How to grow a healthy environment for women at work

Almost 80 percent of Australia’s community sector workforce are women, so when the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) surveys its members, it’s keen to know what motivates women at work.

Last year a new section called ‘The Environment’ was added to CPSU’s annual What Women Want survey, to explore

how work and home life can be best configured to support pro-environmental action, and to inform decision-making regarding working arrangements that best promote wellbeing and improve environmentally sustainable outcomes.

The survey found extremely high levels of interest in environmental issues from the nearly 13,000 women surveyed, with more than 3 in 4 rating it as important or very important.

A similar number said they took positive environmental actions at work and 84% said environmental issues were important at home. More than 6 in 10 said there was room for improvement at work practices.

Why does this matter?

Apart from the intrinsic value of considering environmental issues within our organisations, these results highlight a key area where NFPs can strengthen employee engagement and gain a competitive advantage over their peers and over other sectors which can offer high salaries but can’t compete in terms of staff satisfaction or meaningful work.

Engagement is one of the most important non-service benefits an NFP can offer, despite it being intangible and somewhat hard to measure.

So what can NFPs do to be an ‘environmental’ employer of choice?

1.       Provide employee-centred flexibility

The survey signicantly showed that women are more likely to take positive environmental actions at work and home when they had the ability to access flexible working arrangements and leave entitlements.

True flexibility for staff is also often associated with more satisfied and engaged staff due to the trust shown by these arrangements and the improved work-life balance they allow.

2. Provide efficient transport options

Commuting is one of the hardest areas to be green with so many staff relying on cars and having to travel long distances to reach their workplace. Over two thirds of those surveyed drove to work.

A  few green transport ideas include:

  • Arrangements for staff to work from home or an alternate office/location closer to home
  • Incentives for public transport, walking or bicycle commuting such as tickets or regular breakfast clubs
  • Providing public transport tickets and/or bicycles for work-related travel when appropriate
  • Using technology like Skype and tele-conferencing to reduce the need to travel between sites for meetings

Many of these ideas also provide health benefits for staff and possibly even eligible for funding under schemes such as Victoria’s WorkHealth Checks Program.

3. Grow your own green culture

The most important influence on our actions are those of our peers. The survey showed that the participation rate in environmental actions at work rises from less than 50% to 95% when co-workers participate. Use the power of peer-pressure for good instead of evil!

Ideas for day-to-day environmental actions include:

  • Supporting and promoting a staff-driven green group
  • Waste, energy and water measures
  • Opportunities for staff and service users/consumers to learn and take effective actions

Every organisation will have different opportunities and challenges. Getting help from experts like Green Steps (who offer interns to help your organisation make environmental change) is a good start in terms of internal capacity building and helping to identify what will be most effective for each particular NFP.

3. Use technology to help

Staff appreciate actions taken by their employer to reduce their environmental impact, including more fuel efficient cars, smaller car fleets, better waste management, green power purchasing and even solar panels and water saving measures  where feasible.

These allow people to feel good about work, as well as targeting areas individuals are unable to influence directly.

4. Measure your progress and promote your success

Each NFP needs an action plan or strategy of some kind with clear actions and outcomes, both to show you are serious, but also to enable you provide regular good news stories internally and externally and consolidate a positive culture.

Talk about your environmental achievements on your website and even in position descriptions and job advertisements where appropriate.

There are a lot of people in the NFP sector who care a lot about the environment, women in particular, and if you send a strong message that you do too then they’re more likely to apply for that job when it comes up.

More information: Download the What Women Do Report.

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