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Health Empathy can lead to equity for women in the workplace.

This year the International Women’s day theme is equity.

According to the IWD team “The IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme seeks to get the world talking about why "equal opportunities are no longer enough" - and can in fact be exclusionary, rather than inclusive.”

They go on to explain that “Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.”

This is an extremely important point. Afterall, while you can do a lot of things to give women equal opportunities, if they aren’t working from the same starting point, they are already starting at a disadvantage. A disadvantage that is often invisible and overlooked is health, or more specifically long term or chronic women’s health conditions.

Women’s Health Equity Gap

Now we have known for years that there is a global problem with health equity across the genders. Reports, articles, books, and blog posts have all talked about how bad health equity is for women. Even the government knows there is an issue:

“Women live on average for longer than men but spend more of their life in poor health, often limiting their ability to work and participate in day-to-day activities. Closing the gender health gap and supporting women to live well will not only benefit the health and wellbeing of women, but the health of the economy.”

How does this play out in the world of work?

With over 15.5 million women in work in the UK and most women experiencing up to 4 different health conditions while of working age, it isn’t surprising that women’s health at work was also a key part of the Women’s Health Strategy for England.

Evidence has shown that only 35% of women feel comfortable talking about their health concerns at work. And only 50% feel that their workplace is supportive of their health needs. The study also found that 76% of women who have a health condition or disability feel stressed about that condition and 67% said it had impacted their mental health.

The study also found that:

  • 26% said it impacted their earnings

  • 25% said it affected their opportunities for promotion

  • 22% said it meant they stopped work earlier than they had planned

It is clear that women’s health has a huge impact on the workplace. But what do solutions look like? Well so far, the main solution has been to focus on supporting women going through menopause. While there are still some questionable discussions on support from the government on this topic, they have suggested that companies should have a menopause champion in their office. However, is that enough? What about the numerous other women’s health conditions that impact women in work?

Women’s Health in the Workplace

Our team at Kensa have identified a number of key areas that also need to be addressed in the workplace. Including but not limited to:

  • Fertility & baby loss

  • Pregnancy complications

  • Returning to work after having a baby

  • Menopause (including perimenopause, early menopause and medical menopause)

  • Menstrual health conditions (including endometriosis and fibroids)

  • Stress and burnout

  • Women and cardiovascular disease

  • Musculoskeletal health.

  • Bladder and Bowel disorders.

  • Autoimmune disease and women.

We found that these conditions are not only common across most workplaces, but most women are impacted by more than one while in work. All of them can have huge impacts on relationships with colleagues, productivity, and for a lot of women can hurt their ability to progress and advance in their career. We’ve heard from countless women how when these conditions are handled badly, it can lead to them not only needing to take leave, but actually needing to move jobs as they can’t get past the impact it has had on their relationships with their teams.

When speaking to the women who are suffering, they all said they wish their employer knew more about their condition and that they had had more support at work. This is why we created our Women’s Health in the Workplace courses. We wanted to give every company a chance to inform and educate their employees about women’s health conditions, with the aim of building internal cultures of understanding, empathy and support. Our courses about women’s health conditions are complemented with additional sessions on speaking about health in the workplace and how to raise health concerns with your doctor. Two sessions that not only help women, but hopefully help all employees get more support.

Equality not Equity

Back to the International Women’s Day theme of equity. We genuinely believe that if more women’s health conditions are talked about publicly and openly without stigma, we will start to see more equity across the workplace. If companies understand what women are going through, they can work harder to help keep those women in work with the right occupational health support and management empathy. Not only does this help women thrive, it shows that businesses are genuinely invested in being the best place for all employees to work.

But don't just take our word for it, this is a great argument for investment into women's health in the workplace from the amazing Professor Dame Lesley Regan:

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