Just over one year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, restrictions to reproductive healthcare and its effect on mental health continue to have far-reaching impact. The federal decision compounds the unique barriers to inclusivity, healthcare access, and mental health support that women and other marginalized genders face in the workplace. Organizations must take action to better support women’s mental health and wellbeing.
An estimated 36 million women, trans men, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people are poised to be effectively stripped of their right to access safe, legal abortions, posing a mental and physical health crisis across the U.S. The denial of an abortion is known to have severe detrimental effects and poor health outcomes on pregnant people, with psychological issues like depression, stigmatized grief, and post traumatic stress also coupled with an increase in poverty for up to 4 years, a lower credit score, a higher risk of partner violence, and a higher likelihood of having life threatening complications.
Women already navigate mental health issues in the workplace. They are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with mental health conditions like generalized anxiety and PTSD. Other factors of gender inequality also contribute to poor mental health outcomes including pay inequity, caregiving and domestic responsibilities, office housekeeping roles, gender-based violence, infertility, menstruation menopause symptoms, postpartum depression, and enduring sexual harassment. What’s more, earlier this year the Mayo Clinic released a study estimating the cost of missed work days due to menopause in the US to be $1.7B annually.
Organizations have both a moral imperative and economic incentive to support women in the workplace and data stresses the need for women to be able to access resources. The global economic cost of gender equality is measured at $7 trillion per year, but the individual organizational impacts are equally felt. A 2022 Deloitte workplace survey found that one-third of women are burned out, over one-third rate their mental health as poor or very poor, and more than half rate mental health as a top concern.
In spite of the complicated political, social, and cultural barriers to equity, there’s still opportunity to improve women’s mental health in the workplace. Employers can make a difference in tackling this gender gap and act to enforce both positive diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social, governance (ESG) indicators, reaping better performance as a result.
So where can organizations start?
1. Advance gender equality as a strategic objective. This signifies the commitment and accountability of company leadership to act on gender inequality as a real strategic business decision. Additionally, evidence suggests companies that invest in women’s health and related benefits have improved gender equity at all levels of seniority.
2. Bolster health insurance offerings. It’s essential for employers to prioritize comprehensive insurance plans that include coverage for pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care without high deductibles, co-pays, or out of pocket costs. These plans should cover mental health services and include access to safe abortions.
3. Expand paid parental leave policies. Paid leave policies keep more women in the workforce. A lack of paid leave for pregnant and postpartum people is associated with increased birth complications and worse maternal and infant health. Employers can enact flexible, open, and comprehensive family leave plans to support women’s mental health.
4. Build mental health resources and ERGs. As the business community recognizes the importance of workplace mental health for employee wellbeing and overall organizational health, leaders can continue to prioritize mental health by investing in initiatives to build their current offerings. Women’s ERGs are one avenue to empower their members, organize work toward dismantling barriers within their organization and industry and increase visibility.
5. Encourage open communication with managers and leadership. Safe communication makes it easier to discuss, identify, and correct gender inequality in the workplace. Conversing with a boss about mental health can be challenging, but there are strategies to guide conversations for productive outcomes.
6. Donate to frontline groups protecting access to women’s healthcare. Companies seeking to expand their corporate social responsibility reach can directly — or indirectly with employee matching programs — support local communities as they work to overcome barriers to women’s healthcare. Groups such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Indigenous Rising are among some of the frontline groups coordinating continued care for women.
As threats to access reproductive care and limitations on women’s healthcare continue, employers can lead by prioritizing women’s mental health in the workplace. Enacting strategies to support women and other marginalized genders can boost employee wellbeing, engagement, and positively impact business performance.