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International Women’s Day (also known as IWD) is a global celebration of women’s* social, economic, cultural, and political achievements, as well as a time to take stock and reflect on what we can do to make even bigger strides towards gender equality. Every year on the 8th of March, people around the world:

  • Celebrate women’s achievements.
  • Educate and spread awareness about the need for gender parity and how we can achieve this.
  • Call for positive changes that support, empower, and advance those who identify as women.
  • Fundraise and champion charities that exist to advocate for women

International Women’s Day is not tied to a country, group, or organisation – it belongs to everyone, everywhere – including you.

*When referring to women, we’d like to emphasise that we’re referring to anyone and everyone who identifies as a woman.

Women’s Workplace Wellbeing is a Systemic Issue

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how we can better support women in the workplace, and while improvements have been made, there is still work to do. With International Women’s Day right around the corner, this is a great time to start conversations about how you can improve the wellbeing of those who identify as women in your workplace – not just on IWD, but every single day, with conscious year-round efforts.

While many people may face issues in the workplace for different reasons, women face specific problems surrounding their mental and physical health. These challenges may be tied to women’s health issues or gender roles and stereotypes and are often intersectional in nature.

What do we mean by intersectionality?

Intersectionality recognises that each person has multiple identities and considers how factors can take effect in combination rather than isolation. Intersectional feminism, a cornerstone of this year’s IWD theme, is all about allowing the voices of women of all races, economic backgrounds, religions, identities, and sexual orientations to be heard.

Most companies’ systems and structures were built with men in mind, and many women fear “othering” themselves further by talking about the issues they face at work. Many don’t feel comfortable opening up at work, and that’s where this year’s IWD theme comes in: #InspireInclusion.

Inspire Inclusion

This year’s IWD theme aims to forge a more inclusive world for all women. When we do more to inspire and include women, this creates a larger sense of belonging and empowerment that helps increase the momentum of the movement towards gender equality even more.

What sort of challenges do women face in the workplace?

Almost 60% of women regularly experience microaggressions at work, and for many women, finding meaningful support in the workplace is a major challenge. About 20% say they’re often the only woman in the room, meaning the physical and mental health challenges they face can go overlooked or misunderstood. Some of these hurdles include:

1. Physical health issues

Period and menopause symptoms have a significant impact on many women every single day. For 1 in 10, menstrual pain is so intense it interferes with their daily lives. This forces many to take time off work or go to work despite not feeling well enough to do so (presenteeism), which can cause a lot of stress and worry – especially if you don’t feel you can be honest about the real reason why you need time off or you don’t feel you can perform at your best.

2. Workplace gender inequalities

Research has shown that men and women approach success differently: in general, men tend to be more fearless when climbing the career ladder, whereas women are often more self-critical and more likely to underestimate their abilities. Studies have also shown they are more likely to prioritise self-growth, fulfilment, and a healthy work-life balance. This, as well as other stereotypes and systemic sexism, can create a gender imbalance when it comes to workplace confidence and promotions, which can take a toll on women’s workplace mental wellbeing.

3. Work-life balance

Women are often burdened with caregiving responsibilities, whether this is for children or elderly parents/relatives. The stress of organising this care and the amount of time spent caring for others outside of work (which often comes at the expense of self-care activities) can lead to exhaustion and burnout. More flexible work measures such as hybrid working can help improve this. However, presenteeism and leaveism – working while unwell or on annual leave – are also prevalent issues amongst remote workers, so it’s important to be aware of this.

4. Lack of support

In male-dominated workforces, people who identify as women may feel lonely, isolated, or like they don’t have anyone to talk to about the challenges they’re facing – particularly mental or physical health issues that they don’t feel comfortable talking about or addressing with their male peers. Mental health support is vital, as studies have shown that since the pandemic, work-related stress levels have skyrocketed.

5. Family planning

Many women struggle to open up about family planning/having children in the workplace because they fear managers/potential employers thinking they might go on parental leave will halt their career progression or stop them from getting certain jobs.

“Women deserve better. Lifestyle changes, simple workplace accommodations and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can have a huge impact… There is a huge role for employers in addressing this.”

