We spoke to Business Psychologist and Founder of See Her Thrive, Clare Knox to discuss reproductive health in the workplace. Here, Clare tells us why employers should be supportive of menstrual health and conditions.
First things first, why should employers be trying to support reproductive health in the workplace?
“According to Public Health England (2018), a third of women in England are suffering from severe reproductive health issues. This includes endometriosis, infertility, and menopause; all conditions which can cause particular difficulties at work.
In some cases, women leave their job because they feel unsupported at work. There are also cases where women have been dismissed because of absence owing to a menstrual or reproductive health problem.
Research shows that stigma around reproductive and menstrual health at work can prevent women from disclosing and accessing the information they need to manage their symptoms. This means that lots of women are suffering in silence, “shutting up and putting up” with severe physical and psychological symptoms in the workplace. This can exacerbate symptoms such as anxiety and is likely to have a negative long-term impact on both their physical and mental health.
Therefore, with women now representing just under half of the labour force in the UK, reproductive health is an issue that needs urgent attention in the workplace.”
What does a workplace that champions and supports reproductive and menstrual health look like?
- The company provides opportunities for employees to disclose a menstrual or reproductive health condition e.g. job application form.
- Employees, especially Line Managers and HR, have knowledge and awareness about reproductive and menstrual health and the unique needs of female staff.
- Employees, especially Line Managers and HR, have the skills and confidence to talk openly about reproductive and menstrual health.
- Steps are taken to develop supportive policies and provide appropriate reasonable adjustments e.g. flexible working and menstrual or reproductive health-related absence is considered as separate to ‘sickness’ absence.
- Clear support and management systems are in place for menstrual and reproductive health conditions; employees know what support is available to them and how to access it; managers understand their role in providing appropriate support.
- Reproductive and menstrual health is an integral part of the company’s wider wellbeing and diversity and inclusion strategy, which is actively promoted.
- Free menstrual products are available for employees in staff toilets.
In the UK, are many companies actively addressing this area or do we need to make improvements?
We are starting to see companies recognise menopause in the workplace, with great success. This is fantastic to see and is definitely a move in the right direction! However, this is just one aspect of menstrual and reproductive health. There are lots of other conditions that affect a large proportion of the female workforce that also require attention, including Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Fibroids. In addition, workplaces could do more to raise awareness of maternal and paternal mental health and wellbeing, especially in their return to work provision.
What advice would you have for employers? How do they start making changes?
- First, a good place to start is to enlist the help of an expert who will work with you to design and deliver an appropriate menstrual and reproductive health program for your organisation.
- Run a workshop for managers and HR on menstrual and reproductive health to start the conversation.
- Set up a working party dedicated to women’s health to help shape the strategy from the ground up.
- Communicate your vision to colleagues: why are you tacking reproductive and menstrual health in the workplace? How will you do it? Who will be involved? What are you asking from people?
- Once you introduce menstrual and reproductive health into the workplace conversation, maintain momentum. Otherwise, employees may see it as a fad, which could have unintended consequences. Like anything else, to fully embed menstrual and reproductive health in the culture of the organisation takes time, consideration and commitment.