What women want at work and why employers must deliver

Women want to work for Gender Equality Leaders, but just 5% say they do, Deloitte research finds. So, what can employers do to give women what they want?

Over the past year, women’s experience in the workplace has improved, in some areas.

Rates of burnout have dropped. Non-inclusive behaviours have declined. And women are reporting more positive experiences with hybrid work.

But, only after more women left their employer in the past 12 months than in 2020 and 2021 combined.

That’s according to Deloitte’s third annual Women @ Work global outlook report, which reflects the responses of 5,000 women across 10 countries.

While any improvement is encouraging, the fact remains that an overwhelming number of women still face these challenges, and other factors have worsened, Deloitte data reveals.

The number of women who feel unable to switch off from work has increased, indicating an ever-growing ‘always on’ culture, while the number of women who feel comfortable disclosing mental health concerns to their employer has decreased – despite more than a third of women rating their mental health as poor or very poor.

As Michele Parmelee, Deputy CEO of Deloitte puts it… “many women are still not getting what they want or need from their employers”.

This is summed up by the fact that just 5% of women say they work for Gender Equality Leaders – described as organisations that foster inclusive cultures that support them and promote mental wellbeing.

Women who work for employers like this report more positive mental health, are more likely to recommend their employer to others, have a working pattern that they are happy with, and are less likely to experience non-inclusive behaviours.

These women all plan to stay longer with their employer too – which is why organisations who want to attract and retain the best talent must give women the things they are asking for.

So, what do women want from the workplace, what is making them leave the workplace, and what can organisations do to become what women really want and need – a Gender Equality Leader – ensuring the recruitment and retention of top female talent. 

Here, we highlight the issues women are still facing and the solutions organisations should deliver if they want to attract and retain the best possible female talent.

Women who work for Gender Equality Leaders gain higher levels of support, according to Deloitte’s third annual Women @ Work global outlook report


Increased stress, decreased mental health support

Around half of women report higher stress levels than a year ago and more than a third (35%) rate their mental wellbeing as poor or very poor and. Fewer women say they get adequate mental health support from their employers, and the number of women who feel comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace has dropped significantly from 43% in 2022 to 25% in 2023. This is even higher among women in under-represented groups.

What employers should do Leaders must make mental health support and tackling of workplace stigma a priority. They should share lived experiences and create an environment where it’s OK to not be OK and deliver stigma-free access to support. Employers must also go beyond providing support to embed wellbeing in ways of working, including proactively tackling the ‘always on’ culture that still exists for too many women.


Menstruation and menopause stigmas for many in the workplace

It's a similar story with menstruation and menopause, health challenges that one in five women report experiencing – with 19% and 20% saying they took time off for menstruation and menopause conditions, respectively, but did not disclose the real reason why, as they felt they couldn’t. And of those who did disclose, 7% and 6% said that doing so adversely impacted their career.

What can employers do Most women believe that employers should offer paid leave for menopause (52%) and menstruation (56%), a policy an increasing number of organisations are adopting. As well as adopting policies to support women when they experience challenges and symptoms related to these concerns, employers need to recognise its impact and remove the stigma that exists. This includes enabling managers to understand symptoms and be able to have a discussion when appropriate, as well as encouraging people to be open about their experiences without fear or penalty or being judged.

The number of women who feel comfortable talking about mental health, menstruation and menopause in the workplace has dropped significantly


Women also reporting less on non-inclusive behaviours

Nearly half (44%) of women reported experiencing non-inclusive behaviours in the workplace over the past year, most of which were microaggressions. This number is higher still (54%) for women in under-represented groups. While an improvement on last year, what is particularly concerning this year is that more than half didn’t report these experiences to their employers – a higher number than last year, with the most cited reason that women felt the behaviour wasn’t serious enough to report.

What can employers do Action on this needs to be taken at the top, with the implementation of reporting procedures that make it simple and easy for women to report non-inclusive behaviours of any type, along with education on non-inclusive behaviours and their impact, and importantly, instilling confidence in women that the right action will be taken should they make a report.


Women in under-represented groups face more challenges

The latest research finds that women in under-represented groups (LGBT+ and ethnic minority women) still face more significant challenges than the overall sample when it comes to mental health, non-inclusive behaviours, work/life balance, and burnout. So, while this group of women are more concerned about their mental health, they are less likely to feel that they will get adequate support, to take time off from work for mental health reasons, or to feel comfortable disclosing mental health as a reason for taking time off. And some 13% reported experienced harassment, compared with 9% of all women, which might explain why women in under-represented groups feel less favourably about their employer – nearly half said they would not recommend their employer to others.

What can employers do Organisations need to be aware of and address the impact of intersectionality. They should start by seeking to better understand the makeup of their organisation, including the intersections of different identities. Organisations need a clear plan and actions agreed on by senior leadership – this may include introducing new policies and processes, or flexing existing ones, alongside a focus on interventions that enable an inclusive culture for all.

Women in under-represented groups face more challenges, according to the latest Deloitte research


Lack of flexibility and mixed messaging around hybrid a concern

Lack of flexibility around working hours was one of the top three reasons cited by women who are currently looking to leave their employer. When it comes to retention of women, the benefits of flexible working are clear – two-thirds of women plan to stay for more than three years, compared to 19% who have no flexibility. Yet, an overwhelming 97% of women believe that asking for flexible work arrangements could adversely impact their chances of promotion at work and 95% feel their workloads won’t be adjusted accordingly. Nearly four in 10 (37%) of women with hybrid working arrangements report experiencing exclusion from meetings, decisions, or informal interactions, and 30% say they don’t have enough access to senior leaders. There has also been a significant deterioration in various aspects of women’s experiences with hybrid working over the last year. Around one-third (32%) say they have experienced a lack of predictability in working hours, compared to 15% last year, while a third (33%) say they are expected to go into the workplace despite messaging that says otherwise (just 12% reported this last year).

What can employers do Companies must act urgently on this issue, says Deloitte, not just by providing appropriate flexible working policies, but by creating environments in which people feel empowered and trusted to work in the way that best works for them. Employers should educate managers and leaders on the benefits of enabling flexibility and the ways that this can be done, as well as allay any concerns that women may have when it comes to career impact. And these policies should be available to all, as flexibility is important to many people regardless of gender.

By taking these steps and providing a fully inclusive and respectful culture, taking enabling approach to work/life balance, and creating development and progression opportunities for women, organisations can become Gender Equality Leaders.


Featured Articles

Amelia DeLuca, CSO at Delta Air Lines on Female Leadership

Driving decarbonisation at Delta Air Lines, Chief Sustainability Officer Amelia DeLuca discusses the rise of the CSO and value of more women in leadership

Liz Elting – Driving Equality & Building Billion-$ Business

Founder and CEO Liz Elting Turned Her Passion into Purpose and Created a Billion-Dollar Business While Fighting for Workplace Equality – and Winning

JPMorgan Chase: Committed to supporting the next generation

JPMorgan has unveiled a host of new and expanded philanthropic activities totalling US$3.5 million to support the development of apprenticeship programmes

How efficient digital ecosystems became business critical

Technology & AI

Mastercard: Supporting clients at a time of rapid evolution

Digital Strategy

Why Ceridian has boldly rebranded to Dayforce

Human Capital