- Women are at a higher risk of mental disorders such as depression, neurotic disorders, anxiety disorders, and neurosis. (National Mental Health Survey, 2016)
- The female labour participation rate in India is steadily falling:
26% in 2005 > 20.3% in 2019 > 19% in 2020 (World Bank Estimates, 2019-20)
- 4 in 5 working women (85%) said they missed out on opportunities because of their gender. (LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021)
The global gender gap has increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years. (World-Economic-Forum)
Gender plays a crucial role in mental health. A casual examination of the lives of people across genders reveals that the lived experiences are just not comparable. The COVID pandemic further exposed the gaping holes in our social structure. In the post- pandemic era of doing business, there is an urgent need for policy introspection exercises, with focus on inclusion.
As organisations around the world reinforce their commitment to shape an inclusive world, it is imperative that they invest in policies drawn up specifically to promote the mental wellbeing of women in the workforce. Only 27% of management roles are currently held by women. 60% of women experience bias at work, deliberate or not, making it harder for women to get hired and promoted. This negatively impacts their day-to-day work experiences. Increasing women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points could add USD 770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.
It is great to note that many organisations already have reframed policies truly reflective of global diversity and inclusion (DNI) values. Beyond just checking the right boxes, it is essential to make sure that all employees can access their rights and benefits to protect their mental and overall wellbeing. Moreover, irrespective of their backgrounds, all employees need to feel heard.
As an organisation that has been championing the cause of mental health, we have listed three main actions that we think companies need to consider to minimise women’s workplace mental health risks and to promote positive mental wellbeing among women:
- Review and Redo Polices That Promote Inequity or Gender Expectations
Structural sexism is rampant in all social institutions including families, educational spaces, workplaces, and government institutions. Sexism is also evident in interpersonal dynamics, individual beliefs, and even identities. Conditioned by the unfair amount of expectations that society heaps on women, they are continuously striving to meet them. These demands could include running a family, tending to the family’s nutritional needs, child-rearing, education of children, upholding familial and social commitments, and caring for aged and disabled persons. Community pressures, stressors, continued abuse and neglect, and lack of participation can lead women to poor mental health and experiencing of mental illnesses.
What Can Workplaces Do?
Corporate houses can do much to spare women the cognitive load and support them as they explore their careers potential. Organisations can choose to adopt conscious steps to level out gendered expectations and balance out gender disparities:
- Promoting polices and regulations that place all genders in par
- Identifying and dispelling negative reinforcement of ideas that women are weak and that family responsibilities are primarily women’s worries
- Educating workforce about health and wellbeing, with stress on mental health
- Providing staff with skills to identify stressors and teach ways to manage stressors
Ironically, when organisations set out to address this, they end up further cementing the perception that domestic responsibilities are primarily women’s worries.
Here is an example:
Many workplaces start creche facilities, and proceeds to announce them as steps to help women in the organisation. The ideal solution would be to establish creche facilities and promoting them as steps to help young parents (irrespective of their gender) with childcare. In terming childcare help as a step for parents (and not mothers alone), workplaces would be contributing to formally tearing down the labelling of childcare as a woman’s responsibility.
- Bridging the Leadership and Wage Gap
The wage gap is real. Multiple studies prove the existence of a prominent disparity in the wage structure between men and women at most levels of employment. A famous and oft-quoted example is the pay-outs of athletes and sportspersons. The latest findings from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that women earned 79% of men’s earnings in 2014 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). However, in Platt et al (2016) study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, women were found to be earning only 67% of men’s pay, even when adjusted for productivity. The LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2021 reported that 37% of Indian women thought that they get less pay than men.
Financial security and mental health are closely interlinked. Denial of financial autonomy often leads to stress and anxiety.
Pay disparity is a reflection of institutionalised gender bias that has been normalised. This might account for higher rates of anxiety and depression among women, according to a 2016-research. It has also been noted that women are less likely than men to receive a pay raise or bonus for taking on additional work or role switches. We need to acknowledge that women get to positions in employment tiding over many challenges. It is very important to establish motivational systems that assure that women do not fall off the leadership pyramid.
What Can Workplaces Do?
Workplaces are a reflection of society. When women leave these spaces, it reflects poorly on the societies they operate in. Any step that an organisation takes must consider if it helps gendered pay parity in employment. Here are a few steps drawn from the International Women’s Day website call for Prime Employers for Women:
- Communicate openly that your organisation is committed to gender equality
- Ensure marketing and communications are consistently free of stereotyping
- Embrace a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion
- Provide formal avenues and active committees to address any concerns of bias
- Ensure women are included at all levels of execution and decision-making
- Provide external support for women's equal rights movements
- Monitor progress by running external surveys to measure how effective these progressive steps are in your organisation
- Promoting Policies to Safeguard Safety and Promote Women’s Health
There are laws in place to protect women from bullying and harassment at the workplace. However, beyond checking the boxes for mandatory legal compliance, bodies such as ICC and POSH must be sensitive enough to address the invisible bullying that women face on a day-to-day basis. Normalised and invisible coercion, sexual harassment and bullying are common reason behind women exiting workplaces. The impact of these traumatic events can be long-lasting and life-altering, impairing women’s mental health.
The health of women is rarely prioritised in families, unless they assume serious proportions. Organisations need to have spaces to openly discuss easing burdens and making sure women do not experience exhaustion, sleep deficit, anxiety, and depression. The health considerations must factor both physical and mental health risks that women face all through their life. For example, a study among Indian women in TamilNadu establishes that 11% of women experienced post-partum depression (PPD). However, our society is yet to count PPD as a serious risk to women’s health.
Often, even educated women find it difficult to choose their physical and mental health, their financial autonomy, and employment, for fear of judgment from society. Unable to handle the pressure, for a large percentage of women motherhood (and similar life-changing transitions) directly leads to them dropping off from the workforce.
What can workplaces do?
Invest consistently on policies and actions that promote prevention rather than treatment. Women-sensitive health and wellbeing initiatives that bring an overall culture encouraging women to care for their health. Also imperative are steps that make it easy for them to access quality healthcare services.
Working women spend a major part of their lives at the workplace. Health infrastructure that do not acknowledge mental health requirements can be detrimental. Policies that safeguard the mental and physical health of women employees at every stage of their lives needs to be co-opted into the health and safety policy of every organisation.
To quote the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, “...this generation will not see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity will not be attained for almost a century.” Gender parity is at 68%, stepping back from 2020. When the report says it will take us 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide, we need to think what that means to women’s access to employment and health, including mental health. Mental health education for everyone is the wisest solution that organisations can adopt. All facilities at workplaces need to transform to safe spaces to discuss mental health and associated risks by:
- Creating workplaces that discuss stressors and triggers, with focus on seeking solutions and encourage everyone, including women, to seek help early
- Initiating systematic programmes to nurture overall employee health
- Resetting mindsets that promote professional help-seeking for mental and physical challenges
- Easing unfair pressure on women to excel at gender roles
Women’s participation in the labour force is important not only for women, but also for the organisation, because organisation need diversity of talent, opinions, and perspectives. Women’s wellbeing is not only crucial for themselves but reducing the mental health burden will help organisations that they work in too. We need the current situation to improve, because everyone gains when we bring about gender parity and actively #Breakthebias.