Women make up approximately half of the workforce in the United States. Therefore, it might follow that women’s health needs should significantly shape company benefits and policies. However, this is not always the case. Throughout a life cycle, most biological women can experience the three M’s (menstruation, maternity and menopause) all of which require specific benefit and healthcare support. Not only are these resources hard to come by, if they exist, but the topics themselves are rarely discussed for fear of being saddled with stigmas and negative impact on career trajectories.
In 1953, I Love Lucy followed its star, Lucille Ball, through her real-life pregnancy. Despite the storyline, the word “pregnant” was never said, as it was considered too “sexually suggestive" at the time. Even up until 1985, mentioning a woman's “period” on tv was verboten. While progress has been made in the last 38 years, we still have a long way to go. At TriNet, we are changing the lens through which we view the three M’s and challenging others to rise to the occasion. We want to normalize and validate women’s experiences and start the important conversations that enable women to thrive.
Workplace policies that benefit and support women not only highlight how your company values diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), but they are also good for business. Let’s break this down. Data suggests that women are more likely than men to take time away from work to care for others. Policies such as flex arrangements (including paid parental leave and telecommuting) and childcare assistance help to attract talent, decrease turn over (including the associated cost) and reduce absenteeism. Shifting gears to the human side, these types of initiatives make your employees feel seen as individuals who (as we all do) need support to reach their maximum potential. Now, let’s dig into the “three M’s.”
Menstruation is a part of most biological women’s lives and can be accompanied by an array of symptoms including (but not limited to) headache, fatigue, bloating, abdominal or pelvic cramping and low back pain. Although commonplace for a large percentage of the workforce, this regular occurrence is rarely, if ever, discussed. Menstrual leave has existed in various forms around the world for at least a century: the Soviet Union introduced a national policy in 1922, Japan in 1947 and Indonesia in 1948, but it is still rare. The town of Saint-Ouen, just north of Paris, France, is now granting up to two days of paid leave per month for period pain. Outside of these few exceptions, women push through symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, and are hesitant to speak up for fear of being seen as weak, unreliable or unable to perform.
Becoming a parent, whether for the first or fifth time, is hard. Prenatal and maternity programs and paid parental leave do exist in the US but are far from universal. Many parents-to-be are unaware of these programs that offer support, from conception through pregnancy, to the delivery room and beyond. Paid parental leave, another driver of employee engagement and satisfaction, varies depending on state and company. And data shows that paid parental leave pays off. U.S. states that have implemented paid-leave policies found a 20 percent reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs in the first year after giving birth, and up to a 50 percent reduction after five years. These programs and policies show employees that you value them beyond the job they do.
Perimenopause and menopause are a normal part of aging for biological women, yet these subjects are so taboo that many women do not know that perimenopause even exists. Misinformation and myths around perimenopause and menopause keep women from getting the care they deserve from their healthcare providers. Memory lapse, mood change, night sweats and insomnia are some of the symptoms women ignore or hide while at the workplace for fear of being ridiculed, stereotyped, stigmatized or seen as incompetent. Research shows that one in ten women have actually left a job due to their symptoms.
The conversation begins with you. Prioritizing gender equality and offering benefits that support women is a win-win. These policies optimize the talent you have while attracting the next generation of trail blazers. If these conversations are not already part of your culture, today is the day to begin. Make your current policies and benefits well known and easy to use without fear of stigma, lost opportunity or retribution. Let’s frameshift how we view using existing benefits and empower women to feel their best. Healthy and happy employees can improve morale, culture and your bottom line.
While many of these policies cannot be implemented immediately, you can begin with the following:
Be the advocate for women in the workplace and let them know YOU SEE THEM!
TriNet customers have access to many of the benefits noted in this article and we can offer best practices on how to navigate questions that might arise. Reach out to a TriNet representative today to learn more!
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