Home IMJ Features Opinion: Women in the Workplace – Still Much to Do

Opinion: Women in the Workplace – Still Much to Do

As our society continues to grow and the economy expands, we still have a lot more to do if we are to retain women in the workplace. If we don’t we will continue to lose their expertise, passion and knowledge at a time when we need it the most, writes Rachel Costello.

COVID changed many things for many people but one area it looks to have made a lasting impact is the world of work, particularly for women.

During the pandemic more women entered the workforce. Necessity was requiring the government to employ more people to assist in track and tracing, asking for healthcare professionals, many of them women, to re-enter employment.  Hybrid working patterns emerged which meant that families previously in need of a full-time parent at home, usually a woman, found that the flexibility of different hours and home-working opened up job opportunities that would have been impossible pre-COVID.

So, hybrid working has eased some of the pressure on working mothers, but there are issues that still need addressing in order to make work for females more equitable.  Not just mothers.

Female bodies and minds are pressured from the moment of conception. From societal pressures (patriarchal structures, gender pay gaps etc) to biological ones (pregnancy, menopause), they all have an impact on how women show up to work and until governments and employers recognise and support these, and other areas, we will continue to lose women from employment at certain times of their lives.

I’ve experienced these pressures on a personal level and there have been times in my life when I have felt I needed to just push on through and not complain. And there have been other times when I’ve been carried and supported by female friends helping me to realise I’m not alone.

I have worked for the same company for the past 14 years and felt very supported as a working mother but in some ways my job became something to cover the costs of childcare rather than a career – something working mothers everywhere will recognise. The benefit of hybrid working has given me the flexibility to be present for my children (no more missing parents evening!) and not get stung so badly when it comes to childcare costs. And because of that it means my job feels more like a career again, which it should.

Menopause caught me unawares; it does for many women. Our healthcare system does not have any focus on female health outside pregnancy. Many trips to the doctors, consultants, and quacks to find out what was “wrong” with me eventually led to me seeking out information for myself, presenting my findings and telling these healthcare professionals what I needed. Opening up to other females in my organisation and again, realising that there are many of us going through the same issues. More than at any other time in my life, until I was diagnosed and taking the right treatment, I really did not think I would stay in employment.

With our sector and many other sectors within Ireland facing resourcing issues we need all of our people, not just females, to stay in employment.

Looking at our company diversity, we employ similar levels of females and males at junior level. As we move up through the seniority of the company this changes dramatically with fewer females in senior roles. Losing them at certain points within their life cycle.

We spend time and money to bring the smartest people into our company, only to lose their expertise, passion, and knowledge at these times.

Initiatives to tackle all of these issues must be matched by family-friendly government policies, for example the government must provide public affordable childcare, to allow all women to work should they wish.  Provide equitable healthcare for women that covers all generations, from free contraception, expansion on access to abortions, pregnancy and menopause welfare, ensuring women get the right advice, quickly.

Coupling the government led initiatives with policies that all companies must adhere to support working women (shared full maternity/paternity leave, core working hours with flex in the morning / afternoon, published menopause policies that all employees are aware of not just women suffering), we can start to find ways to support continued employment of women in the workforce and protect one of our most valuable assets.

Rachel Costello is Business Director, EssenceMediacom Ireland

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