Staff Reporters
Apr 29, 2024

40% women work through high levels of menstrual pain: Deloitte

TOP OF THE CHARTS: The report exposes jarring gaps in workplace safety, working hours and mental health, as well as career progression barriers that continue to plague women in the workplace.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Deloitte's fourth edition of its Women @ Work report continues to explore critical workplace and societal factors significantly impacting women's careers.

The comprehensive survey, which encompasses the perspectives of 5,000 women across 10 countries, including Australia, China, India and Japan, aims to shed light on the various facets of their work lives, including health, safety, rights, and the balance between professional and personal responsibilities.

For 2024, the report's methodology involved a detailed questionnaire that asked women about their experiences in the workplace. This included their health, safety, perceptions of gender rights, domestic responsibilities, and overall work-life balance. The responses were then used to assess the current state of the workplace environment for women globally, highlighting both persistent challenges and areas where improvements have been noted.

Key findings

The report highlighted a number of key insights, broken down into four main areas:

Menstrual and reproductive health:

  • 27% of women reported challenges related to menstruation, menopause, or fertility, highlighting the widespread impact of these health issues.
  • 40% of those experiencing high levels of pain from menstruation choose to work through it, highlighting a significant lack of support or awareness in workplace cultures.
  • Among those facing menopause-related challenges, 39% reported working through symptoms, nearly doubling from 20% in 2023.
  • Only 19% felt supported by their employers after disclosing menopause as a reason for taking time off, a significant drop from nearly 30% in 2023.

Mental health:

  • About 43% of women now say they receive adequate mental health support, a slight increase from 40% in 2023.
  • Despite improvements, two-thirds of women are uncomfortable discussing mental health issues at work, pointing to persistent stigma and fear of career repercussions.
  • Half of the survey respondents say their stress levels are higher than a year ago, and a third have taken time off work in the past year due to mental health challenges.

Safety and rights

  • Nearly half of the respondents expressed concerns about their personal safety at work or during commutes.
  • Harassment remains a pressing issue, with one in ten women reporting harassment while traveling for work.
  • 14% of women believed that their rights, especially related to equal pay and freedom from violence, have deteriorated in the past year. This perception flags the societal and legal backslides affecting women's equality in certain regions.
  • About 43% still report experiencing non-inclusive behaviours such as harassment or microaggressions in the past year.

Work-life balance and domestic responsibilities

  • 50% of women with a partner and children at home take on most childcare responsibilities, up from 46% last year.
  • 60% of women involved in adult caregiving report taking on the majority of these responsibilities, an increase from the 44% reported in 2023.
  • Two in ten women believe that a lack of affordable childcare might force them to give up their jobs or might slow down their careers.

Workplace culture and career progression

  • Inadequate pay, poor work-life balance, and lack of flexibility remain significant drivers for women changing employers.
  • 16% of women changed employers in the past year due to these issues.
  • There was also an increase in women leaving their jobs due to workplace bullying, harassment, and microaggressions, with 16% citing these as a reason for leaving, up from 11% last year.
  • The report highlighted a critical gap in workplace flexibility and support, with many women feeling that taking advantage of flexible work arrangements could negatively impact their career progression.
  • Nearly all women (95%) believe that requesting or utilising flexible work opportunities will affect their likelihood of promotion.

Based on these findings, Deloitte had a number of recommendations for employers including:

  • Enhance support for reproductive and mental health issues: Employers should improve their health benefits to include support for reproductive health issues such as menstruation, menopause, and fertility. This should also extend to mental health support programs, offering access to counselling and mental health days without stigma. Training for managers to handle discussions around these health topics sensitively and confidentially is crucial.
  • Implement safety protocols and harassment training: Organisations need to create safer workplace environments, particularly for women who express concerns about their personal safety. This involves implementing strict anti-harassment policies, as well as conducting regular training sessions to educate employees about what constitutes harassment and how to report it. Also, enhancing security measures in the workplace and during commutes can help address safety concerns.
  • Promote flexible working arrangements: Companies should promote flexible working arrangements that allow women to manage their professional and personal responsibilities more effectively. This includes options for remote work, flexible hours, and part-time positions. Employers should ensure that these policies are communicated clearly and that utilising them does not impact career progression or opportunities for promotion.
  • Subsidise and support childcare: Organisations can offer subsidies for childcare services or provide on-site childcare facilities. This could reduce the financial and logistical pressures that force many women to reconsider their professional aspirations, thus supporting their continuous participation in the workforce.
  • Develop targeted career advancement programs: Companies should develop targeted career advancement programs for women, including mentorship schemes, leadership training, and sponsorship opportunities. These initiatives should be designed to address the specific barriers women face in career progression, particularly in male-dominated industries, ensuring equal opportunities for advancement and development.
  • Create a culture of inclusion and equality: Senior leaders should commit to gender equality and set measurable goals for achieving it. Regular diversity and inclusion training should be mandatory for all employees to combat unconscious biases and promote an understanding of the benefits of a diverse workplace. Additionally, organisations should regularly review their policies and practices to ensure they support equity in all aspects of employment, from hiring to pay to promotions.
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