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Workplace Challenges for Women’s Health and the Need for Support

Discover the alarming statistics surrounding workplace discrimination and pressure faced by women dealing with health issues.
  • A quarter of women have felt shamed or pressured into returning to work early when taking time off for health issues 

  • One in seven women have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their health, but two-fifths of them have not felt able to speak out 

  • Over a quarter of women say their company culture is not open to discussing health conditions

A quarter of women working in UK offices have been shamed or pressured to return to work early when taking time off for health issues[1], new research*.

The Government has been urging employers to do more to keep workers healthy and reduce the number of people out of work[2], and workplace conversations about staff health have become much more prevalent. 

Awareness about menopause and its impact on female workers in particular is more widespread, but there is still a lot of stigma around other female health conditions, such as endometriosis, a chronic condition that affects one in 10 women[3]

As a result, over a quarter (28%) of women say their company culture is not open when it comes to discussing health conditions, and 27% say their employer is not very willing to make allowances for health issues.

One in seven women (14%) say they have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their health, such as being overlooked for promotions or excluded from team activities. 

frendo founder Dearbhail Ormond faced her own issues with discrimination in the workplace — she was made redundant when she returned to work after laparoscopic surgery for the removal of endometriosis.

Unfortunately, many experiencing such issues find it hard to speak up. Two in five of those who had been discriminated against (42%) did not vocalise their concerns to the staff who were placing them at a disadvantage, and the same proportion did not tell their HR department. 

A third of women would feel uncomfortable talking about chronic health issues with a male manager, rising to 63% if discussing a fertility or menstrual problem. These figures fall to 16% and 22% respectively when talking to a female manager. 

While a quarter (24%) of office-based workplaces do provide an employee support network for people experiencing fertility issues and menstrual problems[2], unfortunately, there is very little specific support in the workplace for other women’s health conditions, such as endometriosis.

To help tackle this, frendo has launched frendo@work, the first-of-its-kind workplace support programme for endometriosis to improve health equity in businesses by providing employers with the resources they need to support their staff. It also helps endometriosis sufferers manage their health alongside their career.

Healthcare benefits have become increasingly important when it comes to staff recruitment and retention. Nearly three quarters (73%) of women say health-related perks would be important if they searched for a new job, and 77% say this is more important than it was five years ago. 

Dearbhail Ormond, Founder & CEO of frendo, comments: “I have first-hand experience of being pressured into returning to work after one of my endo surgeries. In a previous senior leadership role, I accepted a WFH support programme so I could return to work faster. However, this commitment and dedication were not recognised by my employer as I was made redundant shortly after.

“Unfortunately, there is still too much stigma and shame attached to female health issues, and a lack of openness and understanding in the workplace leaves many women feeling pressured or shamed when taking time off due to ill health and unable to speak out if they are being discriminated against. 

“Without the right support, chronic conditions such as endometriosis can prevent women from reaching their full potential in the workplace, not only affecting the employee but also the employer’s bottom line as a result of absenteeism or loss of productivity. With more education, employers can be in a better position to support and retain staff by helping them access the tools they need to manage their health alongside their career.”

*Research from frendo

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