Ending the stigma navigating women’s health in the workplace 

Businesswoman holding tablet device, touching screen. Office workplace. Concept of digital network in medical industry.

Vicky Britton highlights the challenges women face at work around their health issues, and some of the positive changes companies are making

Women’s health is finally emerging from the shadows, capturing attention in media, research, and online debates.

This shift marks an important step towards acknowledging the unique health challenges women face across all life stages—not just menstruation and fertility but extending into perimenopause, menopause, and beyond. High-profile figures have been instrumental in spotlighting these issues, highlighting the impact of women’s health conditions on daily life.

In the UK now requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” for employees experiencing menopause, with a failure to comply potentially leading to disability discrimination lawsuits

While advocacy and online discussions are vibrant currently, there’s a noticeable gap in how these health challenges are navigated within the workplace. Practical guidance and workplace policies have yet to catch up fully, leaving women to navigate these complex issues without sufficient support or understanding from employers.

Lack of workplace support

In 2023, a survey of by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that only one in 10 women said their organisation provided support for menstrual health. Nearly half of the 2000 women surveyed said they never disclosed to their manager that their absence was related to their menstrual cycle due to embarrassment or fear their symptoms would be trivialised. A separate survey in 2023 by the CIPD found that two-thirds of menopausal women aged 40-60 face difficulties at work and one in 10 left their jobs due to menopausal symptoms.

Women online are actively engaging in discussions about symptoms of women’s health conditions, including menopause and menstruation, and their impact on work. Despite facing pain and negative effects, many persevere through their symptoms. Concerns about performance impact are prevalent.

Example verbatim quotes from women posted in Reddit communities:

“I just got a promotion last year that I worked toward for 20 years. To suddenly be flailing because of menopause makes me feel super mad.”

User insight, Reddit

“me today doubled over in severe pain from my period cramps and just trying so hard to get through my work without crying. and this was how painful they were AFTER taking ibuprofen.”

User insight, Reddit

Label woes

However, there’s promising progress: The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in the UK now requires employers to make “reasonable adjustments” for employees experiencing menopause, with a failure to comply potentially leading to disability discrimination lawsuits. This guidance has been welcomed, though it sparks debate over classifying menopause—a natural life phase—as a ‘disability’. Acknowledging potential advantages in viewing menopause as a disability, it’s vital to also consider the wider impact on other women’s health conditions and societal views and perceptions.

Specific conditions like fibroids, endometriosis, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are crucial in discussions on women’s health, given their significant symptom burden. Mental health, too, is gaining necessary focus, with conditions such as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) being more openly discussed.

Positive conversations

Implementing positive menstrual policies, like menstrual leave, has proven beneficial for both employees and employers. The Chalice Foundation in Australia, pioneering in menstrual leave policy, showcases this with reports of improved workplace environments and better employee retention and attraction. Additionally, flexible work options and integrating women’s health into workplace policies are essential for enhancing employee wellbeing and addressing women’s health challenges effectively.

As women in the workplace, we can take steps to dismantle the stigma surrounding women’s health by fostering open conversations and ensuring comfort in discussing health issues that affect work performance.

Vicky Britton is a writer and healthcare research consultant specialising in social media listening and advanced online research methods. Women’s health is a central focus of her research. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.

Vicky Britton

Learn More →