Flexibility is a critical, top factor in career decisions for women: Deloitte’s report
Drop in burnout, a decline in non-inclusive behaviours, and improved hybrid experiences are some signs of progress for women at the workplace.
There has been a significant decline in the number of respondents who feel comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace, reveals Deloitte’s Women @ Work report, a survey of 5,000 women across 10 countries.
According to the report, more women feel unable to switch off from work, even as they bear the greatest responsibility for household tasks. And a lack of flexibility at work is driving career decisions—more women worldwide have left their jobs in the past 12 months than in 2021 and 2020 combined, and lack of flexibility is among the top reasons cited.
New to the report this year, the research also explores how women’s health issues impact their working lives. One in five women report experiencing health challenges related to menstruation or menopause. Many say they work through the pain and discomfort, at least in part due to a persistent stigma around these topics.
“While our research shows some glimpses of improvement for women in the workplace over the past year, it also illuminates the work that remains,” says Deloitte Global Inclusion Leader Emma Codd.
“We’re seeing a worsening picture when it comes to critical workplace aspects, such as mental health support. And the vast majority of respondents do not believe that their employer is taking concrete steps to deliver on its commitments to gender equality. Employers need to go beyond setting goals and policies and consistently foster a more inclusive and respectful work environment where all women are able to succeed,” added Emma.
"As Southeast Asia continues to strive for gender equality, the findings from Deloitte’s Women @ Work survey remind us that there is still much work to be done. We must prioritise promoting flexible work arrangements, addressing mental health support, and creating inclusive environments where women can thrive. Only then can we truly empower women in the workplace and beyond," said Seah Gek Choo, Deloitte Southeast Asia Talent Leader and SheXO Program Leader.
“Despite the recent shift towards hybrid working models in Southeast Asia, many organisations still struggle to provide the necessary flexibility in working hours, especially for women. As workplace flexibility is a crucial factor in women's career decisions, it is imperative for organisations to not only offer flexible working policies but also create an environment where women feel empowered to use them. This is essential for organisations to remain competitive in today's talent landscape,” shares Gek Choo.
Flexibility underpins career choices while hybrid experiences improve
This year’s report reinforced flexibility as a critical expectation for women and a top factor in their career decisions. Yet less than a quarter of women surveyed said they have a high degree of flexibility over where and when they work, and lack of flexibility around working hours is one of the top three reasons cited by women who left an employer in the past year.
There is a correlation between flexibility and employer loyalty, with two-thirds of women in highly flexible work arrangements saying they plan to stay with their company for more than three years, compared to only 19% of women who have no flexibility. But many women don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of flexible work options—97% believe requesting or taking advantage of flexible working would affect their likelihood of promotion, and 95% believe it is unlikely their workload would be adjusted accordingly if they moved to a flexible working arrangement.
About a third of women surveyed said they have experienced a lack of predictability in working hours in hybrid arrangements and did not have enough flexibility in their working patterns. And while experiences with hybrid work have improved this year with fewer women saying they’ve been excluded from meetings, 37% of women still report that they have experienced exclusion while hybrid working in the past year as compared to 58% last year, and nearly a third say that they don’t have enough exposure to senior leaders as against 45% last year. While this represents some progress, there is clearly still cause for concern.
Greatest responsibility for household tasks, partners’ careers is a priority
In addition to their paid work, women still bear most of the responsibility for domestic work at home. These trends are more pervasive for women in ethnic minority groups, who are more likely to do the majority of the domestic work.
Further, more than a third of women say they feel the need to prioritise their partner’s career over their own, often because their partner earns more money. More than two-thirds of women say their partner is the primary earner. However, even among women who are the primary earner, almost one in five still say they have to prioritise their partner’s career over their own. This may contribute to a cycle that diminishes women’s chances of earning more.
Poor mental health and experiences of non-inclusive behaviors persist
Similar to the 2022 research, mental health remains a top concern for working women. While respondents report a slight improvement in mental well-being, fewer women say they feel burned out compared to last year.
Only 37% rate their ability to switch off from work as “good,” declining from 45% last year. Meanwhile, the stigma around workplace mental health continues to exist, as only a quarter of respondents feel comfortable discussing mental health in the workplace—a significant decline from 43% in the last report. And many don’t feel they get adequate mental health support from their employers. These issues are particularly prominent among women from underrepresented groups, who are more likely to report feeling burned out and are less likely to feel comfortable discussing mental health in the workplace.
Alongside these challenges, broader societal issues are impacting women. Nearly six in 10 (59%) respondents said they are very/extremely concerned about women’s rights, making it their top concern, followed by financial security (58%), mental and physical health (both at 56%), and personal safety (54%). LGBT+ women are more likely to be concerned about women’s rights, while women in ethnic minority groups are more likely to be concerned about their financial security.
More than four in 10 (44%) women report experiencing harassment and/or microaggressions. Though this is a decline from last year’s 59%, these numbers are still far too high, and more than half of women who experienced these behaviors did not feel comfortable reporting it to their employers. Concerningly, LGBT+ women (76%) and women in ethnic minority groups (53%) experienced more non-inclusive behaviors in the last 12 months.
Health issues continue to be a challenge
Many working women experience health challenges related to menstruation and menopause. Among them, more than 40% report working through pain or symptoms related to menstruation, and 20% work through symptoms related to menopause.
When asked about benefits employers can offer to support women, more than half of respondents said they believe employers should offer paid leave for women experiencing health challenges related to menstruation and menopause. However less than a third said their employer currently offers paid leave related to menstrual symptoms and only one in five offer paid leave for menopause symptoms.
Gender equality at leadership
According to the participants, organisations with genuinely inclusive cultures support their careers, work/life balance, and foster inclusion. Women who work for Gender Equality Leaders are more engaged and have higher levels of well-being and job satisfaction. Not only are they more likely to benefit from high levels of support and better hybrid experiences, but they report feeling more connected to their employer and far more motivated and productive at work. The women who work for these organisations feel comfortable reporting non-inclusive behaviors; supported by their employers on work/life balance; and all believe their career is progressing as fast as they would like.
“Just five percent of women view their employers as leaders in gender equality, which should be a wake-up call that significant action is still needed,” says Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global Deputy CEO and Chief People and Purpose Officer. “Women are a vital cohort in the workforce, and our data shows that when organisations prioritise improving women’s experiences in the workplace, they are more engaged, more productive, and they want to stay with their employers longer. It's not only the right thing to do, but it’s a win-win for leaders to cultivate an inclusive culture where all women are set up to thrive.”