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Using data to measure workplace mental health is key

Mental health issues can be more pronounced for women in the workplace due to various factors. An advocate said employers need to use data to measure the impacts of their organisation’s policies to combat this.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 23 October 2023 Big Law
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Ahead of the Women in Law Forum 2023, Wellceum chief executive and Minds Count board director Desi Vlahos said women face gendered challenges that could impact their mental health.

These include fertility issues, postpartum depression, menopause, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women also have to juggle their careers with parenting or caregiving responsibilities at home.

“We can see that gender adds an additional layer and complexity to workplace mental health,” Ms Vlahos told Lawyers Weekly.


“We know that the list of challenges affecting women is pretty long. Women are twice as likely than men to experience depression, generalised anxiety disorder, PTSD, and many other hidden disorders. On top of this, they may have to deal with the gender pay gap. Gender-based violence is also a contributing risk factor for common mental health conditions.

“We also acknowledge that there’s unrepresented leadership from women at work as well, and people of linguistic and culturally diverse backgrounds.”

Ms Vlahos will speak about these issues at the Women in Law Forum and how employers could cultivate a supportive workplace to navigate women’s mental health and wellbeing.

Women experience mental health issues at a greater magnitude in the legal profession, too, according to the Mental Health in the Legal Profession report released by the International Bar Association (IBA) in 2021.

For the survey, the IBA used the World Health Organisation’s mental wellbeing index scale to compare across groups, regions, and with previous studies.

While the average global wellbeing score for lawyers was 51 per cent, women scored only 47 per cent, compared to 56 per cent for men.

The report stated that a score below 52 per cent for an individual is an indicator for a health professional to screen for depression and “suggests that a more formal assessment of mental wellbeing problems is warranted”.

However, Ms Vlahos tempered this finding by stating that mental health issues may be more visible among women because men do not divulge their struggles or enrol in mental health initiatives as much as women, meaning their issues could be undocumented.

“Men don’t tend to debrief as much as their female counterparts,” Ms Vlahos said.

“Moreover, the legal profession is quite hierarchical and is associated with a level of nobility. There’s also the emotional labour in the profession, which is about the level of immunity to issues and trauma you have to show in front of your clients. You have to compartmentalise any emotional effects to show that you are cool, calm, and collected.”

However, this could have a “deleterious” effect on the wellbeing of legal professionals over the long term, Ms Vlahos warned.

“It’s not just overt behaviours that could harm women,” she noted.

“Sometimes, incivility and microaggressions can also have a deleterious effect on a woman’s wellbeing.”

Measuring mental health

To address these issues, Ms Vlahos advised organisations to demonstrate strong leadership by recognising the structural issues that could potentially be detrimental to a woman’s mental health and wellbeing, including the gender pay gap, sexual harassment, and juggling careers with caregiving responsibilities.

The next step is to collect data by conducting regular workplace pulse surveys of employees and leveraging that to measure workplace wellbeing, Ms Vlahos suggested.

Measuring mental wellness is vital, she underscored, because if employers do not consult with their workforce, they are failing to create the psychological safety to provide feedback.

“The people in your workplace should be your most valuable asset,” she asserted.

“You need to consult with them to give them that space to be able to provide honest feedback. You can then delve into what your team’s needs are. Remember that those needs are nuanced, depending on the individual.”

This could require leadership teams to upskill to understand the issues and how to measure outcomes.

“Once they recognise the issue, they can implement policies and strategies that are inclusive and achieve better outcomes,” Ms Vlahos said.

Intertwining work and mental health

Some law firms have implemented social impact measurements that view work and the workplace as determinants of mental health and remove the delineation between work and personal lives.

“Work should give us meaning, purpose, and accomplishment,” Ms Vlahos said.

“We can use this as a baseline measurement to create strategies and measure how wellbeing has shifted. Employers can measure it every couple of months to see if people’s subjective wellbeing has shifted.”

Ms Vlahos urged different departments to collaborate when designing strategies so that there is consensus among everyone about the governance of an organisation.

She concluded: “We need to be agile, iterative, and longitudinal in what we do to ensure that there is a system of measurement. It never stops. We constantly have to leverage valuable data to measure and tweak our approach.”

To hear more from Desi Vlahos about the intersectional impacts of gender and mental health issues for women, come along to the Women in Law Forum 2023.

It will be held on Thursday, 23 November, at the Crown, Melbourne.

Click here to book your tickets and don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

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