In honor of Women’s History Month and Equal Pay Day, we are looking at how the workplace affects women’s physical and mental health. In 2011, over 70% of women with children under 18 were working. When the pressures of work and family collide, the results on a woman’s health can be devastating. The outcomes affect not only overall employment, but promotional opportunities, social life, wage, family, and the one thing we never have enough of: time. Women continue to be crushed by the expectations society places on them which is why workforce dedication and communication with their employees could make substantial differences.
📍 The Financial Stress of The Pay Gap
Tuesday March 15 marks 2022’s Equal Pay Day: a date that symbolizes how far into a year women need to work in order to earn the equivalent of what men earned in the previous year. This means that the current equivalent to the twelve months an average employed man needs to work is fifteen for a woman: three months longer.
If gender diverse businesses are about 25% more likely to financially outperform their competitors, why aren’t women reaping those rewards alongside their male-identifying coworkers? Women of color face an even bigger pay gap in the US. “Black women are paid 62 cents, Native American women 57 cents, and Latinas 54 cents for every dollar paid to white men,” according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
The gap creates a natural outcome among working women: higher levels of stress. The increased stress, almost twice as high as men, is linked to heart disease, muscle and bone disorders, mental health disorders, and burnout. At the rate we are at, with Equal Pay Day having moved up from March 31th in 2021 to March 15th in 2022, it is estimated to take until 2059 for women to achieve equal pay to men.
🍼 Working Mothers
Throughout history, women have been the primary caregivers for children and elderly in the family, but even after joining the workforce, their responsibilities do not lessen. If 75% of women in the workforce are of reproductive age with over half the children in the United States born to working mothers, how is the health of women being overlooked so drastically in the workplace? In addition, the CDC reported that 1 in 8 new mothers experience symptoms of postpartum depression yet women are more likely to report feeling uncomfortable sharing their thoughts on work-life challenges with coworkers. If a woman is twice as likely to worry about how caregiving responsibilities will impact their work performance, while feeling like they need to work harder than men, their rate of burn out is going to be much higher than that of their male coworkers.
🧠 Mental Strain of Mental Health
The lines between work and personal life are drastically blurred thanks to modern technology. Emails can be answered from bed at any hour of the day, cell phones are the primary source of communication with the various options of texting or calling, and even your watch is a minicomputer on your wrist ready to work for you. While working on your mental health is a personal journey, there are many outside influences that can have a great effect on how well that journey goes. Improving access to the conversations surrounding mental health should be a priority for all businesses because it affects all employees and employees, in turn, affect the business. At the end of the day, the mental strain on an employee has a direct effect on their job performance.
For women workers of color, the stress of the pay gap in addition to feeling isolated or without community in their work environment can also affect their mental health as they often feel they are left to deal with work issues on their own. For example, Black women are about 1.7 times more likely to say they do not have strong allies on their team. This is an opportunity for employers to create a work culture that is community-based, diverse, and supportive.
📊 How your company can help improve the workplace for women
How do we make the workplace better for all women of every profession, race, gender identity? How do we ease the stress of new mothers or caregivers as they work to support their families in more ways than just financially? How do we prioritize the health of the very people who prioritize everyone else’s health above their own?
While it might sound daunting to change the entire workforce, the truth is, we all play a part. Change can start with you! As business leaders, CEOs, managers, and bosses, you can make the workplace a more inclusive, safer, and improved place for women to learn, thrive, and succeed. Not only will this increase employee retention and work-life balance, but it will also help increase business success.
💛 Normalize conversation around health. Create a more comfortable work environment by making conversations surrounding health normal for your team. From a simple check-in email or small talk before a meeting, these small gestures make all the difference in making women feel more comfortable talking about health in their work environment.
🖇 Provide flexible working schedules. Job flexibility is something that is valuable to many employees, but for working mothers and those with chronic illnesses, being given the choice to work from home or go into the office can mean everything. Flexibility in job locations, growth opportunities, and work schedules will also provide relief to those balancing home and a career.
🔍 Be transparent about earnings and growth. Communicate to your employees the opportunities they have to potentially grow in their roles, and what their earnings will be. taking a look at how your salary structure is contributing to the pay gap and how to combat that, will alleviate extra financial stressors women face every day.
💭 Make conscious choices about developing an inclusive and diverse work team. Foster a deeper sense in your work community by hiring women and other women of color to join your team. There is both strength and solidarity in numbers.