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#IWD2022: Supporting women in the workplace

In celebration of this week’s International Women’s Day, IFA Magazine is highlighting just some of the many issues facing women with regards to their health and well being as well as their finances.

In this article, Debra Clark, Head of Specialist Consulting at Towergate Health & Protection, highlights why employers need to understand what support women in their workplace require and offers practical tips on how they can go about introducing it

We have seen a significant shift in the awareness many employers now have regarding specific health and wellbeing support for women. However, this seems to have limitations:

1. It is only awareness that is being raised, it can be difficult to find support and advice on proactive action that can be taken

2. It often only applies to a particular life stage – for example, the most common being around maternity

We are encouraging businesses to provide a much broader level of support – giving actual support and advice, not just raising awareness.  It is vital that women are empowered to look after their own wellbeing needs and journey with the right support and culture behind them.  It’s also important that employers  consider women across the entire lifecycle, from early adulthood to menopause, and beyond.

The workplace now has more generations working in it than ever before.  This means companies can have females of all ages in their business from teenagers to post 60s.  Each will have very different needs, challenges and requirements which if met and supported will mean they remain the most productive version of themselves in the workplace.  The impact if not met can be huge.  Studies have shown that one in four women going through the menopause have considered leaving their work because of the associated symptoms.  This has a large impact on the talent pool in a company – just at the point where females carry the most experience and value to a business.

Physical health

There are various phases of life in which women in the workplace may require guidance.

Young women may benefit from specific advice on nutrition and exercise.  It may also be beneficial to understand what is normal when it comes to menstruation.  It is not always something they will easily discuss with their friends. Being reassured what is ‘normal’ could be all that is required, or it might be that early identification of a more serious issue also  needs to be investigated.  It’s important to be able to have a regular smear, and support for having the time off to have this done without having to lie about the reason.

There are almost certainly women of child-bearing age in the majority of companies, and they may require help on a number of levels, from fertility and birth, through to parenthood.

Menopause has recently become a much more talked-about subject and specific guidance can help women to cope with any symptoms that might impact their work.  Giving access to menopause experts can make a real difference, with it being so challenging to get to see a GP, but also the level of knowledge a  a specialist may have in this field.

Cancer, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease are common concerns for older women which all require support. Again, getting to see a GP can be challenging for many people, and so having access to a digital, virtual GP service can be of real benefit to these women and enable quick access when something needs further investigation.  A heath screening programme is also of real benefit to these women whether this is for cancer specifically (as, unfortunately, risk increases with age for both sexes) or a more general MOT of wider health.  Having that time with a doctor as part of a screening programme and understanding health in a more holistic way can mean things are picked up earlier and/or reassurances given.

Mental health

Many of the physical changes affecting women in the workplace can also have a big impact on their mental health. Fertility issues, period challenges, pregnancy, birth, and parenthood all present specific challenges for women. Menopause can impact on mental health as well as physical. For this reason, health and wellbeing for women needs to incorporate the mind as well as the body.

There are many options available for support, guidance, and counselling, from apps and online hubs, to signposting services, and one-to-one dialogue with a specialist. These may be available as standalone provision, or as added-value items within other employee benefits. 

Help from within

It is also now possible to train members of staff to provide support for their colleagues. Companies can train employees as Female Health Champions, Employee Liaison Officers, and Mental Health First Aiders. Once trained, such employees can be armed with information on the best ways to obtain help, they can signpost assistance, and be someone to talk to and discuss concerns.

People who have lived through these things personally and can really empathise with others facing challenges can be so important.  Unfortunately, women often struggle to discuss these sorts of topics with their friends and family so they often need somewhere else to turn.

Communication and accessibility

Female-specific health and wellbeing support is becoming more and more accessible. Employers need to keep up with the advances, and communication must keep pace too.

Employers need to understand what support women in their workplace require. Two-way communication is key, so that women feel able to express their concerns and needs, and so that employers can inform their staff of what is available in terms of support.

1.https://www.healthawareness.co.uk/menopause/1-4-of-women-have-considered-leaving-their-job-because-of-the-menopause/#:~:text=Two%20thirds%20of%20women%20working,up%20handing%20in%20their%20notice.

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