Health and Healthcare

Why companies need to take sexual and reproductive health seriously

More and more companies are recognizing women’s health and protection as integral facets of employee well-being.

More and more companies are recognizing women’s health and protection as integral facets of employee well-being. Image: REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez

Natalia Kanem
Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
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Health and Healthcare

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The decisions business leaders make about sexual harassment protocols, medical or parental leave and healthcare benefits all have major implications for the long-term health and productivity of their workforces.
  • Analysis has found that subsidizing sexual and reproductive health products and services increased workplace productivity by 15%.
  • To support the incorporation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in businesses' strategies, UNFPA and partners have launched the Coalition for Reproductive Justice in Business.

In recent years, sexual and reproductive health movements have transformed workplace norms around the world.

Whether in response to #MeToo, which shed light on workplace sexual harassment, or through the introduction of progressive policies mandating menstrual leave and free maternity care, more and more companies are recognizing women’s health and protection as integral facets of employee well-being.

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Currently, three out of four sexual harassment cases in the workplace go unreported and about a third of LGBTI individuals feel alienated or bullied at work. When workplaces do not address sexual harassment or have policies that prevent women and people with young families from progressing up the career ladder, they neglect the welfare of their staff to the detriment of their bottom line.

Investing in the health and well-being of employees is not just the right thing to do; it’s good for business. The decisions business leaders make about sexual harassment protocols, medical or parental leave and healthcare benefits all have major implications for the long-term health and productivity of their workforces.

These decisions should reflect the diverse reproductive health needs and work environments of their employees. For some, this could involve offering comprehensive paternal leave; for others, it may require flexible work arrangements to help manage the symptoms of menopause or menstruation, or could include fertility treatments and family planning services.

Analysis has found that subsidizing sexual and reproductive health products and services increased workplace productivity by 15%. These benefits can extend beyond a company's staff to those employed in their supply chains.

In all cases of workplace sexual misconduct, companies commit to providing survivors with safe spaces as well as pathways to justice through effective reporting mechanisms, in addition to holding perpetrators to account.

Such supportive workplace policies will ensure that employees, especially women and members of marginalized groups, feel valued by their employers; while reassuring consumers that the businesses they frequent support ethical, fair practices. They can also have a positive impact on supply chain partners, who may be more likely to institute policies that safeguard and fortify their employees’ health and rights.

To encourage and support the private sector in integrating sexual and reproductive health and rights into corporate strategies and operations, UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, and its partners have launched the Coalition for Reproductive Justice in Business. The coalition aims to provide the private sector with a forum to share strategies for addressing the diverse reproductive health needs of employees.

To this end, UNFPA and Accenture have developed a set of measurable indicators that can help businesses track and unpack their success, and create accountability through environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) frameworks.

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These indicators include: the prevention of workplace, gender-based violence; support for employees’ family planning goals; and the protection of employees’ sexual and reproductive health and wellness. Using these indicators, organizations can illustrate the powerful benefits of investing in a more gender-equal workplace.

Investing in sexual and reproductive health means investing in a more inclusive,prosperous future where employees thrive and businesses flourish.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and HealthcareDavos AgendaGender Inequality
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