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For women, by women: introducing specialised support for HCSA members
Isslia Roberts

HCSA National Officer

As the only trade union and professional association dedicated solely to hospital doctors, HCSA recognises the disproportionate impact on women doctors of sexual harassment and other work-related issues.

That is why HCSA has launched a first-of-its-kind Women Focused Support initiative that will provide enhanced support in cases which have an unequal impact on women doctors. This means a woman member can request support and representation from a woman HCSA National Officer where preferred.

Through this service our union seeks to remove or minimise some of the stigma and barriers that predominantly affect women in medicine.

The issues affecting women at work

The data on women-focused experiences in the workplace is increasingly stark. We know that there has been an increase in the number of menopausal cases being brought to employment tribunals. We have also seen an increase in awareness, empowerment and reporting around sexual harassment at work in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

The manifest inequality experienced by women doctors is a social failure reinforced by traditional connotations of women providing the majority of domestic and caring responsibilities. The myriad negative effects of the pandemic on the workforce have included impacts on childcare, which has had a disproportionate impact on women, who still typically tend to undertake primary childcare and domestic responsibilities. Despite there being statutory legislation and often workplace policies surrounding flexible working, too often managers readily employ one of the statutory reasons for refusing a flexible working application.

Women also have negative experiences when breastfeeding and returning to work. Part of the problem stems from there not being a right to breastfeed in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive advises there are as many of the same risks during breastfeeding as during pregnancy, including lifting and carrying heavy loads, extremes of temperature, long working hours and work-related stress. Moreover, women who do not regularly express their breastmilk are at increased risk of infections including mastitis.

When it comes to IVF, the procedures and process can be invasive, traumatising and difficult for women both physically and mentally. Part of the problem lies with the current legislation, or lack thereof, surrounding IVF rights and policies. For example, for pregnancy discrimination to be covered under the Equality Act 2010 you must actually be pregnant – trying to become pregnant is not covered and so women can have problems with having time off to attend appointments and access support within the IVF process. There is a lack of support or understanding surrounding miscarriage and still birth and rarely do workplace policies on these particular experiences exist.

We also know that domestic abuse is prevalent in society and disproportionately impacts women. In staggering figures, an estimated 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse in the UK in the year ending March 2020.

What HCSA will offer you

Women Focused Support is a service provided by women for women. It is a significant and proactive move to tackle some of the issues that affect our women members in the workplace.

As part of this initiative, a woman member can request support and representation from a woman HCSA National Officer where preferred. The woman National Officer overseeing the case will have a greater understanding and experience of, and training in, women-centred issues.

HCSA’s enhanced support service will seek to reduce any embarrassment, discomfort or unease and help to proactively address barriers faced by women in medicine.

The issues that the service covers include but are not limited to:

  • Sexual harassment or sexual assault at work
  • Pregnancy or maternity discrimination or issues at work
  • Breastfeeding at work
  • Flexible working
  • Miscarriage or still-birth experiences
  • Domestic abuse and impact at work
  • Menopause/menstruation issues
  • IVF
  • Terminations
  • Sexism/gendered harassment and bullying
  • FGM/cultural issues and impact at work.

A better job for women in medicine

HCSA aims to improve the experience of women in medicine. We hope to build confidence, empower women and provide enhanced support to challenge discrimination, sexual harassment and breaches of policies.

Through this initiative, we also seek to develop an enhanced understandingof the issues that negatively affect women and their careers in medicine – and ultimately help address concerns such as the gender pay gap and the lack of representation at senior levels.

For the sake of doctors and patients, we also need to prevent women leaving medicine, often at the peak of their knowledge and experience, for negative reasons. These reasons are often not complex but, rather, result from the absence of any tangible or concerted effort on the part of employers to improve the root causes.

Employers and NHS bodies need to get serious about preventing women from leaving medicine and tackle these issues with the same dedication as those that may disproportionately affect men.

Find out more about HCSA’s Women Focused Support.

Not yet a member? Join HCSA today to access exclusive benefits like Women Focused Support.