Posted on: Wednesday March 10, 2021
Monday 8th March marked International Women’s Day 2021 – a worldwide celebration of female achievement and a call to action for accelerating gender equality. In the UK, one area we need to improve on is the participation gap between men and women when it comes to physical activity.
According to Sport England, more men do sport and physical activity than women at almost every age, and this gender gap starts with girls being less active from a very young age. Their research also reveals further inequalities, such as women from lower socio-economic groups and Black and South Asian communities being less likely to be active.
Why is this?
Sport England reports that most women know that sport and exercise is a good thing to do, but don’t feel they can get round to it for a whole raft of reasons. These may be personal – fear of being judged, feeling self-conscious or negative about their ability; or practical – time, cost, lack of information about how to participate.
It’s important that employers seeking to improve physical wellbeing among their staff understand these barriers and think about how their strategy can address them. It’s also worth giving some thought to what motivates people to exercise and how you can harness this. Examples of motivators include health benefits; reframing exercise as a chance to spend quality time with friends and family; setting goals and progressing towards them. Using real-life case studies is particularly effective to show that you don’t have to be super-fit – the important thing is showing up and taking part.
How employers can help
Physical inactivity and poor diet are among the top causes of ill health, which can subsequently negatively impact on our working life. So it’s in everyone’s interests to encourage regular participation in physical activity.
Talk to your female employees to understand their working patterns and the support that could be provided. Try to ensure information and opportunities are available and suitable for everyone. For many women, flexibility is key to suit their need to balance work and family commitments.
For instance, offering discounted gym memberships may allow female employees to exercise at a time and place that is convenient for them – especially as many gyms are now running virtual classes. Employers can also promote walk or cycle to work schemes to embed physical activity in everyday life. Providing lockers, changing and bike storage facilities, as well as encouraging staff-led lunchtime walking or running clubs all make it easier for employees to take part in a fun and friendly environment.
With many staff working from home at the moment it’s harder for employers to have a direct influence on activity levels, but there’s still potential for change. Managers could organise a friendly competition within teams using fitness trackers on mobiles to see who is doing the most steps. You could also encourage employees to take regular breaks/stretches from staring at a screen and promote the idea of taking exercise during a lunch break.
You could also include information on how to exercise regularly as part of your overall wellbeing offering. For example, Personal Group’s Hapi-life resource library has articles like ‘Get back into sport’ and ‘How to make time for exercise’.
To find out how the right wellbeing support can improve productivity, check out our Wellbeing Hub, with access to reports, blogs, a resource library for employees and more.