Blogs / 15 Dec 2022 3 min

Workplace cultures contribute to an impossible double burden for women

Workplace cultures still don’t fully meet women’s needs. At all levels of leadership, women feel expected to work additional hours and this intensifies with seniority.

With one in two women admitting they feel workplace pressure to work extra hours, along with embedded cultural expectations and norms for women to take care of the lion’s share of household responsibilities, women face an impossible double burden. One in three women feel that their home responsibilities consume their energy and this affects their performance at work. Around half of working mothers have had to sacrifice either family time or career and believe that if they focus on their career they are not a good parent.

When combined with the ‘always on’ expectations of many workplaces, these home pressures can result in an unmanageable double burden between home and work. When viewed in this context, it is disturbing yet unsurprising that 30% of women often feel inadequate in the workplace.

The pandemic has challenged contemporary office-based working models, however the majority of workplaces remain rooted in 20th century designs that are no longer relevant to contemporary families and dual career households. Monday through Friday, office-based roles with long hours disproportionately disadvantage women who need more flexibility in order to effectively manage this double burden.

The research findings

The expectation to work beyond contracted hours was a factor for 52% of respondents and this increased to over 60% for women with a disability, lesbian and bisexual women. The pressure further increases with seniority with 65% of senior leaders and 67% of executives feeling this expectation. This, in turn contributes to feelings of inadequacy with 30% of respondents reporting this, increasing up to 48% for those with other intersectional factors.

Of the executive-level leaders surveyed, one in two reported they have sacrificed their career for the sake of family and one in two find it hard to transition between work and home. Exhaustion was a common theme with 34% reporting that the home situation reduces their time and energy at work.

Sadly, 29% of women said that if they advance their career, they are not a good parent/carer. This barrier was felt more acutely by executives (43%) and part-timers (35%).

What should organisations do?

Organisations must design around the needs of modern family set-ups. A dual career household has for most families superseded the traditional male breadwinner model, and organisations must embrace contemporary family structures, where all genders share responsibilities equitably at work and at home.

Practically speaking, here are six guidelines to help organisations make the shift:

  1. Make flexibility the new norm, the default approach. Non-flexible work patterns should be the exception.
  2. Equalise parental leave and take an active role in promoting the contemporary role of fathers.
  3. Prioritise work-life balance offerings and culture in your employee value proposition and hold your leaders accountable to lead by example. Build it into their rewards.
  4. Consciously monitor and address the timing of meetings, activities and job requirements that encroach on family or personal time.
  5. Rethink outdated norms, such as unrealistic working hours.
  6. Above all, consult with women in your business as to what might help them manage the double burden and respond accordingly.