Building a Safer Future: Workwear that Supports Women’s Life Stages

Twelve months ago, my world turned upside down when my husband and I faced the heartbreak of a miscarriage at 10 weeks. The pain was profound, and as we began to heal, we discovered that what we went through was far from rare – sadly, it’s an all-too-common reality. In fact, 1 in 3 pregnancies end in miscarriage. This realisation opened my eyes to the fact that life’s twists and turns can affect us anywhere, even in unexpected places like a mine or a construction site.

Women’s bodies are incredibly resilient and complex, capable of experiencing a spectrum of changes. From navigating perimenopause to enduring bloating and embracing the natural rhythms of menstruation, our bodies are indeed designed to fluctuate. And you know what? That’s a beautiful truth.

There’s a common saying that’s along the lines of, “No two days are the same.” And boy, is that ever true for us women. One month, our cycle is a steady 28 days, and the next, it surprises us with 30 days. The days we bloat change every month, the days our energy is a bit lower change, the days we get PMS change and the days we want to stay in bed all day change. That’s a lot of change wouldn’t you agree?

In a world where change is a constant companion, one would assume that women’s workwear is designed to adapt accordingly. However, reality proves that not all workwear is created equal. So, the next time the idea of introducing a women’s range of workwear arises in your business, I encourage you to ask the below three questions to ensure that the range selected is not merely labelled as “women’s” to tick a box, but the brand genuinely understands the significance of catering to women’s needs.

The 3 Questions

  1. What are we trying to achieve by wanting to add a specific women’s range to our uniform list?

Understanding the true motivation behind adding a women’s range is of utmost importance. Is it because of external pressure from the union, or to tick a corporate inclusion box? Or is it to genuinely value all employees, seeking to ensure their comfort at work? While it’s true that a worksite is far from a fashion show, we must acknowledge that work clothes are not just about appearances; they play a vital role in safety and productivity.

Technical fabrics, buttoned-up cuffs and venting are quite standard these days, but what about catering to the unique needs of women’s fluctuating bodies? Ensuring that women’s workwear accommodates body changes during menstruation, menopause, IVF, bloating etc. is crucial for preventing discomfort and allowing them to perform at their best. Let’s not simply treat women’s workwear as a checkbox task, but rather, an opportunity to ensure women are never uncomfortable at work.  

  1. Can gender specific products improve outcomes in the workplace?

The concept of “unisex” revolves around being non-gender-specific, which is seen as a progressive notion in certain industries and forums. However, in our line of work, where safety is paramount, the idea of unisex can present challenges. Men’s and women’s bodies have unique characteristics, requiring distinct forms of support and protection, especially concerning safety wear and equipment.

Emphasising a “one-size-fits-all” approach in such critical areas may lead to compromises in safety and comfort. Tailoring workwear and safety equipment to suit the individual needs of men and women ensures each worker can perform their duties with confidence.

  1. Should budget limitations be the key driver behind PPE choice?

Drawing from experience as a site Management Accountant, I’m all too familiar with the age-old response of “but that’s not in budget”. However, it’s essential to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. As budgets go, PPE often sits outside of the operations budget and is a relatively minor cost compared to missing a production target or recovering from a significant safety incident. Let’s consider the consequences when a site fails to meet a production target or lags in exploration – the cost implications enter the millions.

At times, production targets are missed because a site was unable to recruit the right personnel or because a valuable team member resigned as they did not feel valued because of the peripheral actions of the employer – overlooking items such as fit for purpose equipment, suitable break room facilities, or safe and comfortable workwear. In such situations, the value of a mere $100 investment in a pair of comfortable work pants becomes astonishingly trivial. It’s important we look beyond immediate budget constraints and recognise that the right PPE can directly impact productivity, employee retention, and overall operational success.

Prioritising the well-being and comfort of workers should not be an afterthought. By making the right investments in appropriate workwear and equipment, we can potentially save significant costs in the long run and ensure a safer, more productive, harmonious, and profitable work environment.

I hope these three questions prove valuable in your future discussions about women’s workwear. Let’s strive for workwear that surpasses a mere checklist and truly enables and supports women throughout their career journey. After all, every woman deserves to feel comfortable at work.

This article was written for HSE People by Kym O’Leary who is the founder of COgear Women’s Workwear and Inventor of HMZ: The perfect fit, effortlessly achieved.