Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How to support women in the workplace

Written by Emma Capper, UK Wellbeing Leader, Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing

October is Breast Cancer Awareness[i] month and this year’s campaign is focusing on secondary breast cancer which Breast Cancer Now, a leading UK charity estimates 61,000 people in the UK are living with. The focus of this month’s awareness campaign is to raise awareness of this growing problem and the research being done to stop secondary breast cancer in its tracks.

Secondary breast cancer is cancer that started in the breast that has now spread to other areas of the body (most commonly brain, lungs, liver or bones). This cancer cannot be cured but it can be treated to control it, reduce symptoms and preserve the quality of life of the individual for as long as possible.

1 in 7 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer mainly affects older women and most (80%) occur in women over the age of 50. Men also get breast cancer, but this is rare, and most men that get breast cancer are over 60[ii].

However, as we have an ageing workforce and figures for breast cancer and secondary breast cancer are rising, many employers are choosing to promote cancer awareness in the workplace.

Businesses looking to provide practical support and raise awareness around breast cancer could consider:

  • Promoting a healthy lifestyle in the office as being overweight, obese or drinking too much can increase the risk of individuals developing breast cancer.
  • Encouraging employees to be breast aware – remind women (and men) to check their breasts.
  • Signpost employees to reliable sources of information or charities and discourage them from using the internet to search for a diagnosis or symptoms.
  • Ensure that appropriate benefits are readily available and communicated to any employees affected by cancer.

It’s also important that this topic isn’t be looked at in isolation as it is a good opportunity to discuss women’s health in general.

Common health conditions that impact women are still not commonly talked about in the workplace, which can leave them suffering in silence and reluctant to turn to their manager or HR department because they are not sure of the reaction they will receive.

Women’s health issues can be embarrassing for both men and women to talk about, and women may feel self-conscious raising them especially if their manager is male. This can often negatively impact their productivity and hamper their careers and future development.

Deloitte’s ‘Women @ Work’ survey of 5,000 women across 10 countries explored how women’s health issues impact their working lives. They found that one in five women report experiencing health challenges related to menstruation or menopause. Many say they work through the pain and discomfort, at least in part due to a persistent stigma around these topics.

Other research from Koru Kids suggested that more than 1 million UK women could quit their jobs through lack of menopause support, with 63% saying their workplace had no policy in place. This lack of support is having a direct impact on decisions to leave the workplace, and women said it was the second most devastating impact on their career to date, only just behind having children[iii].

Employers have an opportunity to change the stigma and support women by taking a proactive approach to benefits that are tailored to the needs of female employees. The benefits could improve performance, talent attraction and retention, and reduce rates of absence due to sickness.

We’ve just launched our updated ‘Supporting women’s health in the workplace: from periods to menopause and everything in between’ guide that provides practical advice for employers, with factors to consider and steps to take when evaluating their employee benefits package, including solutions and services tailored for women’s health.

The guide will help employers gain a better understanding of some of the health conditions and challenges women can face, including periods, fertility, perimenopause, menopause and female cancers.  For those looking to put benefits in place or wanting to check existing benefits are still fit for purpose reading this free guide is a good place to start.

Taking action to support women’s health will let employees know they are valued and supported throughout their working lives, helping employers to reduce sickness absence, boost performance and attract the best talent to their organisation. To read, click here.