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Beyond the Paycheck: Unveiling Persistent Challenges for Women in the Workplace

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Lizzie Tasker Press Releases, Blog

​As we celebrate International Women's Day and acknowledge the progress made in promoting workplace equality, it's crucial to shed light on persistent challenges faced by women beyond the paycheck. While strides have been made in narrowing the gender pay gap, there are still areas where inequality persists. Recruitment agency Ambitions Personnel share their advice for employers on key International Women’s Day topics to create a more equal workplace.

When speaking about gender inequalities, the gender pay gap is often mentioned. What was once a big difference in pay has slowly narrowed over the past decade. Since it has been brought to the attention of leaders and employers that women should be paid the same wage as men in the same position, changes have been made to ensure this. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that over the last decade, the pay gap has fallen by approximately a quarter among full-time employees, and in April 2023, it stood at 7.7%. However, there is still a large difference in the gender pay gap between employees aged 40 years and over and those under 40 years, which shows that more work still needs to be done to continue to close this gap.

Topics which contribute to the pay gap and that aren’t always spoken about due to fear of embarrassment or shame, among other reasons, are inequalities regarding menstrual leave, maternity leave and menopause. However, addressing these issues is essential to bring about meaningful change. Like with the gender pay gap, initiating open conversations is crucial to raise awareness and encourage employers to consider and rectify these disparities.

Menstrual Leave

In May 2022, Spain marked a significant step towards recognising the challenges women face during their periods by giving its workers paid menstrual leave, offering optional sick leave of three days per month for workers who suffer from severe period pain. The move prompted campaigners and charities to call for the UK to follow suit, offering menstrual leave as separate from ordinary sick leave. When YouGov asked the British public, results showed that they were narrowly in favour of offering menstrual leave in the UK, with 45% of women supporting the idea compared to 39% of men. The survey also revealed that two-thirds of working women have never taken time off for period pain, including 40% of those who regularly get pain bad enough that it affects their ability to work.

Ambitions Personnel say: “For many women, the decision not to take time off for period pain is influenced by societal stigmas that downplay the severity of menstrual discomfort. The prevalent notion that "it can't be that bad" often leaves women feeling unsupported and hesitant to express their needs in the workplace. This reluctance can also be fuelled by the fear of not being perceived as a reliable employee and missing out on progression opportunities. The result is a workforce that silently endures pain, impacting their overall effectiveness. Recognising the workforce's diverse needs, particularly regarding women's health, is an essential responsibility for employers. By demonstrating understanding and offering flexible working arrangements, employers empower their female staff to manage their health without compromising their professional standing.”

Maternity Challenges

According to government research used to guide the new Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 which are due to come into force in April this year, 77 per cent of mothers report negative and possible discriminatory behaviours from their employers throughout pregnancy or during or after maternity leave. 

As it currently stands, employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave, have the right to be offered a suitable alternative role, if available, during a redundancy situation – this gives them priority over other employees that are also at risk of redundancy. The new Act would stand to extend this protection and the requirement to be offered suitable alternative roles for up to 18 months after the child’s birth or placement.

Ambitions Personnel explain: “While existing protections against redundancy exist, the term 'Motherhood Penalty' emphasises the broader disadvantages working mothers encounter, including career interruptions and biased perceptions. Disadvantages include a lack of family-friendly policies and interruptions in career progression due to conscious or unconscious bias towards mothers in the workplace.”


Menopause is an often misunderstood aspect of a woman's life, impacting both her physical and mental well-being. YouGov surveyed 2005 adults in February 2023, and when asked if they thought it should be against the law to discriminate against women experiencing menopause, a total of 62% supported this, while 20% opposed the idea. When the same group was asked if they would support or oppose it being a legal requirement for employers to offer workplace menopause leave, 55% supported it, while 27% opposed it.

Ambitions Personnel’s advice for employers:

  • Offer flexible working: whether that’s allowing a hybrid work pattern or flexible working hours that best suit your staff. For example, employees who suffer painful periods or are menopausal may feel more comfortable working from home. Alternatively, mothers may find that they are unable to work during the school run hours but instead prefer to work before their children wake up or after they go to sleep.

  • Provide sanitary products: offer sanitary products in the female bathrooms to help combat the cost of living crisis and prevent embarrassing or unexpected situations.

  • Accommodate menopausal needs: allow menopausal employees to work in cooler conditions, provide supplies like desk fans, and consider a relaxed dress code for roles that permit it.

Addressing challenges beyond the paycheck is crucial for achieving true workplace equality. By breaking the silence on issues like menstrual leave, maternity challenges, and menopause, employers can create a more inclusive environment and contribute to closing the gender pay gap. It's time to recognise and address these issues to ensure a fair and equal workplace for all.