Speaking on the Authenticity in the Workplace panel at Mortgage Solutions’ Women’s Executive Finance Forum (WEFF) event, Colas said line managers needed to understand how women were affected by pregnancy, motherhood, menstruation and the menopause.
Wendy Rose, head of strategic relationships at Bupa, agreed and added: “It’s up to [women] to breed a relationship of trust and transparency. [The woman] has to take some ownership of opening that dialogue and it is down to the ownership of the line manager to be open minded and supportive.
“Women need to recognise their own rights,” she said.
Danielle Moore, event director at AE3 Media, said she started the conversation with her team by speaking about her own experiences following her first pregnancy.
Discussing how she balanced motherhood with returning to full-time work, she said: “Showing that I work from home for two days a week or being open about the fact that if my child is poorly, I will stay at home and look after them, I will still do what I can and work extra hours to make up for it. It then gives [my team] the opportunity to do that too.”
Feeling under pressure
Moore said a lot of the judgement she felt about returning to work after giving birth was coming from herself.
She said: “I felt guilty because I would arrive at work when my team were already at their desks and I often leave before they go. I might be working through the evening or on the train to make up for it, but I’ve thought ‘should I explain that to new people coming into the organisation?’
Moore said one way she overcame this was to allow her team to follow her example and work flexibly, regardless of whether they were parents themselves.
“It’s something you have to continue to work on and create that environment to make it the thing that’s done,” she added.
When it came to women feeling uncomfortable speaking to male line managers about their health concerns, Rose said there were some practical steps companies could follow to help all employees who were unsure where to get support.
“If you want to talk to someone, there should be the implementation of a mentor system. These are people who are open to talking about these issues. It could be a female or male related issue; anything that impacts physical and psychological health or wellbeing,” she said.
She also proposed the idea of lunch and learn sessions, where someone came into a company to teach employees about various health issues and how they could impact business.
Rose said companies should “bring people in to talk about things like the menopause and make sure that the manager organises it”.
She added: “There are practical things you can do if you find communication is difficult.”