It is Endometriosis Month, a global awareness month to raise awareness of a disease which affects an estimated 200 million worldwide, and Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director at Activ People HR is calling on employers to do more to break the taboo around women’s health issues in the workplace and offer better support.
According to the charity Endometriosis UK endometriosis is a common, sometimes debilitating but often-ignored gynaecological disease affecting 1 in 10 women and those assigned female at birth from puberty to menopause, and the impact may be felt for life.
The charity recently revealed 60% of women aged 16-24 and 56% of those aged 25-34 would be concerned discussing the condition with their employer if they were taking time off due to painful periods and chronic pelvic pain.
Other research around the impact of menopause on women’s working lives by the Social Research Institute at University College London highlights women are missing out on promotions and pay rises due to the menopause.
Careers are disrupted or even cut short as some women reach the peak of their working life because of symptoms such as hot flushes, insomnia, anxiety and heart palpitations.
Fortunately, some organisations are recognising the importance of supporting women’s health. On International Women’s Day on 8th March London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that staff at London’s City Hall will be able to take ‘menopause leave’. And in 2019 Channel Four announced its menopause policy – a first for the UK’s media industry.
Adrian says, “For generations women’s health issues such as periods, menopause and fertility just weren’t talked about in the workplace. Women were expected to suffer in silence, and for some these conditions have had a detrimental effect on their lives and careers.
“Things are starting to change, and some organisations are leading the way in offering policies, however there is much more that can be done. Employers must work harder to help break the stigma that exists around many women’s health conditions and raise awareness.
“Endometriosis for example is something that affects a lot of women, but which male managers may not have even heard of. Educating staff, training managers and encouraging a culture where women feel able to speak up if they are suffering is key. This is where HR tech can help. Absence management software can help managers spot behaviour patterns such as someone taking sick leave for a few days every month. Someone suffering endometriosis may have to take time off during their period, but could feel uncomfortable speaking to their manager about it beforehand.
“As the system always prompts return to work interviews this can be a chance for women to talk about why they have been off in a safe space. Having time for a conversation with an employee could help uncover root causes for absence and provide an opportunity for female employees to speak about a taboo health concern.
“Once a manager is aware of any issues, they can then offer support and direct employees to services and policies that could help them cope better with their condition. Without this knowledge employers can often be left the dark to what is going on and employees continue to suffer in silence.
“Encouraging conversation is a vital step in providing a supportive working environment and making female employees feel more at ease and able to discuss sensitive health issues.”