Why it’s essential to support women’s health in the workplace

For working women in contemporary times, the challenges of balancing work and home are as intense as ever. While domestic partnerships and parenting are becoming more equitable than they once were, working women still take on a more significant share of household and childcare responsibilities. The stress of juggling work, parenthood, and other personal commitments can easily cause or exacerbate mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, reproductive problems like irregular cycles, musculoskeletal issues like back pain and neck pain, and other health issues.

Even though the percentage of women workforce in corporate India has increased significantly over the last two decades, there is still a dearth of tailored healthcare provisions in the workplace for them. Consequently, women employees have to compromise on the quality of personal and professional lives alike.

Organizations need to continue to improve their support and encourage women’s health needs and here’s why it’s high time they start to do so.

Health issues women face, and how organizations can help?

Women employees experience various health issues that are specific to their gender. Here are some common health issues that women face:

Reproductive health issues: Reproductive health issues are among the most common and pressing concerns for women. Many women in the workforce fit into the bracket of what is conventionally known to be the “reproductive age”.

In the absence of paid maternity leaves at several organizations, pregnant working mothers have to come to the office even in their final trimester. In the post-partum period, they often sacrifice the privilege of breastfeeding and physically and emotionally bonding with their baby. From paid maternity leaves, dedicated rooms for breastfeeding, creche facilities on the campus, and right up to a true women’s cell to help deal with women’s health issues, there’s a lot that organizations can do to extend health benefits to women.

menstrual problems Menstruation has a variety of effects on women’s well-being. Right from physical issues to psychological issues, periods can leave a woman exhausted and unable to concentrate at work. Similarly, women approaching or experiencing menopause may experience hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, anxiety and/or depression, and other health issues. It is only natural for one’s work performance to decline in these situations. Thus, it is high time that organizations offer women menstruation-related provisions and a few additional days of paid leave, making their organization a lot more equitable. Paternity leave certainly helps a new working mother and does much good to the society by fathers getting involved in childcare.

Cancer: One of the biggest causes of death among women is Cancer, particularly breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Demanding work schedules can lead to a situation where one feels more anxious and smokes more frequently. The percentage of women who smoke or take alcohol has increased over the last couple of decades in our society. Smoking is harmful to both men and women. It raises the risk of certain cancers, COPD, exacerbates asthma, and increases the risk of heart disease and hypertension.

Companies can organize smoking cessation programs and form support groups to address this issue.

Sedentary jobs:

Sedentary jobs inhibit women from engaging in physical activity, leading to obesity, infertility, PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) specific to women, musculoskeletal problems, diabetes, fatty liver, increase in bad cholesterol, and heart disease.

Employers can ensure the availability of healthy food items in the office canteen and encourage employees to exercise. They can make employees’ work schedules more conducive to engaging in healthy physical activities every once in a while.

Onsite exercise sessions and gym facilities certainly bring a positive vibe and change the attitude of women towards exercise.

How are organizations encouraging women’s healthcare at work?

Tailor-made health insurance plans for women: A majority of the firms today offer private medical insurance to their employees, yet medical benefits can often fall short in supporting women’s health needs, such as infertility or menopause support. In addition to family floater plans and group health insurance, organizations need to consider providing a health insurance plan tailored to women’s needs. An insurance plan covering common health issues specific to women, such as pregnancy, postpartum care, reproductive difficulties, screening and medical care for cancers of reproductive organs, is what modern women need.

Flexible work culture: Flexible work culture is vital for every employee, regardless of gender. Many health emergencies women face, especially those related to menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childcare, can often arise out of nowhere. In such situations, if the work culture is flexible, women in an office feel more at ease knowing that they can sometimes tend to their needs without feeling guilty about it.

Healthy menu in the cafeteria: Many women suffer from anemia and other micronutrient deficiencies. A healthy menu at the work cafeteria goes a long way in helping them maintain a healthy diet.

Regular health check-ups: Regular health checkups for both men and women should be conducted by employers. They might even go the extra mile by integrating gender-specific tests like mammograms, pap smears, and an abdominal ultrasound as required in those health screenings to ensure the wellness of female employees.

Health talks/ awareness sessions/ support groups: Awareness sessions help women connect with a provider, share their problems, and get support. These can be for women with nutritional deficiencies, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, PCOS, thyroid issues, infertility issues, and nutrition-related issues.

Onsite exercise sessions and gym facilities: An excellent way to maximize the opportunity for an active women workforce, especially those who often lack time to exercise once they reach home.

Psychological support: Women are at increased risk for anxiety and depressive disorders. With the increase in mental health needs during the Covid Assistance Programs) for mood disorders and everyday issues like sleep disorders, eating disorders etc.

The bottom line

Prioritizing women’s health starts with creating an inclusive and transparent work culture. For example, an organization could have highly generous support for fertility benefits. Still, if women employees are hesitant to ask their supervisors for time off for treatment, such advantages would go underutilised.

Storytelling can be an effective tool to raise awareness about important topics and foster peer-to-peer empathy among employees. Colleague-led conversations around critical women’s health topics such as menstruation, pregnancy, infertility, pregnancy loss, and menopause can foster acceptance and promote an environment where such issues can be openly discussed.

Women’s economic empowerment enhances productivity, diversifies the economy, and increases income equality, among other positive development outcomes. Despite the progress that women have achieved in the modern era, many of them have fallen behind regarding health issues. Hopefully, this will not be the case for long. Organizations can and must choose to be an active part of this change.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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