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“I had to hide my condition” – How people with Endometriosis are being treated in the workplace.

Endometriosis Awareness month is here and there’ll be articles appearing around the lack of research about the condition. Awareness is growing every month, with people speaking openly about the treatments that they’ve been through. However, it’s also important to raise awareness of the affect it has on 9-5 lives.

Historically, Endometriosis is an unknown condition even though it affects 1 in 10 people with a uterus. There has been positive steps recently to improve diagnose times like petitions and investigations by media. But there’s still a long way to go, as the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Endometriosis’s 2020 report found that there’s been no improvement in diagnosis of the condition in a decade.

Politicians continue to debate funding/diagnosis times, but one issue yet to be addressed is how people with the condition cope on the 9-5. From my own experiences, I never saw Endometriosis as a barrier until I reached University.

Only then I realised just how many days education I missed out on because I couldn’t get out of bed or that I had to take 11-14 tablets a day just to be able to go into class.

“Don’t email me to say you’re not coming in because you’ve got a bad period, you don’t need an ambulance for that.” That was a speech I heard in my first year of University and it stayed with me since*.

This was a clear indication from the start what attitudes to “bad periods” would be from places of education and work. “Wearing leggings is not acceptable in a workplace” and “you’re always off sick” only cemented what I knew to be true – being treated as professional was going to be an uphill battle.

This remained to be true in my first job after University, what started as a new venture became snide comments huddled around the printer about my pain relief machine. This then escalated to openly ableist comments to other members of the team. Since speaking to other with the condition, this is a regular occurrence.

I spoke to Maggie Bowyer, an author who suffers with debilitating endometriosis symptoms about their experience with work. They’ve been let go from 3 jobs due to their condition making it near impossible to work.

 “I was working at a café and constantly having to leave due to sickness – one can’t throw up and then serve cupcakes. This eventually led to my bosses telling me that I missed another day then I would be let go.”

They later added: “I’ve got a degree in Business Administration, but I haven’t been well enough to utilise the degree and I’m not sure I’ll ever get there – I’ve been unable to stay in retail. No-one I’ve worked with truly understands it. My bosses have been doubtful, condescending, and dismissive.”

Despite the doom and gloom, there is a glimmer of positivity known as the “Endometriosis Friendly Employer Scheme.” Created by Endometriosis UK, the scheme aims to help workplaces become accessible to those living with the condition.

I spoke to Sharan Wildman of Northamptonshire Police who runs the Menopause and Endometriosis support group about their reasons for joining the scheme:

“There’s a stigma around the menopause and gynaecological issues which can be difficult to talk about – even more so in what is still often seen as a male dominated profession. In early 2020, a group member informed me about the scheme.

“A senior manager went away and was surprised to find out that 2 members of his own staff suffered the condition but did not disclose it. He immediately asked me to work on joining the scheme as if 2 people in his team on 20 suffered, how many more women were suffering in silence?”

She later added: “We only joined the scheme in February 2020, but we have already been able to update our information on the internal site which had a positive response within days. It’s started conversations which would never have happened otherwise. It shouldn’t preclude you from having a worthwhile career.”

The symptoms and the treatments of the condition can take a toll of every aspect of your life. However, it shouldn’t affect your career and work relationships, as Sharan said it shouldn’t exclude you from having a worthwhile career. It can be frustrating knowing that you’re working 10 times harder than your counterparts at having a normal life but let that be known!

Having the conversation in the workplace can be tough and nerve-wracking but that’s the only way we’ll start to be treated the way we should.

*The lecturer has since had many conversations with me about that phrase and has learned from it.

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One reply on ““I had to hide my condition” – How people with Endometriosis are being treated in the workplace.”

I feel like the impact of endo in the workplace – especially having to face the stress of disciplinary proceedings for sick leave – isn’t talked about enough. Great article and glad to hear more workplaces are taking it seriously.

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