Endometriosis used to be called the "Career Woman's Disease," but it turns out that what it is is a career damaging disease. A study in Finland found that women with endometriosis took 10 more sick days and 10 more disability days (the U.S. doesn't really have something similar) than their non-afflicted counterparts.
That has an impact on your career. If you're missing 20 more days of work per year than the other women in the office (the study didn't compare endometriosis victims to men), that has got to damage your climb up the career ladder.
Clare-Louise Knox, founder of See Her Thrive, an organization dedicated to making women's health "normal," asks, "I wonder how many of these women found themselves in a disciplinary meeting for endo-related sickness absence?"
It's an excellent question. While endometriosis can qualify you for intermittent leave under FMLA or time off under the Americans with Disabilities Act, both of those require paperwork from your doctor. And it takes, on average, 10 doctor visits before an afflicted woman gets a diagnosis. In other words, without paperwork, there is no protection, and without protection, you can find yourself in a disciplinary meeting discussing your high level of absenteeism.
Even with the proper paperwork on file, Knox adds, "Let's not forget, we live in a world that penalizes employees who are forced to take time off work to manage a chronic health condition."
What can your business do?
- First and foremost, take women's health seriously. The World Health Organization estimates that endometriosis affects 10 percent of women. It's a chronic condition where tissue similar to your uterine lining grows on other organs. It can cause extreme pain and infertility. And that's only one of the many reproductive system problems that your female employees face. If you're not talking about the problems, you can't find the solution.
- Keep flexibility in mind. While endometriosis can cause incredible pain, making it impossible to work at all, sometimes allowing women to work from home as needed can help them keep going.
- Make sure you have a good sick-time policy. Until a doctor's diagnosis and paperwork are filled out and approved, there's no legal protection for needed accommodations (such as working from home) or time off. Make sure your policy allows for time off so that everyone can get the time they need to keep their health in top shape.
- Remember your employees who can't work at home. If the pandemic taught us anything, it's that many essential jobs have to be done in person. A school teacher, grocery store cashier, or electrician cannot work from home. Don't make a policy that only benefits your office personnel. Think of those women who have to show up and be on their feet while struggling with endometriosis.
Health issues shouldn't be what holds anyone back in their career. Ensure that you speak with your employees and are willing to talk openly about women's health issues. It should be no more embarrassing to say, "I have endometriosis that causes extreme pain" than it is to say, "I need knee surgery because of a sports injury."
Be willing to work with women and make adjustments as needed. A little compassion can go a long way.