Despite a growing awareness of the unique health challenges affecting female workers, there is still more that could be done to recognise the importance of women’s health in the workplace and the role of employers when it comes to supporting women’s health.
Reproductive health issues, mental health and psychosocial hazards such as discrimination or sexual harassment are just some of the factors that may affect women and their heath in the workplace.
It’s clear that despite a growing importance being placed on workplace wellbeing, it can be hard for women to navigate the world of work while keeping their wellbeing intact.
Why women’s health at work is important
A demographic shift over recent years shows an increasing number of women in the workplace; with over 15 million women in employment, women make up nearly half of the UK’s current workforce. This has pressing implications for both employers and employees when it comes to considering the effects of women’s health and how that in turn affects company health.
Recognising specific gender health factors and promoting women’s health leads to a ripple effect of benefits, including reduced absenteeism, an uptick in job satisfaction and ultimately, heightened productivity.
Key issues for women’s health at work
Identifying those key issues affecting women’s health is just the first step for companies wanting to promote women’s health within their workplaces.
These include issues such as:
The gender health gap
Various studies have shown that women experience poorer outcomes in many areas of healthcare and are more likely to experience common mental health conditions. The reasons for this are varied and debated. However, it’s widely acknowledged that whilst trends are currently improving, historically, medical research and health services have largely been biassed towards understanding male physiology, leaving women’s health issues under-researched and under-addressed.
Other studies such as The Girl Who Cried Pain have argued that women are more likely to be misdiagnosed and taken less seriously than men, and the governments women’s mental health taskforce reported that “discussions about mental health, alongside service delivery and design, frequently fails to take gender into account”, leading to situations where services are “inadvertently discriminatory towards women”. This is a result of them being designed around the needs of men.
This gender disparity is a substantial issue that has affected, and is still affecting, women both in and out of the workforce.
The latest women’s healthcare strategy sees the government pledging to “tackle deep-rooted, systemic issues within the health and care system” and to “reset how it listens to women”.
This is a great step, although some are questioning whether it goes far enough.
It’s an area where employers are able to make a big difference; recognising and considering gender differences is so important when designing health and wellbeing programmes and support.
Read more about why it’s vital to offer gender-specific health support.
For more insights into this topic, our Make a Difference webinar with Peppy on closing the gender health gap delves into the impact of the gender health gap on women and discusses proactive and actionable steps for both women and employers to advocate for equity and implement gender-specific support.
Women face varying issues related to reproductive help that can impact them and their working life, including menstruation, pregnancy, fertility, menopause and other related conditions such as endometriosis.
A Women’s Health survey found that 57% of women felt a gynaecological or hormonal health condition has negatively impacted their career. 81% believe their employer would not be willing to make reasonable adjustments if they spoke up about a women’s health issue.
This speaks to a stigma or shame that still seems to surround women’s health. This continued lack of conversation and support can lead to increased presenteeism, higher sick leave and ultimately less productivity.
Menopause is a particular issue for women that has become much more visible recently due to campaigns to raise awareness, such as the Menopause workplace pledge. Up to a third of women will experience menopause symptoms (such as hot flushes, poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, feeling low/depressed and lowered confidence). These impact their quality of life, and subsequently their work.
This is a widespread health issue for women in the workplace, which is why we believe that opening up the conversation is so important.
Financial wellbeing for women in the workplace
Financial wellbeing is an often overlooked aspect of overall health. It’s possible for economic stress to exacerbate mental health issues, contribute to anxiety and depression, and even have a negative impact on physical health. For women, the workplace can present unique financial challenges.
Some of the factors affecting women’s financial wellbeing at work are:
The gender pay gap
Although reducing over time, the gender pay gap still very much exists. Figures from 2022 show the gender pay gap standing at 14.9%.
The gender pensions gap
Data from gov.uk shows that private pension wealth is not equally distributed, and women have less private pension wealth on average. The current gender pensions gap is 35%.
Underrepresentation in senior positions
According to LinkedIn data, while we’re seeing more women stepping into leadership roles, their numbers dwindle as positions get more senior. In the UK, women hold about 45% of senior roles, but this decreases sharply from mid-management onwards. At director level, it’s 33%, and by the VP level, it drops to 23%. And in those high-ranking C-suite roles, women still occupy only a quarter.
Simply seeing other women in those positions plays a huge role; further LinkedIn research found that 57% of women believe having a relatable role model is pivotal for career growth, and 70% think it’s easier to emulate someone in the spotlight.
Career breaks and caring responsibilities
Another contributing factor for women’s financial health is that they are more likely to take time out from their careers due to pregnancy and further time caring for children – potentially driven by issues such as the high and rising costs of childcare and the financial incentives offered by employers rarely being evenly split between parents.
We bring together a group of female leaders with different perspectives on the challenges facing businesses today as they seek to enhance financial inclusion and gender pay and pension gaps.
Promoting women’s health in the workplace: the business case
Addressing the unique health issues of women can result in tangible benefits for organisations. Here’s how:
Ignoring women’s health issues not only affects the individuals experiencing them, but can also send a damaging message about how much an organisation values its employees.
