Women’s Health Guide: Reproductive Health

Navigating reproductive health for women involves a wide range of health concerns, including contraceptives, fertility, menopause, menstruation and more. It’s important to note that reproductive health covers different life stages and age groups of women occupying positions in today’s workforce.

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December 07, 2022

Women make up a large part of our workforce and are lagging behind in some health outcomes. To address this equity issue, employers should address the variety of wellness needs of women through various programs and benefits.

Globally, some women face issues with lack of contraception and societal pressures, which result in some women becoming pregnant before they are ready. In fact, in 2019, 200 million women who did not want a pregnancy had no access to modern contraception.45

On the flip side, some women struggle with conceiving because of fertility issues. Some countries also have restrictive fertility options due to limiting surrogacy and egg-freezing laws. Women facing involuntary childlessness may deal with shame and anxiety, especially in cultural settings where family lineage is a source of pride and inheritance rights are important.46 The journey of engaging in fertility treatment options like in vitro fertilization( IVF), egg-freezing and surrogacy is time intensive, costly and mentally and emotionally taxing, especially in a culturally and politically restrictive environment. For example, in Australia, commercial surrogacy whereby the surrogate mother makes a profit from the surrogacy is illegal in most Australian states and territories while altruistic surrogacy is legal in most Australian states and territories.47

Menstruation and menopause impact the physical and emotional health of women. While menstruating, some women experience intense physical pain such as cramping and nausea, which is more intense for women with conditions like endometriosis or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).48 For women experiencing menopause, their stress and anxiety levels may be higher than usual, and they may be perceived or stereotyped as being “emotional” or “erratic,” labels that could affect their work relationships and induce feelings of guilt or shame.49,50

Both menopause and menstruation are sometimes met with stigma and misunderstanding in the workplace, where women at times feel ashamed taking days off or discussing their challenges with their managers or supervisors.48 A survey found that one in five women in the U.S. left or were considering leaving their job due to menopause symptoms.51 Affordability regarding menstrual products may also pose a challenge that can limit the ability to manage periods, leading to some discomfort in leaving one’s home and navigating public spaces like the workplace. Scotland is the first country to offer period products free of charge on a national scale, and, countries like New Zealand and Kenya distribute free period products in public schools.52

Also, some countries like Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea and Zambia have menstrual leaves legislated, while countries like Spain are considering a menstrual leave policy to help address issues concerning time off to tend to menstrual-related needs.53,54 In 2021, the U.K’s Minister for Employment and various U.K. organizations developed a comprehensive report with an analysis on menopause in the workplace and proposed recommendations for the government and workplaces.55 Recommendations included nominating a menopause ambassador on behalf of the government to represent the interests of people experiencing menopause transition and offering employer menopause awareness trainings to combat bias and harassment toward people experiencing menopause. Overall, different countries are increasingly recognizing the importance of supporting women’s reproductive health through financial, leave and awareness support.

What Can Employers Do to Reinforce Their Commitment to Supporting Women’s Reproductive Health?

  • Champion policies for women to take time off for the continuum of health needs throughout their life cycle.
  • Create a supportive, open and communicative culture that encourages women to use leave and flexible work arrangements to attend necessary appointments, schedule procedures and discuss their experiences and needs. This may include developing employee resource groups (ERGs) and inviting speakers on menopause and menstruation to help foster communities and educational awareness that can address stigma surrounding these topics and increase comfort levels during experience sharing.

Learn more in our related resource:

Evidence-Based Fertility Treatments

  • Offer essential health items, such as free menstrual products, to reduce lost work hours and relieve stress.
  • Implement a “cool room” (a room at a cool temperature) for employees with menopause who may experience hot flashes.
  • Review your plan design with a lens toward prioritizing fertility care and family planning to align with inclusion and equity goals. Take into consideration related financial and mental impacts.
  • Consolidate resources into one guide that is a “one stop shop” for all available resources, making it easy and digestible to navigate.
  • Offer virtual health services to help employees navigate fertility care.

Inclusivity in Women's Health: Transgender and Nonbinary Self-Identifying Individuals

When thinking of inclusivity in women’s health, it’s important to keep in mind transgender and non-binary individuals who are assigned female at birth; these individuals need health services like Pap smears and gynecology-related care.56 Employers themselves and through their partnerships with health care services and vendors can ensure that they are culturally responsive and inclusive when it comes to their definition of women’s health and include transgender women, transgender men and nonbinary individuals.

Learn more in our related resource:

LGBTQ+ Inclusive Benefits and Employer Challenges

Conclusion

Women deserve an equitable health care and employee experience. However, a vast range of women’s health challenges, along with existing and long-standing disparities, shape how women experience the current health care ecosystem. Employers can be a source of support, empathy and understanding during different phases of women’s lives despite infrastructural, environmental and cultural opposition.

Employers’ awareness and targeted effort to address women’s health concerns through affordable health services, communication efforts, flexible work arrangements and globally synergetic policies are just some ways to ensure that women thrive and prosper in the workforce. By tailoring your benefit strategy to address systemic unmet needs and creating an inclusive organization culture, employers have the opportunity to be a lever for change and become an employer of choice for women, their families and society as a whole.

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