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How to Support Working Women: A Trauma-Informed Guide to Employee Wellness

Our clients often have broad goals like equity and employee wellness in mind. While these can feel like massive undertakings, there are actionable steps we can take to shift our culture away from toxicity and toward healing-centered engagement.

Building blocks with letters organized to spell the word CHANGE

In today's evolving work landscape, the importance of fostering gender equity and promoting employee wellness cannot be overstated. Employers play a critical role in acknowledging and addressing the unique challenges faced by their employees.

Building a strong community and nurturing professional relationships are foundational to any successful equity initiative, and it's important to recognize that initiatives aimed at supporting equity for a specific group often improve working conditions for all employees.

In other words, successful equity initiatives improve employee wellness overall, even when those initiatives are mindful of specific groups of marginalized identities.

So, if you're a leader wondering how you can support women at work, and I mean really support women, with actions in addition to words, here are some tips:

A person working from home

1. Offer flexible working hours to all employees.

While there will always be certain scheduling needs that require staff to be available or present at certain times, there are still opportunities for leaders to offer flexibility to their staff.

Whether your employees are working entirely from home, working a hybrid schedule, or coming into the office full-time, you can offer flexibility in your workers' schedules.

Especially for parents and caregivers who need to accommodate family care responsibilities, flexible working hours can mean the difference between a rigid, stressful schedule or a schedule that works for them instead of against them.

Flexible work hours can also increase productivity and job satisfaction. Remember, just because staff is clocked in doesn't mean that they're doing their best work. If they're stuck in trauma brain from a stressful shift, their duties and well-being are actively suffering.

Additionally, if you can, I recommend offering a range of work options, including working from home, in-office, and hybrid models. Being open to your employees' needs by offering flexible hours and methods empowers staff to choose the best fit for their needs.

By acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, employers embed equity in their organizations.

Side by side comparison of equality vs equity. In both images, three people are trying to see over a fence to watch a baseball game. Over the word "Equality" three people of different heights each stand on a box to see over a fence. The shortest person still cannot see. Over "equity," each person can see over the fence, since they have boxes to stand on according to their needs.
Image provided by the Interaction Institute for Social Change

2. Provide resources for childcare to support working women and families.

Have you ever worried about the health and safety of someone you love? For those in the workforce who are parents, the stress of work, combined with the stress of entrusting someone else with the care of their children, can weigh on them.

For some working parents, this might mean entrusting children to the care of those who offer free or low-cost childcare, which may come with its own risks.

Whether provided on-site, through partnerships with local providers, or in the form of financial subsidies, support for childcare solutions has a positive impact on employee retention, morale, and productivity.

Ensuring employees' families are well cared for significantly reduces stress.

A women working on her laptop from home while holding a baby

3. Make health and wellness benefits available and accessible.

Healthcare in the US is innately tied to our jobs, and employers are responsible for ensuring that staff are provided with the healthcare benefits they need to stay healthy and well.

While accessible healthcare benefits all employees, it especially benefits populations with increased health risks, which include those with marginalized identities such as female employees, employees of color, employees with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ employees.

In addition to physical health, mental health should also be considered. Ensuring employees can access affordable, high-quality mental health resources improves employee wellness.

A healthcare professional helping someone life a weight during physical therapy

4. Adopt and practice an unlimited PTO policy.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US worker receives, on average, 11 days of PTO annually, with the amount of PTO going up the longer they stay with their employer, reaching an average maximum of 18 days after 18 years of service.

We cannot predict or limit when we will be sick or need time off, and worrying about having pay docked if we need time off pressures employees to come to work when they're not doing well.

Like a viral illness, emotional dysregulation is also contagious. If you've been through one of our training programs, you know that collective disturbances become parallel processes. In other words, emotions are contagious.

There are hundreds of reasons an employee might need PTO, and each of them is valid. Whether a loved one is sick and needs care, an employee needs a mental health day, or a family emergency pops up, employees should feel safe knowing that they can take care of themselves without the fear of repercussions at work or to their bank account.

An empty office

6. Conduct audits to assess your agency's current state of inequity.

To promote a more equitable workplace, employers should conduct regular audits of their promotion and development practices. These assessments are crucial for identifying any existing gender disparities in leadership roles and ensuring fairness and transparency in career advancement opportunities.

By actively addressing these issues, employers can foster a more inclusive environment where all employees, regardless of gender, have equal chances to grow and succeed professionally.

This commitment to equity not only benefits individual employees but also strengthens the overall health and productivity of the organization.

Close up of people conducting an audit, each person has a laptop in front of them with a stack of papers between them

5. Provide personal and professional development opportunities.

In addition to the technical pieces of supporting employees (such as flexible hours, WFH, benefits, and audits), we must also make cultural changes to shift our organizations away from toxic practices and toward healing ones.

It is crucial to support both personal and professional development, including access to therapy and healthcare. Sustainable workforce development also requires fostering strong relationships at work to build resilient teams and organizations.

Resources to support trauma and stress are also invaluable when it comes to workforce development, especially for identity-based trauma and stress that comes from structural violence.

A time lapse of a busy hospital. People walking through the common area appear blurry, indicating movement, while two people are seen with clarity. They stand still, discussing something together

7. Build a safe and inclusive workplace culture through ongoing trauma-informed systems change.

Creating a workplace environment free from harassment and discrimination, where women feel safe and respected, is a necessity (and that goes for any marginalized population impacted by structural violence).

Employers should consider the role of trauma-informed systems change (TISC) in developing healthy workplace cultures and commit to the long-term effort required for successful implementation. Although creating safety at work takes time, it is worth the effort.

Trauma-informed systems change is a multi-year project that sets organizations up for success by transforming their workforce. By identifying and responding to trauma in our organizations, we become empowered to heal and prevent further harm from being done. While these projects take a few years to get off the ground, anyone who's taken our training knows that TISC is a lifetime commitment.

Inclusivity and systems change require that we embody trauma-informed values, and living our truest values is something we must commit to each and every day.

A woman points to a projector screen with the words "The Building Blocks of Trauma Informed Culture: This organizational approach details how..." To the right of the text on the screen, a graphic displays building blocks stacked on one another. From bottom to top, it reads: "Knowledge, Understanding, Language, Commitments, Practices, Culture" A crowd of people sits in the foreground.
Chefalo Consulting's Founder, Shenandoah Chefalo leads a training session on "Building Trauma Informed Cultures" as part of a larger trauma-informed systems change program.

Final Thoughts: Employee Wellness and Gender Equity at Work

In conclusion, prioritizing employee wellness and gender equity is essential for creating a supportive, inclusive, and trauma-informed workplace.

We encourage leaders to initiate meaningful conversations and take actionable steps toward these goals, emphasizing the long-term benefits for both employees and the organization.

By addressing these key considerations, employers can empower women in the workplace and contribute to a more equitable and healthy work environment.

Tell us, what does your organization do to support equity? What do you wish you did? Contribute to the conversation in the comments below.


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