Demonstrating that a company cares about the wellbeing of its employees, and particularly the unique health needs of women, can foster loyalty and reduce turnover which can inevitably incur significant costs.
Healthy employees are generally more productive. Those issues we discussed earlier, such as reproductive health issues and menopause, can cause significant physical discomfort, impacting on ability to perform at work.
Addressing specific women’s health issues can lead to fewer sick days, increased focus, and better overall performance. Offering tailored support and wellbeing services can go a long way in improving productivity.
Reduced sick leave
One of the direct consequences of not addressing women’s health is an increase in absenteeism. As well as health support, organisations that offer flexible or remote working opportunities can help with reducing the number of sick days taken.
Companies choosing to prioritise women’s health will be more attractive to those looking for work. With the modern workforce placing increasing value on health and well-being initiatives, companies leading in these areas gain a competitive edge when it comes to recruitment.
Employees that feel their unique needs are being addressed tend to be more engaged at work. Employees that are highly engaged are more invested in their work, which often leads to better outcomes for the company.
There are myriad benefits of actively promoting women’s health, both short and long-term; it creates a more positive and inclusive work culture, boosts employee productivity, reduces costs, lowers absenteeism and strengthens companies’ reputations.
Plus, promoting women’s health in the workplace isn’t just a moral or cost-saving imperative, it also aligns with wider objectives and values. With legislation like the UK Equality Act 2010 and the gender pay gap reporting requirement, businesses are more accountable than ever for ensuring fairness and equality.
And with society shifting more and more towards valuing health, wellbeing and work-life balance, recognising and addressing the health needs of women fits seamlessly into this larger narrative, and can only be a good thing for both female employees and the companies they work for.
Strategies for supporting women’s health in the workplace
So what can employers actually do to promote and support women’s health? Here are some examples and strategies companies can adopt to address and support in this area.
Facilitate an inclusive work environment
Designing work environments with different employee groups in mind can be one aspect of creating an inclusive workspace. This can involve things like looking at the appropriateness of physical space and other factors such as uniform requirements and dress codes.
Enable access to resources
Offering access to the right resources can be really helpful in raising awareness and engagement. These might include things like:
- Interactive learning and educational content: hosting webinars with medical professionals or experts who can answer queries and provide guidance, and distributing insightful articles or research to keep employees informed about relevant health topics.
- On or off-site health services: Offering health checks, workshops and inviting health professionals to offer advice or conduct wellbeing sessions.
- Digital tools: providing access to health apps that track, inform, or guide employees on various health matters. For example, Kier group has introduced digital health app, Peppy, whose Women’s Health service connects Kier’s people to expert women’s health nurses, offering practical guidance and emotional support that is easy to access, personalised and confidential.
A little flexibility can go a long way in employee wellbeing. Offering flexible work arrangements for health-related needs, such as adaptable working hours allowing employees to adjust start and finish times if needed, or offering the option to work remotely.
Incorporate women’s health in benefits and wellbeing plans
Integrating women’s health into broader wellbeing programmes gives companies a more comprehensive approach to wellbeing. Making sure to address women-specific health concerns and encouraging feedback can help maintain relevance and effectiveness.
Encourage open conversation
As we mentioned before, normalising the conversation around women’s health is key. Creating a culture of open dialogue can increase understanding and support. Companies can do this by creating safe spaces where discussion can be had without judgement and run campaigns to raise awareness of and destigmatize women’s health issues.
Supporting financial wellbeing for women
Supporting the financial health of women is also an important aspect of a holistic approach to wellbeing in the workplace. Considerations that companies could make include things like:
- Salary sacrifice: Offering schemes that allow employees to direct some of their pre-tax salary to benefits or needs that support their health and wellbeing
- Shared parental leave: Advocating for balanced parental benefits.
- Pay transparency: Regular reporting on the gender pay gap, demonstrating commitment to financial fairness and gender equity.
Companies leading the way in women’s health support
At Make A Difference Media, we’re fortunate to have been able to talk to and learn about various companies and their approaches to wellbeing in the workplace. Our Make A Difference awards shone a spotlight on some of those companies, highlighting their commitment to supporting women’s health and wellbeing at work.
One such company that really stood out in the area of supporting women’s health this year was Ann Summers, whose commitment to challenging taboos, open conversation, inclusive benefits and comprehensive policies surrounding women’s health make them a great example of what a female friendly workplace really looks like.
Prioritising women’s health for a healthier workplace
It’s clear that women play an integral role in the workforce. When navigating through the ever evolving societal values, government legislations and business landscapes, it’s important for companies to both adapt and take the lead in addressing the unique health needs faced by female employees. Women’s health can’t be seen as simply a personal concern; it affects a company’s bottom line, as well as its work culture and reputation.
The various challenges and disparities that women encounter, as we’ve discussed throughout this article, call for holistic and proactive strategies. It’s not about box-ticking, it’s about building genuine, empathetic understanding and offering tailored support to create a working environment where all employees, including women, can thrive.
Download our report: Women’s Workplace Wellbeing: A Joined Up Approach
Discussing ideas around the changing expectations of the role of employers, what is and isn’t working when it comes to women’s health and what the future of gender specific healthcare may look like.
You might also like: