Now in its fourth year, Deloitte’s Women @ Work: A Global Outlook, a survey of 5,000 women in workplaces across 10 countries, explores some of the critical workplace and societal factors impacting women’s careers. Rising stress levels and poor mental health persist. And fewer women report feeling supported by their employers to balance work responsibilities

Now in its fourth year, Deloitte’s Women @ Work: A Global Outlook, a survey of 5,000 women in workplaces across 10 countries, explores some of the critical workplace and societal factors impacting women’s careers. Rising stress levels and poor mental health persist. And fewer women report feeling supported by their employers to balance work responsibilities with their commitments outside of work—a trend that is leading some women to switch employers. Although women working in a hybrid model are reporting better experiences this year than last, many have recently been asked to return to the office and are reporting adverse effects on their mental health and productivity.

This year, the report also further explores women’s physical health, revealing a startling number of women working through pain or symptoms related to menstruation, menopause, and fertility. It also reveals worrying statistics on safety and non-inclusive behaviours in the workplace.

“Despite a small number of improvements since last year, our survey tells us that women are facing mounting pressures in the workplace, their personal lives, and in their communities,” said Emma CODD, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Deloitte Global. “Globally, women feel their rights are backsliding, they are experiencing increased stress and taking on the majority of household tasks at home. Alongside this they are experiencing non-inclusive behaviours at work, are concerned for their safety and feel unable to disclose when they are experiencing women’s health challenges. This is a situation that must change—and employers must enable this.”

“As Southeast Asia prepares for major shifts in the work landscape, it is imperative that employers continue to champion gender equity and take proactive measures to address challenges faced by working women – in particular by supporting and destigmatising mental health at the workplace, enabling flexible work models, and fostering inclusive workplace environments to help create workplaces where women are able to thrive,” said Yvaine GAN, Deloitte Southeast Asia SheXO Program Leader.

“Workplace flexibility remains one of the top factors women consider when making career decisions. In order to hire and retain the best available talent, employers should support and empower their employees to balance their work and personal lives by providing flexibility in working hours and workloads. It is heartening to see progress on this front in Southeast Asia as countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have recently implemented guidelines for flexible work arrangements,” continued Yvaine.

She added, “It is also important for organisations to champion inclusivity at the workplace and foster a safe and stigma-free environment where women feel comfortable discussing the challenges they may face at or outside of work, in order for employers to empathise and provide the support that each employee needs to be their best self.”

Stress and long working hours take an increased toll on women’s mental health

Half of women say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago and a similar number say they’re concerned or very concerned about their mental health. Mental health is a top three concern for women globally (48%), falling behind only their financial security (51%) and rights (50%).

There are a number of potential factors behind declining mental health levels, but among them is an inability to disconnect from work. The survey findings show a link between working hours and mental health: While half of women who typically just work their contracted hours describe their mental health as good, this declines to 23% for those who regularly work extra hours. Only 37% of women say they feel able to switch off from their work.

Despite these concerning findings, more than half of women say they aren’t receiving adequate mental health support from employers, and two-thirds of women don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace. Though this highlights a need for significant improvement, it does show progress from last year’s findings when even more women said they did not receive adequate mental health support from their employer and did not feel comfortable speaking about mental health in the workplace.

Women bear the most responsibility for household responsibilities—and this burden is affecting their careers

Women are feeling the weight of misbalanced caregiving and domestic responsibilities. Notably, 50% of women who live with a partner and have children say they take the most responsibility for childcare—up from 46% in 2023, with only 12% saying this falls to their partner. Further, 57% of women who live with a partner and are involved in care of another adult say they take the greatest responsibility for this—up from 44% in 2023, while only 5% say this responsibility falls to their partner. Meanwhile, more than two in five women bear the most responsibility for cleaning and other domestic tasks, similar to 2023. These pressures are taking a toll: women who take on the greatest share of household responsibilities are far less likely to say they have good mental health than those who do not. And nearly half say they have taken time off work for mental health reasons in the past year, compared with just under a quarter of women who don’t have the greatest responsibilities for these tasks.

The result of this disproportionate allocation of responsibilities makes it more challenging for women professionally—only 27% of women who bear the greatest responsibility at home say they can disconnect from their personal life and focus on their careers.

Women feel unsafe in the workplace and non-inclusive behaviours persist—especially for underrepresented groups

Nearly half of women say they are worried about their safety when they are at work or traveling to or for work. These concerns may be founded on experience: one in 10 of these women have been harassed while commuting or traveling for work, 16% deal with customers or clients that have harassed them or behaved in a way that has made them feel uncomfortable. Nearly one in 10 have been harassed by a colleague.

Overall, 31% of respondents have experienced microaggressions, 4% have experienced sexual harassment, and 8% have experienced other types of harassment at work in the past 12 months. Further, a quarter of women say that people in senior positions within their organizations have made inappropriate actions or comments toward them.

Women who identify as part of an underrepresented group are more likely to be worried about their personal safety at work or when traveling to or for it. This concern is more pronounced for women with a visible disability (66%) and transgender women (64%). Underrepresented groups are also more likely to experience non-inclusive behaviours. For instance, 40% of women belonging to an ethnic minority in their home country and 45% of women with a disability have experienced microaggressions at work, compared to 30% of women who are not from these groups. More than half of LGBT+ women have experienced microaggressions, compared to less than three in 10 women who are not LGBT+.

Women are working through pain

More than one-quarter of women experience health challenges related to menstruation, menopause, or fertility. And across each of these challenges, a common theme remains true: many are working through pain or discomfort.

For example, around 40% of women experiencing high levels of pain or discomfort from menopause work through their symptoms, almost double the percentage who said the same in 2023. More women say they don’t feel comfortable discussing their menopause symptoms with their manager (14%) compared to last year (10%), perhaps because 16% of women say citing menopause as a reason for taking time off work has negatively affected their career—a sharp jump from 6% in 2023.

Nearly one in six (15%) of women experiencing challenges relating to menstruation, menopause or fertility feel that speaking up about this at work would affect their career progression. Notably, one in 10 believe doing so would make them vulnerable to redundancy.

As companies examine hybrid and return-to-office policies, flexibility and work/life balance are key to retaining women

This year has seen a notable improvement in women’s experiences with hybrid working—including when it comes to exclusion, predictability, and flexibility. However, about three in 10 women still experience exclusion from meetings, a lack of predictability in their working pattern, and a lack of flexibility.

More than 40% of women surveyed report that their employer has recently implemented a mandatory return to office. Of these women, a quarter are required to be on-site full time. Some of these women report that they have made adjustments to their work and personal lives following the introduction of such a policy—and some report an impact to their mental health and their productivity levels: just over a third say they have asked to reduce their hours, 30% say they had to relocate, 26% say their mental health has been negatively impacted, and 20% say their productivity has decreased.

The impact of challenges with flexible working is also evident: Lack of flexible working hours is among the top reasons women have changed jobs over the past year (15%), with the same number also citing poor work/life balance. Despite this importance, fewer than half of women feel supported by their employer to balance their work responsibilities with commitments outside work. Nearly all women (95%) believe that requesting or taking advantage of flexible work opportunities will negatively affect their chances of promotion and 93% don’t expect that their workload would be adjusted if they moved to a flexible working arrangement.

Gender Equality Leaders are excelling—but more are needed

Company culture seems to be standing in the way of women’s retention and career progression. This year the survey found that one-quarter of women do not want to progress into a senior leadership position in their organization, with the top reason being that they’re put off by the company culture. At organizations known as “Gender Equality Leaders”, however, 92% of women do want to progress into a senior leadership position. These organizations benefit from building inclusive cultures where work/life balance is valued and respected and where women feel supported in their career progression. Women in these companies report higher levels of loyalty toward their employer and productivity, feel safer, are more comfortable talking about their mental health at work, and are more comfortable they can work flexibly without it damaging their career.

“It is widely understood that more diverse organisations perform better, yet most organisations in our study are not making visible progress on their commitments to gender equality,” said Elizabeth FABER, Chief People & Purpose Officer, Deloitte Global. “To create inclusive cultures that enable women’s success at work, organisations should focus on addressing workplace factors that drive stress, reduce stigma and create a culture where women feel able to disclose challenges with their mental and physical health, support efforts to balance work responsibilities with commitments outside of work, and enact policies that empower women’s career progression.”

To view the full results of Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2024: A Global Outlook, and to learn what organisations can do to address these challenges, visit: www.deloitte.com/womenatwork.

Research methodology                                              

Between October 2023 and January 2024, Deloitte Global conducted a survey of 5,000 women in 10 countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) to learn more about their experiences in the workplace and society at large. The survey also aimed to understand the state of gender equality in the workplace from an intersectional lens and the types of actions that employers are taking to support, retain, and empower women within their organizations. Each respondent answered 34 questions about their experience at work; the impact of that experience on their personal life; the steps their employer is taking to support their career progression and well-being; and their experiences beyond the workplace impacting their overall well-being.

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