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The report published in March by Lord Davies signalled considerable progression when it comes to women securing positions on the FTSE 100 board. The report showed that in four years the number of women who have made the boards has doubled to 23 per cent. These are encouraging statistics and suggests that British business is well on its way to meeting the government’s target for 25 per cent of board positions to be held by women by the end of the year. However despite these positive results, organisations at present are struggling to retain their female employees. With this in mind Simon Birchall, managing director of a leading workforce management developer, timeware® (UK), outlines steps HR professionals can take to ensure they provide a positive working environment that engages with female employees.

As well as the encouraging number of women making the FTSE 100 board, the breadth of sectors that female workers are holding senior positions in is also expanding. For example, there are now a growing number of women appointed in Government, education, charity and non-for-profit positions.

While these figures suggest an optimistic future for women in business and should be cause for celebration, employers and HR professionals should work hard to create the working conditions needed to ensure they retain their female talent.

So why are businesses struggling to retain female employees at present?

The problem lies in the fact that whilst businesses invest heavily in the recruitment process, many do not put the necessary steps in place to ensure the working environment is one in which women are likely to return to if and when they decide to start a family. The key is to create an environment which allows women to comfortably balance work commitments and raising a family. There are a number of steps that businesses can take to ensure this balance is as harmonious as possible:

Offer flexibility
One key component needed to create a positive working environment for female employees is flexibility. Flexibility can be gained in different ways; employers can implement ‘flexi-time’ schemes which allow workers to choose the hours they work to fit around other obligations and responsibilities they have outside of work.

Employers can also consider introducing schemes which allow female employees to ramp down their working hours if they decide to start a family and then ramp them up again once they return to work. These schemes can reduce working days to as little as a few days a month but allows female employees to stay up-to-date with everything going on and keep their skills sharp. When they are ready to ramp up the hours again and return to work then the aim of the scheme is that they will have less trouble adjusting back into the working routine.

Integrate a work/life balance into the work culture
Whilst it is a great start to encourage flexibility, it is important that cultivating a work/life balance is integrated into the company’s cultural values. Unfortunately in many workplaces there is a real disconnect between what the company claims to offer in its policies and what is actually the norm in the office. Therefore it is important that if a company promotes a work/life balance in its policies then this is actually translated into the office culture.

One way to ensure that this is effectively translated is manager training. The day-to-day running of the office and the culture that it expresses is often down to the managers and sometimes they can be resistant to change and have a rather static approach. Training can help highlight to managers that each situation should be treated uniquely and the importance of not adopting a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. Training can also illustrate the importance of building a culture based on trust as this is the main component needed for a relaxed but efficient workplace.

Reward regularly
It is important to reward employees whenever possible, this doesn’t have to be results led but can also be for work that often goes under the radar. Often women play more supportive roles in organisations and because of this unfortunately their hard work sometimes goes unnoticed. Therefore managers should make sure that all manner of work is recognised and rewarded and that everyone in the office feels valued.

Empower female employees
A positive working environment should be built upon trust; female employees are more likely to stay in a role if they feel they are given freedom and control over their working lives.

HR professionals can give back some control by using workforce management systems which allow workers to access information such as hours worked and rotas as well as request holidays without directly involving HR departments.

The timeware® ESS terminal, for example, allows employees to check their holiday entitlements, request leave up to three years in advance, view their scheduled rota and check the hours they’ve worked – and staff members can even email this information to themselves from the device. These facilities can also be accessed via a phone, tablet or computer when the employer cannot gain access to the terminal.

Despite the encouraging statistics suggesting that females employees are securing senior positions across the board, at present organisations are struggling to retain their female workforce. By creating a positive working environment which encourages flexibility and promotes trust, organisations can work to engage and retain its female employees.