Well-supported and engaged employees are the backbone of high-performing organisations. As such, employee well-being is a critical topic for employers to take note of. And while many organisations are offering perks and support for physical and mental health, it’s vital that such offerings are extended to women’s health matters.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Nadine Dorries (previously the Minister for Patient Safety, Suicide Prevention and Mental Health) noted that, historically, the health care system has largely been designed by men, for men. She went on to say, ‘Despite women making up 51% of the population, we still know little about some female-specific issues, and there is less evidence and data on how conditions affect women and men differently.’
In response to these types of concerns and potential gaps in care, the government is creating a ‘Women’s Health Strategy’ to level up health care and tackle gender health inequality. The government’s research has concluded that a greater focus on women’s health—including in workplace settings—is required. Of those surveyed, 2 in 3 women reported feeling uncomfortable talking about health with their employer. Additionally—among women with an existing health condition—50 per cent reported feeling unsupported at work, and a further 25 per cent experienced reduced earning and promotion opportunities due to their health condition.
To attract and retain the best talent, employers must offer clear, tangible support to their entire workforce. This article outlines strategies for supporting women’s health and tackling gender health inequality.
The first step in improving women’s workplace experience is a better understanding of female employees’ unique health demands. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), important women’s health topics currently overlooked by employers include:
- Menopause. For every 10 women experiencing menopausal symptoms, six report that it has negatively impacted their work, according to CIPD research. Yet, few employers mention menopause as part of their workplace policies. Organisations should support employees going through menopause in the same way they support staff with other health conditions.
- Pregnancy loss and stillbirth. According to research by UK charity Tommy’s, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in loss during pregnancy or birth. Yet, pregnancy loss is a prevalent but often hidden issue. It’s vital that employers understand the emotional and practical implications of employees experiencing pregnancy loss or stillbirth so they can provide appropriate support.
- Fertility treatment. Balancing fertility treatment and work demands can be difficult. As such, almost a fifth of people undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment have had to reduce their work hours or quit their jobs, according to research by Fertility Network UK. However, infertility is defined by the World Health Organization as a disease, meaning employers should consider supporting affected employees in the same way they would offer support for any other disease.
Break the Stigma
Talking about women’s health issues is often seen as taboo. Such stigma could result in employees feeling too embarrassed to access any support available. Employers must work to break the stigma surrounding women’s health matters. This can be done through:
- Ensuring senior leadership pledge their support to the well-being of female employees, thereby promoting organisational change
- Encouraging an open discussion of women’s health issues through companywide reproductive health and fertility educational seminars or ‘lunch and learn’ sessions
- Equipping line managers with knowledge and empathy when speaking to employees about women’s health issues
Review Existing Policies
Additionally, employers should review their existing policies—or create new standalone versions—to include female employees’ unique health concerns. As an example, despite 1 in 6 couples requiring fertility treatment, only 42 per cent of employers have a fertility treatment policy in place, according to research by Fertility Network UK. Therefore, employers should consider creating a policy outlining how those undertaking fertility treatments can get support.
Expand Benefits Packages
Although many organisations offer private medical insurance, medical benefits often fall short in supporting women’s health. Employers may wish to expand their benefits packages. One way to do this is by offering time off for appointments and financial support for employees going through fertility treatment. Additionally, for women experiencing other health concerns, digital medical support is becoming increasingly popular. Offering female employees access to a virtual GP allows them to discretely discuss health issues on their own terms.
Small workplace interventions can make a big difference to the employee experience. Organisations should consider making appropriate adjustments—such as flexible or remote working—to help women deal with symptoms. Additionally, they could offer female employees a degree of control over their working environment. For example, menopausal women could be allowed to adjust the workplace temperature when experiencing hot flushes.
When making any large workplace policy changes, both male and female employees should be included in decision making. This will ensure fair representation and give all employees a chance to discuss the interventions that will support them most.
With the right support, there’s no need for women experiencing health concerns to press pause on their careers. Through companywide education and reasonable adjustments, all employees can flourish. Besides, to attract the very best talent, it’s essential that employers demonstrate a strong, inclusive workplace culture. Such a culture should include steps to support women’s health.
For more information on workplace well-being, contact us today.