One in three women in Australia with endometriosis have reportedly been passed over for promotion because they were trying to manage their symptoms, according to new research, while one in six women reported being fired due to their attempts at managing their symptoms.
It’s little wonder many Australian women are reluctant to raise the issue in their workplace.
The study was conducted by Southern Cross University’s National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine and Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute, and supported by Australia’s leading organisation for endometriosis research and education, Endometriosis Australia.
The national survey interviewed 389 women with a confirmed diagnosis of endometriosis and found that a lack of flexible arrangements in relation to work times or work locations to manage their symptoms appropriately created hardships in the workplace for them.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
The study, ‘Endometriosis and the workplace: lessons from Australia’s response to COVID-19’, was published on Tuesday in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and included participants’ suggestions for companies to assist employees who have endometriosis. These included working from home, introduction of 20-minute rest periods, access to healthcare benefits and healthcare services such as counselling, mindfulness or assisted exercise and access to physical aids (ergonomic chairs, heat packs, props).
Alexis Wolfe, CEO of Endometriosis Australia, believes these interventions are relatively simple to implement and can help make the workplace more endometriosis friendly.
“As the COVID-19 experience has shown, creating a more flexible workplace can be a win-win for both the employer and employee, making it easier for women to manage their endometriosis, while also making them more productive and respected employees,” she said in a statement.
“The message is loud and clear, those with endometriosis are disadvantaged in a workplace that does not foster and support flexible working arrangements.”
“Workplaces need to create safe, confidential, and supportive environments for employees to share their experiences and find a balance that works for both parties.”
Southern Cross University’s Professor of Public Health, Dr Jon Wardle, said nearly all women with endometriosis in the study said their endometriosis had a significant impact on their work life.
“Nearly two-thirds of women had to take unpaid time off work to manage their endometriosis symptoms,” he said.
In Australia, more than 830,000 — that’s more than 11% of women, girls, and those who identify as gender diverse — have endometriosis, a common disease in which the tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows outside it in other parts of the body.
The disease frequently presents itself during adolescence, and symptoms are variable, including pelvic pain, long periods, painful bowel movements and nausea and vomiting.
The condition is reported to cost Australia $9.7 billion annually, with two-thirds of costs attributed to a loss in productivity and roughly $2.5 billion attributed to direct healthcare costs.
The study’s lead author, Dr Mike Armour, said that while COVID-induced workplace changes were challenging, “for women with endometriosis they were also beneficial, with 79% of women with endometriosis reporting that COVID-19 workplace changes had made management of their endometriosis symptoms easier”.
The senior research fellow at Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute and chair of Endometriosis Australia Research Committee added that as a result of easier endometriosis management, “flexible working arrangements also made women with endometriosis more productive, with more than half of women with endometriosis indicating that they were more productive as a result of COVID workplace changes”.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, congratulated the researchers for highlighting the barriers exposed through their research.
“That fact that an overwhelming majority of women with endometriosis have benefited from the shift to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic is an important insight,” he said.
“I hope that more Australian employers will use this research to help support their employees who may be suffering from this terrible condition and to help them reach their full potential in the workplace.”
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.