Coach and consultant, Mo Ford, explores the wellbeing impacts of being unheard, and how to create equity in workplace communication.
Mo is leading the Supporting Women's Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace online training taking place on 8th June 2023.
Women are frequently unheard or dismissed at work
Research has shown over many decades that women speak less than their male colleagues in meetings, are interrupted more often, and may have their ideas dismissed. Having fewer opportunities to have ideas heard and valued seems to correlate with the persistent under-representation of women in leadership in many industries, and the potential for women to be overlooked for promotion.
Many organisations have responded positively to these issues through strong Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives and leadership that fosters good communication. But there is a continuing pattern of inequality, informed by enduring gender stereotypes and unconscious bias. So, what are the wellbeing impacts of being unheard or dismissed? And what can be done to create an equitable work environment, with enough space for everyone’s voices to be heard and valued?
The wellbeing impacts
Repeated microaggressions and invalidation are likely to lead to chronic stress, which has significant negative impacts on both mental and physical health. Over time, there is potential for implications of not being good enough to be internalised, which may affect performance and career development. And a lack of career progression comes with fewer material benefits, which in turn may limit resources that promote positive wellbeing. All of this is intensified for women with further marginalised identities, who may face additional discrimination and under-representation (and who have more negative health outcomes).
How to address this
Ensure that women are equitably represented in leadership positions – where they are not, take action to address this
Create a culture that fosters healthy communication
- Meeting chairs formally or informally encourage equal participation (e.g., a one-sentence response round, an agreement about interruptions, a ‘parking space’ to record points to return to)
- Encourage constructive feedback at all levels. Offer one-to-one feedback to those who may be dominating group spaces and to those who may need encouragement to speak up
- Develop a practice of crediting people for their ideas when they are discussed
Undertake meaningful EDI work – with support if required, for example:
- Review recruitment practice (consider name-blind recruitment or actively targeting under-represented groups)
- Consult staff at all levels to gather anonymous feedback and recommendations
- Record and analyse demographic data about your team
- Training and CPD (e.g., women’s health in the workplace, unconscious bias)
- Support to develop reflective practice that reduces bias and increases self-awareness
Centre women’s voices, but don’t over-burden
- Consider who takes on extra work around wellbeing, EDI projects etc. It often formally and informally falls to people with minoritised or under-represented characteristics. This increases their risk of burnout – something that disproportionately affects women due to unequal distribution of family/caring responsibilities
- Aim to have the voices of those directly affected by an issue front and centre, without asking an individual to represent an entire, diverse category of people
- Ensure that people from all backgrounds and genders are involved in the conversation – everyone has a role to play
The benefits of undertaking steps such as those outlined above will likely be felt by women in the workplace, but they extend further than this.
Organisations that bring together different perspectives, show that they value the contribution and wellbeing of their members and commit to developing good communication tend to be more successful.
Creating equitable and healthy workplaces for women should be motivation enough in itself, but there is further leverage to be found in resulting improvements to performance, talent retention and the organisational resilience to thrive in challenging times.
To find out more about how you can create an inclusive workplace culture join us on 8th June 2023 for the Supporting Women's Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace online training.
 Including transgender women and feminine presenting people/those perceived as female.