a higher awareness of behaviors that are considered non-inclusive, given recent news and everyday conversations.
Furthermore, despite the number of women experiencing these behaviors, only 31% of the behaviors were reported. An overwhelming 93% of women believe reporting non-inclusive behaviors would negatively impact their careers, and most feel action won’t be taken If these behaviors are reported. This year’s survey also found that only 22% of women work for a company that has implemented a clear process for reporting discrimination and harassment.
To reverse this trend, organizations must focus on instilling a truly respectful and inclusive work culture where non-inclusive behaviors aren't tolerated. This focus means clear and unequivocal messaging from leaders, accessible routes and clear processes for reporting, and a commitment that all non-inclusive behaviors should be reported without concern of career penalty.
Blue-sky time: What are the three things employers must do to offset these negative trends and retain talent?
MP: First, employers must address the burnout epidemic. We see that the Great Resignation is to continue, and burnout is one of the main driving factors. Failure to address burnout isn’t an option if employers want to retain their top talent.
With more than half of women saying stress levels are higher than a year ago and almost half describing their mental health as poor/very poor, employers need to go beyond providing support when it’s needed. They must focus on eliminating the stigma that prevents many women from even discussing mental health in the workplace.
Second, employers need to make sure flexible working, including hybrid work arrangements, works for everyone. Employers need to go beyond policy and make a clear commitment to those women who wish to work flexibly. This commitment means, for example, ensuring that team leaders lead meetings and interactions in a way that includes all present, whether in person or remote and ensuring that those who are not physically present have much-needed access to leaders and sponsors.
Finally, women say that the most important step their employer can take to improve gender equality in the workplace is to build a truly respectful and inclusive working culture. This means clear and unequivocal messaging from leaders, accessible routes and clear processes for reporting, and a commitment that all non-inclusive behaviors should be reported without concern of career penalty.