Working Together to De-stigmatize Women’s Mental Health Issues

Women are working harder than ever before, and their stress levels show it. Companies must do better in supporting today’s working women, and not just during May—Mental Health Awareness Month.

A recent study by Deloitte Women @ Work Report revealed that half of working women reported higher stress levels than last year. As a female entrepreneur in the public relations industry, this statistic doesn't surprise me. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate for women ages 25-54 reached the highest on record last year—77.8%. And, according to the Female Quotient, in the U.S. alone, women made a large economic impact in 2023, earning $8.95 billion.

When the The Sway Effect launched in 2019, I wanted to build a network of makers, innovators and entrepreneurs focused on driving brand reputation while putting diversity, equity and inclusion at the center of everything we do. I also wanted to build a flexible and inclusive work environment reflective of one I'd like to be a part of. As a result, our team has been able to write their own rules and feel comfortable speaking up inside and outside of work.

In 2024, the PR industry (amongst others) should want this for all working women—not stress, stigmas, and safety concerns which, according to Deloitte’s report, are critical workplace concerns impacting women’s careers. And despite improvements since last year’s report, employers are still not successfully supporting or accommodating women. So, where is the disconnect?

Hybrid Work Isn’t for Every Employer, but It Should Be Available to Every Woman

Since 2020, hybrid and remote work policies significantly divide people into two categories: those in favor and the naysayers. The Deloitte report explored the hybrid work option and found that these work experiences are improving, but women, specifically, had to make significant adjustments at work and in their personal lives following rigid Return to Office (RTO) policies. No surprise that a quarter of women said their mental health has been negatively impacted, and a fifth said it has made them less productive.

Some advice to fellow PR leaders: listen and learn from your teams. This is the first step to finding a solution that works for everyone. The entire Sway Effect office decided on an RTO policy together. Opening the door to flexibility and inclusivity across all aspects of the business its a win-win for everyone. If you want your employees to want to come into the office, let it be on their terms.

And one of the best parts about hybrid work? It allows employers to tap into a wider, more diverse talent pool. Data from McKinsey found that the top quartile of companies for ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to financially outperform their less diverse peers. Diverse teams and organizations continue to produce better results and are more successful.

Mental Health Stigmas Are a Growing Concern For Women

Women are also frustrated and disappointed by the lack of empathy, understanding and flexibility from employers. Deloitte's report found not just higher stress levels than last year, but also a similar number of women said they are concerned or very concerned about their mental health. What’s worse—women don’t feel comfortable talking about it at work or citing it as the reason for taking time off from work.

It’s no secret that the PR industry requires long hours, and entrepreneurs also put in their fair share. However, that doesn’t give any employer the right to encourage or require team members to work hours at the detriment of their physical and mental health. While it’s important to establish base hours for your team members, not everyone will work the same hours. This is not only acceptable, but it’s mandatory for the wellbeing of your team.

Don’t just tell employees that their mental health matters. Create an open-door policy that embraces a judgment-free space for discussions about burnout or an increase in stress. If a company has a workplace stigma around mental health, don’t ignore it. Own up to it and create a plan to fix it.

Where possible, ensure that internal programming and communications visibly highlight the importance of women’s health, and that your teams know that mental health resources are available, should they need help or have questions.

Working Together

The PR industry (and beyond) should have the same goal in mind: empowering and enabling women to not only write their own rules but feel supported at all stages of their career. In 2024 and beyond, employers must listen to their team members, create inclusive environments and implement policies that prove commitment and action. Mental health might be just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s an important one. Communicators should work together to de-stigmatize mental health issues and de-stress women at work. Everyone needs to play a part in creating a more inclusive and supportive environment because when we do, we’re not just supporting women, we’re building a more resilient workforce for everyone.

Jennifer Risi is Founder and President of The Sway Effect.