Women in the Workplace – A Call for Action

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023. The workplace has undergone a stealthy evolution since the beginning of the pandemic, and here we explore how this has impacted women in the UK and across the globe, in terms of experience, opportunity and equity, as well as how this impacts greater society.

Diversity, equity and inclusion, when implemented in the right way, brings tangible benefits to both our society and across our work environments, specifically around individual and collective wellbeing, performance, and all-round success rates. The latest studies on women’s work experiences have reinforced previously gathered workplace transformation statistics, and it seems there is still much work to be done to drive equity and dividends.

The Great Burnout

The Deloitte Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook report garnered the responses of 5000 women in the workplace across 10 countries, and sought to explore how the pandemic has impacted women across different employment spheres. One of the biggest challenges facing workers from every demographic across the globe has been high levels of burnout, however, women have been affected in greater numbers, according to the latest statistics.

At the height of the pandemic, we saw huge numbers of women dropping out of the workforce worldwide, with a high proportion citing burnout as one of the presiding factors. Gallup had reported that women were already experiencing high burnout rates (34% compared to 26% for men). The Deloitte data shows this has now jumped to 46% for women, citing it as the main reason for them actively looking for a new employer. Over half of women stated they are looking to leave their current employer in the next two years, and just 10% plan to stay with their current employer for the next five years.

But before we become alarmed, it’s important to understand the overall picture, and just how much the employment landscape has transformed over recent years in terms of workplace turnover.

The transient workforce and evolving trends

Back in 2017, the UK worker, on average, changed jobs every five years or so. As the workplace evolved to due technological and environmental factors, this began to shorten, with age playing an important part in the equation. In 2020, the baby boomer generation averaged around four years, and the latest data shows that in 2022, the average length of tenure for a Gen Y worker was just two years. Whereas before, if your CV showed you had worked several roles within a short period, you might have been labelled a ‘job hopper,’ now candidates are often encouraged to gain knowledge and experience across a variety of roles, due to the higher demand for versatility and a wider range of skill sets.

To put this into context, it’s not the length of time women are taking to leave their jobs that we should be concerned about – it’s the reasons why.

Why women have been dropping out of the workforce in greater numbers

Burnout affects stress levels, mental health and overall wellbeing. The pandemic has taken a greater toll on women, especially women of colour, due to several factors, including carrying a greater share of familial responsibilities, societal behaviour towards women and the expectation of juggling different priorities (McKinsey & Company). On top of this, women have also been impacted by disproportionate costs to their livelihoods and health from the COVID-19 crisis, according to a large-scale analysis of hundreds of studies from around the world by Center for Global Development.

During the pandemic, The Great Resignation led to women dropping out of the workforce in greater numbers due to many of the above reasons, along with labour market impact from lockdowns forcing more job losses among the female workforce.

Creating opportunity from challenge, and why our global workforce depends on greater equity

The workplace evolution during covid promised so much in terms of transformation, such as a better worklife balance, hybrid working, flexibility, and a more supportive workplace culture – which all sound like ideal ingredients for women who left to return back to the workforce in droves. So why hasn’t it delivered for so many people?

In part, it comes down to repeating the same patterns and behaviours as before (once the eye of the Covid storm had passed), and a lack of acknowledgement of the impact of these behaviours on women’s experiences. Women are also still less likely to be offered opportunities for promotion. This was found to be one of the driving factors for women leaving their current roles during the pandemic. And there are still large gaps in pay between genders across many industries, as well as less female board representation. Ironically, more women are currently going back to higher education and training facilities, gaining the up to date qualifications and much sought-after competences to bring back to the skills-hungry workforce.

On top of the above, many women are still expected to juggle the lion’s share of familial and domestic responsibilities, along with their workload, which inevitably leads to burnout and exhaustion.

Megan McCann, CEO and Founder of IT recruitment firm McCann Partners and cofounder of ARA Mentors, believes that if business leadership continues to be complacent about the gender disparities in the workplace, we’ll continue to stagnate and potentially return to the workplaces of the past. Here, she outlines several ways leaders can do things differently in 2023, in order to attract, retain and build strong female pipelines across our workforces, including the importance of talking to women in our organisations to understand individual and collective needs, and gathering meaningful E,D&I data to help make the right strategic decisions.

But unless we make a concerted collective effort to acknowledge and challenge the existing disparity and inequity across our societies and workspaces, there is a danger we could lose all the valuable lessons and opportunities we have potentially gained from the pandemic in terms of workplace evolution and the employee experience – both of which are crucial for the survival of our socio-economic outlook, and for us as modern, civilised culture to tackle many of the continuing collective challenges ahead.

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