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The Future of Work includes Inclusive Workplaces: 5 Steps to Support Women's Health Needs


Pregnant woman at work - there is an need for Inclusive Workplaces

Supporting women in the workforce is not just a matter of equality; it's a necessity for building inclusive and thriving organisations. Women face unique challenges throughout their careers, from navigating pregnancy and motherhood to managing the physical and emotional impacts of menstrual cycles and menopause. In this article, we'll explore five crucial actions organisations can take to provide meaningful support to women at work.


Before we dive into actions in creating more inclusive workplaces lets understand the experiences unique to women that shape how they engage differently in the workplace. 

It is worth noting these experiences described focus on women with ovaries which make up the vast majority. However, not all women may be experiencing these, and in some circumstances people who do not present as women may share these experiences. 


Menstrual Cycles:


Nearly half of the global population experiences menstrual cycles, with estimates suggesting that around 25% of women of reproductive age worldwide are menstruating at any given time. 


  • Period Pain and Discomfort: Women may experience physical discomfort and pain during menstruation, which can impact their concentration, productivity, and overall well-being at work.

  • Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in hormones during the menstrual cycle can affect mood, energy levels, and cognitive function, leading to variability in work performance and engagement.

  • Stigma: Societal stigma surrounding menstruation can create a culture of silence and discomfort in the workplace, making it difficult for women to discuss their needs or seek support during menstruation.

There has been great progress in understanding how we can improve the way we work based on these experiences. I have noticed a rise in menstruation coaches that can help people understand the hormonal impact and shape the type of work they are doing to play to their strengths at any given time. I recently came across an interview by Steven Bartlett on Diary of a CEO with Mindy Pelz a functional health expert who talks about how women can view their energy levels over the month rather than the week. 

“If we can teach women to live a life that works with oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, then we can see symptoms and conditions change”. Mindy Pelz

Motherhood

Around 25% to 30% of the UK population are mothers. An amazing report from Jessica Heagren founder of Careers after Babies highlights the world of work simply isn’t cut out to cater to working mothers. Check out the report to get a much better view of the points below.

“The UK workforce is full of skilled women working their way up organisations. Then they have children and they are forced out. There is a 32% drop off at managerial level.” Careers after babies report
  • Balancing Work and Family Responsibilities: Many working mothers face the challenge of balancing their professional commitments with their responsibilities at home, including childcare and household duties.

  • Career Progression: Women often encounter obstacles in career advancement after becoming mothers due to factors such as perceived lack of commitment or availability for work-related responsibilities.

  • Maternity Leave and Return to Work: Transitioning back to work after maternity leave can be challenging due to lack of support, childcare arrangements, and feelings of guilt or pressure to prove competence upon return.


We are seeing positive changes in the workplace start to emerge such as shared parental leave and flexible working, however much more is still to be done. Through Jessica's work she has been helping organisations directly with tangible actions to create workspaces that grow in a family friendly way.


Menopause:


In the United Kingdom, it's estimated that approximately 13 million women are currently experiencing menopause. On average, around 1,000 women in the UK reach menopause every day. A 2019 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women—usually aged between 45 and 55—were negatively affected at work. BUPA found that almost 900,000 women in the UK had left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms.


  • Physical Symptoms: Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and cognitive changes can significantly impact women's comfort and performance in the workplace.

  • Mental Health: Menopause may also coincide with symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, and depression, which can affect women's confidence, motivation, and interpersonal relationships at work.

  • Lack of Awareness and Support: Many workplaces lack adequate policies, resources, and support systems to address the needs of women going through menopause, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration among affected employees. 


"Menopause is just hot flashes. Far from it! Menopause can involve a wide range of symptoms, affecting both physical and mental health."  Lauren Chiren

On catching up with Lauren Chiren founder of Women of a Certain Stage she shared the challenges many women experience in the working environment. A staggering 78% of individuals report that their employers haven't provided adequate information, training, or support for menstruation and menopause.



5 actions that can help create more inclusive workplaces for women to thrive: 



Establish Supportive Policies: 

Organisations should implement supportive policies that address the needs of women during various life stages. This includes offering flexible scheduling options, extended and shared parental leave, and accommodations for breastfeeding mothers. By formalising these policies, organisations can create a culture that prioritises work-life balance and acknowledges the diverse experiences of their employees. Check out Careers after Babies for more on supporting women through motherhood and Women of a Certain Stage for more information around menopause. 


Promote Flexible Working Arrangements: 

Recognizing that productivity and energy levels may fluctuate during these experiences, organisations should embrace flexible working arrangements that accommodate these natural variations. Studies have shown that hormonal changes can impact cognitive function, mood, and energy levels, making it essential for women to have the flexibility to adjust their work schedules accordingly. By allowing for remote work, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks, organisations can empower women to work more effectively and maintain their well-being.


Offer Ongoing Education and Support: 

Education is key to fostering a supportive workplace culture. Organisations should provide training programs and resources that raise awareness about women's health issues, including menstrual health, prenatal care, and menopause. By promoting open dialogue and providing access to reliable information, organisations can empower women to advocate for their health and well-being in the workplace.


Prioritise Inclusive Leadership:

Organisations must prioritise inclusive leadership that values and amplifies the voices of women at all levels of the organisation. This includes actively seeking input from women in decision-making processes, addressing unconscious bias in hiring and promotion practices, and creating opportunities for mentorship and career development. By fostering an inclusive environment where women feel empowered to contribute and lead, organisations can harness the full potential of their workforce and drive innovation and growth.


Provide spaces to rest in the working environment:

One of the most impactful steps organisations can take is to provide dedicated rest spaces for women to address the needs related to pregnancy, menopause, and menstrual pain when in the office. In all of these experiences sleep is impacted significantly and sleep helps significantly. Without proper support, women may find themselves forced to choose between their health and their career. Although period days off are great many have expressed they want the option to be in the office and a rest space can help. By offering rest spaces providing a place of privacy in the working environment, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to women's well-being and ensure that all employees feel valued and supported.


‘In my first trimester I didn’t have to choose between the health of my baby and my work - we had been trying for 8 years’ Feedback from a rest space user.

Supporting women at work requires a holistic approach that addresses the unique challenges and experiences they face throughout their careers. By implementing rest spaces, supportive policies, flexible working arrangements, ongoing education, and inclusive leadership practices, organisations can create environments where women feel valued, respected, and empowered to thrive. Together, we can build workplaces that champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, benefiting individuals, organisations, and society as a whole.





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