Stigma Attached to Women’s Health Issues at Work Needs to Be Broken

In Family, Individual, Industry News by PCH Staff

A new report reveals that women’s health issues are still considered a taboo subject in the workplace, and as a result often go under-recognised.

According to the Work Foundation’s “More than ‘Women’s Issues’ – women’s reproductive and gynaecological health and work” report, common women’s health conditions, such as endometriosis or infertility; having a long-term condition during pregnancy; and dealing with the menopause, are negatively impacting women’s productivity, hindering their careers and affecting their earning potential.

Endometriosis, the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, is a chronic condition that affects one in 10 women of reproductive age. Right now, there is no cure and symptoms only get worse as women get older. It can also lead to poor mental health.

Many Women Reluctant to Disclose Their Conditions

However, because of the stigma that’s often attached to women’s health issues in the workplace, women with endometriosis are reluctant to disclose their condition to their employer. This, despite the fact a 2011 study by Endometriosis UK linked endometriosis with reduced work performance. With sufferers losing almost 11 hours of productivity each week, on average.

Endometriosis UK’s research estimates that the condition costs the UK economy approximately £8.2 billion a year in treatment, loss of work and healthcare costs.

The Work Foundation is, quite rightly, calling for the perceived taboos associated with women’s gynaecological and reproductive health to be broken. The foundation wants to see women more empowered in the workplace, and get the necessary support they need to cope with the issues they are dealing with. It also wants to encourage dialogue between employers, policymakers and health professionals.

Speaking about the findings of the report, Karen Steadman, health, wellbeing and work lead at the Work Foundation, said: “Women’s reproductive and gynaecological health is replete with whispered conversations and euphemisms. It’s time we changed this.

“We all – managers, HR, health and occupational health professionals, policymakers, as well as individuals – need to recognise that these are long-term conditions and should be treated as such in policy and practice, including in terms of their impact on work.

She added that people’s understanding of these conditions needs to improve, especially the implications for work, where they are not just “women’s issues,” but actually have a considerable impact on productivity.

There Are Steps Employers Can Take

The Work Foundation report also identified steps that employers can take to improve the situation for women suffering with these conditions.

Having a supportive line manager who understands that time off may be necessary from time-to-time, was seen as being essential for women with reproductive and gynaecological conditions. Furthermore, other small adjustments, such as flexible working, enabling women to work from home and allowing extra breaks, were cited as being crucial for helping women manage their symptoms.

The stigma at work associated with “women’s health issues” must end. Doing so will not only make dealing with the situation much easier for the women affected, but also help employers improve productivity.

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