How employers can help women to thrive at work

Study: work that matters, not perks or vacation time, is what inspires women to be their best

How employers can help women to thrive at work

Companies are stepping up their commitment to help their women employees thrive, but many have struggled to put it into practice. It turns out it’s not vacations or perks that cause women to thrive at work but making meaningful contributions.

The 2023 leadership development survey, ‘Thriving at Work,’ by the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership defined thriving as making positive contributions, learning, and being valued and recognized. For managers, the study findings reveal the importance of delegating projects that have a significant impact, providing opportunities for formal and informal learning, and taking time to recognize women employees in the way that is most meaningful to them.

Almost all women want to thrive at work. If fact, 96% of working women say that thriving at work is extremely or very important. The survey also shows that 42% of women feel like they were thriving most of the time and 49% were thriving some of the time. Eighty-one percent say that their organization is committed to supporting their ability to thrive at work. Respondents of colour are more likely than white respondents to say that thriving at work is extremely important.

Happy, confident, engaged, and inspired

Women says thriving at work is so important because it makes them feel happier, and more confident, engaged, and inspired. When they feel they are thriving at work, they are more productive, more likely to go ‘above and beyond,’ and more effective. They also report being better positioned to do their best work.

"This is a substantial finding. We know that women want to thrive at work and know what they need in order to do so. In addition, we know organizations want discretionary effort and high productivity. This is exciting and most importantly – very doable," says Susan MacKenty Brady, CEO of Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

Unfortunately, there are challenges that get in the way of women thriving in their careers. An overwhelming workload was the number one issue because it kills morale, depletes resources, and forces too many priorities with constant change. The study shows, however, that managers can give women employees a sense of autonomy, making it safe for them to take risks, and provide opportunities to learn and develop. They can prioritize sustainable workloads and the ability to use paid time off.

A 2023 research study by Women Rising shows 49% of working women have experienced burnout and 26% say they they’ve had unmanageable workloads. As well, more than one-third of women feel they are not given the opportunity to advance in their career.

Employers need to be aware of the challenges their female workers face. Many employers have resources to help their female workforce to excel, they just need to align what they offer with what these employees need to thrive.

Employers can support women

"Employers can support women in a variety of ways to enhance their experience of making a contribution and feeling valued,” says MacKenty Brady. “Offering women confidential executive coaching can be hugely valuable, as are sponsorship and other development experiences. Health and wellbeing benefits also have a role to play.”

She adds that “the best way leaders can support women in making a contribution is to provide them with choices – there is no one-size-fits-all approach. They also need to be careful not to add to a busy working woman's already very full workload in the guise of acknowledging her contribution. Asking individuals what they need (with a few suggested options) is a great place to start.”

McKinsey’s ‘Women in the Workplace 2022’ report says that companies set goals and hold leaders accountable and offer specific and actionable training so that managers are better equipped to support their teams. To support women, employers can offer a constellation of benefits to improve women’s day-to-day work experiences including flexibility, emergency childcare benefits, and mental-health support.