Being a woman in the working world isn’t easy. While some of the issues facing working women today are well-known—the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling—there are others that just aren’t often spoken about.
We’re taking a moment to break the stigma and really consider the full range of obstacles women face in the modern workplace.
Last year, a report by Public Health England revealed that women’s concerns about their periods are their third biggest reproductive health worry.
Meanwhile, a 2019 survey showed that half of women face significant stigma regarding their periods in the workplace, and that their pain was rarely taken seriously.
In fact, the survey found that more than one in 10 said they had been on the receiving end of negative comments about their periods while at work, often being seen as lazy, or even accused of using it as an excuse to “act like a b****”.
With over 1 in 10 women suffering from endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or other disorders that greatly aggravate menstrual symptoms, there’s a clear lack of support and understanding in the workplace about an issue that most women deal with every single month.
Gloria Steineim’s famous piece about how the world would be different if men could menstruate is a worthy read if you’re in need of a laugh.
Things have changed a lot since the days when women were expected to work only until they got married, and then give up their career to raise children—but they might not have changed as much as we think.
Research shows that women suffer more negative consequences when they take parental leave than men: 29% say it negatively impacted their career, compared to only 13% of men. Women are also twice as likely to report that maternity leave has had a negative effect on their financial wellbeing.
It’s clear that no matter what gender you are, taking time off to care for a child is probably going to have an impact. But, points out Joeli Bradley, the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, women are still much more likely to be the ones doing that work.
“With child-rearing being disproportionately done by women it means that mothers are losing out on pay rises and promotions,” she told The Guardian.
“Parental leave is just the start of it, with the IFS [Institute of Fiscal Studies] estimating that by the time a woman’s first child is 12 years old, her hourly pay rate is 33% behind a that of a man.”
“The whole system is set up to fail mothers.”
A parental leave system that favours women taking the time off instead of men, expensive childcare that can force mothers to give up work or take part-time jobs, and the undervaluation of part-time work mean that many women end up working well below their competency level.
From the sound of it, there’s still a long way to go.
Ah, the gender pay gap. Familiar, time-honoured and infuriating for women around the globe.
Consider these findings from the newly-released 2019 Women in the Workplace Report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org:
And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that women in the UK earn 10% less than their male colleagues (with the numbers getting worse for minorities and members of the LGTBQ+ community).
What’s a woman to do?
Another familiar, time-honoured and infuriating aspect of working life for most women: sexual harassment and discrimination.
From microaggressions to more serious assault or discrimination, it’s a major issue:
Women often have to work harder and put up with more, and for what? Less pay and fewer career opportunities.
Do businesses not consider menopause because it only affects older women? Is this a case of ageism meeting sexism for a hot flash in the boardroom?
Every female worker will one day experience menopause, and for one in four women, it will take a heavy toll on their careers.
It’s time for it to stop being taboo, and time for workplaces to find a better way to handle it.
A report by Public Health England found that 53% of women surveyed said that menopause symptoms impacted their work. With symptoms persisting for 5-10 years, that can take a serious toll on a career.
The report also found that 74% of women surveyed thought management awareness of menopause as a possible health problem would be helpful. MPs in the UK have taken notice, suggesting that a menopause policy should be as commonplace as maternity schemes in businesses and organisations.
The Guardian reports that women have told them of careers ruined by the symptoms of menopause, including anxiety, confusion and loss of confidence.
“Some have faced disciplinary action and many have been forced to take time off,” Sarah Boseley and Hilary Osborne report, “while others have sold their homes so they can afford to work part-time or stop working altogether.”
That’s serious business.