Less than 50 years ago, Canadian employers had grounds to lay off a woman for being pregnant. Fortunately, in 1978 the Canada Labour Code was amended to eliminate pregnancy as a basis for dismissal.
From family planning to menopause, there are a broad range of health concerns that women and non-binary people face during the various stages of their careers, with no two journeys being the same. The reality, however, is that women’s health topics, such as the “three Ms” of menstruation, maternity and menopause, are often viewed as taboo topics of discussion, remaining largely under-addressed in the workplace.
But women’s health is a business imperative.
As companies look to become more inclusive, bridging the women’s health gap in the workplace must be a top priority. Besides just being the right thing to do, study after study continues to build the business case for creating more equitable workplaces. Companies with more women on their executive teams earned higher returns than those with no women executives. One study found that Canada could add up to $150 billion in GDP by advancing gender equality and women’s participation in the economy.
For many women in the workforce, health-related concerns – from starting a family to menopause – often coincide with critical stages in their careers; organizations can play a key role in lending support.
Let’s look at menopause, for instance. As the Menopause Foundation of Canada highlights, the silence around this particular “M” leaves many women feeling unprepared for this stage of life and can negatively impact their health. A shocking three-quarters of working women say their employer is not supportive of this stage of life. Why should employers care about menopause? An estimated one-quarter of Canada’s labour force are women over the age of 40. The average woman will spend up to half of her working life in a menopausal state, often during the prime years of a career.
So, how can employers support women in the workforce and enhance health equity at various stages of people’s careers?
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting employee health and well-being doesn’t work. Instead, we need holistic strategies that take the diverse needs of our workforce into consideration. To bridge the women’s health gap and build inclusive workplaces, businesses should consider adopting the following three approaches:
- Training and education: Organizations should educate managers and employees to have real conversations about women’s health concerns in the workplace so they can address them adequately and fight the stigma. By building a culture of transparency, we can encourage more real talk about women’s unique health experiences – miscarriages, menopause, menstruation and more.
- Rethinking benefits and services: Ensuring women have the supports they need to succeed will mean that businesses must broaden benefits and services to be more inclusive of women and non-binary individuals. Businesses must recognize that women’s health is multidimensional and much more than just pregnancy. Benefit strategies for family planning, menopause and a broader range of health and mental health concerns in support of more equitable access to care will help lead to better health outcomes and drive business success.
- Integrating new policies and ways of working: Over the past few years we have seen the benefits of new ways of working firsthand. Balancing work and personal life can be particularly challenging for women, especially during critical life stages. Flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid work or flex schedules, give employees greater flexibility to attend medical appointments and family responsibilities. The vast majority of people believe that the flexibility of hybrid working serves as an equalizer in the workplace.
Women’s health is not only a matter of personal well-being but also a business imperative. The gender diversity and inclusivity of a workforce are directly linked to a company’s success and profitability. By adopting holistic strategies to support women’s health throughout their careers and life stages, employers can create more resilient, productive and compassionate workplaces.