Endometriosis Friendly Employer scheme
Ashtons Legal signed up to be an Endometriosis Friendly Employer in 2020 following a suggestion by a staff member, and someone living with the condition, Jessica Hitchcock.
Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Symptoms include intense pain and discomfort and it can cause infertility.
One in 10 women has endometriosis, meaning that over 1.5 million in the UK are living with the condition. The majority of these are of working age and with an average time to diagnosis of 7.5 years and a cost of £8.2 billion per year to the economy due to lost work, treatment and healthcare costs, it is clear to see the impact on work and employment.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and as an Endometriosis Friendly Employer, we are committed to increasing awareness and support for those living with the condition. A few of our staff have volunteered to share their stories.
Jessica is the firm’s Endometriosis Champion, a point of contact for signposting, support, and sustaining a diverse and inclusive workforce.
“I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2011. The same year I would lose the career I had begun in nursing, and my place at University, because they said I would “never be fit enough to work”.
Doctors agreed with that opinion, and as I scanned through forums full of the millions of women diagnosed with the condition, I could see almost all of them had been told they had the same fate, if not worse. I couldn’t accept that my future could suddenly be so bleak, so I instead diverted my attention to ways that the lives of those suffering could be improved.
In 2019, the BBC conducted research revealing the devastating effect of endometriosis. Half the women who took part said they had experienced suicidal thoughts, relied heavily on highly addictive painkillers and that the painful condition had badly affected their education and career, just like me.
This triggered a debate in the House of Commons that October. The research highlighted that endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK, affecting one in 10 women and causing infertility in 30-50% of them, yet it takes an average of seven and a half years to be diagnosed, costing the UK economy £8.2bn a year in healthcare and loss of work. It was argued that this is not only an issue that needs to be recognised by the departments of health, education and work, but also by individual employers.
I am incredibly grateful to be part of Ashtons, a firm who are doing what I never imagined any employer would do. In colourful contrast to the general ill-understanding of most employers, Ashtons are not only recognising the difficulties faced by sufferers and supporting them, but they are encouraging those women to thrive in their careers, all whilst becoming a massive part of change and closing what has been labelled the “gender pain gap””.
One of the most significant factors when ensuring employers can work towards improving support for those with this chronic, long term condition is having support from managers and those in leadership positions. It’s important to have the opportunity for an open dialogue about endometriosis with your employees and be able to discuss ways in which you can support them.
Claire is a manager at Ashtons and also suffers from the condition.
“I was diagnosed with endometriosis around 10 years ago after the birth of my son. During my maternity leave, I had extreme pain, a very high temperature and was generally very unwell. The GP could not diagnose my condition and I was admitted to hospital where I was told I had an STD which I told them at the time was not possible. I was lucky enough to have private medical cover through BUPA with my previous employer and I looked into this further and eventually worked out I suffered from endometriosis and needed to have an operation as some of my internal organs were stuck together as a result of the condition causing the pain.
Endometriosis can affect your fertility and I was therefore advised not to delay if I wanted any more children which is why I have a fairly close age gap between my children. I have since worked out how to manage the condition so that it is no longer a problem for me. Also, a lot of people have never heard of this condition which affects one in 10 women so I hope that by sharing my experiences this will raise awareness with others.”
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