Dr Samantha Wild, Clinical Lead for Women’s Health and Bupa GP

Supporting the Mental and Physical Health of Those Who Identify as Women in Your Workplace

In a recent study, 86% of women said they would be more inclined to work for a company with support in place for female health issues.6 With this in mind, it’s essential for leaders, managers, and HR to drive change to ensure women are appropriately supported at work. Here are some methods you can implement to get you started:

1. Provide mental health training and resources.

Training shouldn’t just be for those in managerial positions; everyone should be educated about how they can support their colleagues.

  • At Thrive4Life, we hold regular webinars hosted by leading consultants and voices in health and wellbeing, including issues pertaining specifically to women’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Previous talks have included “The Secrets of Your Cycle: Unlocking Period Health” with gynaecologist Dr Varsha Jain and “Top Tips for Managing Menopause” with Lexie Minter, menopause practitioner and nurse prescriber.
  • It’s also imperative to promote the mental health services and resources that your company provides across your team to ensure they know what’s available. If you offer support that’s specific to those who identify as women in your workplace, make sure they know how they can access it when needed.
  • Our MHFA England-accredited Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course equips delegates with the skills they need to support colleagues with their mental health in the workplace. Having on-site Mental Health First Aiders who are a part of your team can be a lifeline for anyone struggling with their mental wellbeing, as well as those experiencing wellbeing-related challenges specific to their gender identity.

2. Keep mental health in mind when structuring policies and practices

Examples include PTO and leave, flexible hours, and healthy communication norms. At Thrive4Life, we provide expert wellbeing consultancy services that can help you develop a strong and healthy wellbeing strategy that takes into consideration women’s mental and physical health barriers that may exist across your workplace.

3. Inclusive flexibility and sustainable working

Unmaintainable and unrealistic workloads can lead to poor mental health and burnout at work. Some women worry that their capacity for responsibility may be skewed if they openly talk about commitments such as childcare. Leaders should model a healthy work-life balance to set an example.

4. Be the change you wish to see

Being vulnerable and sharing your own mental health concerns in the workplace is powerfully contagious. Telling employees that they must use up their annual leave and that they’re not expected to be contactable or online outside of working hours does nothing if you don’t follow that same advice.

5. Simple physical adjustments to help those who deal with periods or menopause

Small things, such as having adaptable uniforms (if applicable), flexible working hours, and offering free sanitary products in all bathrooms, can make a big difference to workplace comfort levels. In addition, if possible, you should consider providing a designated space for breast pumping instead of just the bathroom.

6. Awareness days and creating partnerships for change

The Every Woman Promise is a corporate partnership that urges employers to take action when supporting women in the workplace. Celebrate and recognise IWD, using this time to promote awareness, learning, and understanding.

7. Share preferred names/pronouns in email signatures

This is a simple way to embrace inclusivity and encourage respect for every person’s identity.

8. Prioritise meaningfulness and communication in work

Take the time to learn about your employees’ passions, strengths, and life goals. Integrating this into work patterns will give your employees more purpose and encourage open communication.

9. Create an effective wellbeing strategy

A strategy that acknowledges what women need in the workplace will go leaps and bounds towards the inclusivity we should all strive for every single day. Resources like Thrive4Life’s Health and Wellbeing Discovery Hub are comprehensive, cost-effective employee wellbeing provisions that help you put your employees first. If you’re struggling with where to begin this International Women’s Day, let us do the work for you.

Supporting women’s physical and mental health in the workplace goes beyond the bounds of the office, and benefits more than just this allotted demographic. This IWD, #InspireInclusion is about a wider involvement, forging power through mutual understanding and action. At Thrive4Life, we’re hopeful that one day, gender equality will be an everyday experience for people of all genders around the world. Taking action now will bring that future even closer.

Further Reading

  • Check out the resources provided by International Women’s Day here.
  • Struggling to implement mental health into your wellbeing strategy? Contact our team for bespoke consultancy services.
  • It’s important to keep the initiative of change strong in the workplace. Read our article on creating a culture of continuous improvement here.
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