A sensitive guide to supporting female colleagues

Women can do it. Four female characters walk up together and hold arms. Girls support each other. Friendship poster, the union of feminists and sisterhood. Vector illustration

Looking for ways to make your female colleagues feel more comfortable and supported at work?

In this article, Sally Evans from Making Moves explains how workers can help make the office and the working environment more comfortable for fellow female employees.

Women experience a specific set of challenges in the workplace which many of their male counterparts don’t. From finding it difficult to be heard at work, to physical challenges like experiencing symptoms of the menopause or menstruation whilst working in the office, there are a number of different things for your female colleagues to navigate.

The good news is that there are some really effective ways to help female colleagues feel both more comfortable and confident in the office. If you’re looking for some guidance, read on for our tips on sensitively supporting women in the workplace.

Learn more and encourage others to do the same

One of the best ways you can help female colleagues is to take some time to learn about the specific issues they may face. By doing this, you can go into a conversation about these topics already informed, and you can avoid asking questions which may make female co-workers feel uncomfortable. Here are two of the main things which your female colleagues might be experiencing, and some tips for finding out more about them.

Menopause

Physical symptoms of the menopause can have a major impact on female workers. In fact, the recent Menopause and The Workplace survey conducted by the UK Government found that the majority of respondents were affected by the menopause at work —only 8.2% of those surveyed weren’t negatively impacted by their symptoms.

To learn more, start by looking into what the menopause is, why it happens in the first place, and find out about some of the most common symptoms. There are plenty of resources online to help you get started, such as the NHS menopause overview and the information on The Menopause Charity website.

Menstruation

Many working women also struggle dealing with menstruation symptoms in the office. A YouGov survey has found that 57% of working female respondents had experienced period pain so bad that it affected their ability to work.

A great place to start with learning more about menstruation is looking into both the physical and mental symptoms. You can find out more on the NHS page on periods, and discover some more detailed information on Healthline’s menstruation facts and stats article.

Normalise talking about women’s experiences

Once you understand more about these topics, you can use your knowledge to talk to those who are experiencing symptoms of menstruation or the menopause. Start conversations and be the one in the office to break the taboo. Make it clear to your female colleagues that if they are experiencing menopause, menstruation, or anything else which leaves them feeling uncomfortable at work, that they are welcome to confide in you.

Not only will this allow people experiencing the symptoms to open up and explain what it is they need to make the workplace more comfortable, but talking openly about their experiences may help the women in your workplace bond and feel more comfortable opening up to each other too.

Make sure women are respected at work

It isn’t just physical health issues which women have to deal with at work. Many are still discriminated against by colleagues, clients, customers,  or even their own management teams. While you may believe that your workplace is very progressive, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye out for the small ways in which women may be being disrespected — these are called microaggressions.

For example, look out for any instances of women being interrupted in team meetings. Research by McKinsey has found that a shocking 50% of female respondents reported getting interrupted or talked over in meetings. Make sure that your female colleagues have the opportunity to share everything which they wish to discuss, and inform those who interrupt that they should let your female colleagues finish their points first before jumping in.

The same study also found that 16% of female respondents heard colleagues talk in a demeaning manner about people like them. Not only is this discrimination, but any form of demeaning talk like this is inappropriate in the workplace, so make sure to let the management team know.

Discuss policy changes

As well as the solutions above, there are some larger changes which company policy makers can implement to make the workplace more comfortable for women. Some businesses are introducing two new types of leave to help women: menstrual leave and menopause leave. These two types of sick leave give women some welcome time to rest and recover from their symptoms.

Aside from sick leave, flexible working is another great way to benefit female workers. This allows female employees to both work from the comfort of their own home, and start at a time which suits them when their symptoms aren’t at their worst.

To help female employees feel more comfortable and supported at work, discuss these potential policy changes with management, or bring them in yourself if you have the authority.

Through education and conversation, you can feel more confident in providing female colleagues with the appropriate support in a sensitive manner. To find out more about women in business, make sure to check out the rest of the articles here at WeAreTheCity.

Sally EvansAbout the author

With over 8 years’ experience in operations, Sally Evans has helped Making Moves double in size. She has implemented various frameworks to the business and empowers both female and male colleagues to develop and succeed in their roles. Sally effectively navigated Making Moves through the pandemic and is continuing to help grow the business in the most efficient way possible.

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