What do women look for at work? Financial independence - definitely. Professional and personal growth - certainly. Satisfaction and fulfilment - of course. But along with all these parameters, we often forget that women thrive in safe workspaces, which offer both security and sanitation to their female employees. It is for this reason that the World Day for Health Safety at Work was initiated nearly two decades ago by the International Labour Organization (ILO) with a global footprint. It initially focussed on the prevention of work-related accidents for labourers as well as contagious and non-contagious diseases. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, this day has especially gained momentum with fresh guidelines in promoting, safe, secure and hygienic workplaces. For women, however, the needs under this umbrella are unique and often remain unfulfilled. Further strategies need to be set down to make sure that this yawning gap is met.Menstrual Hygiene ProgrammesShalini Muthukumar, Chennai-based Human Resources Consultant, says, For those of us who dont have the luxury of period leave, companies need to create safe and hygienic spaces to tide us through our menstrual cycles. Firstly, awareness programmes are a must to sensitise both male and female employees especially those for whom social and environmental barriers stand in the way of being fully aware of hygienic practices. Misconceptions, feelings of shame, seclusion and other negative attitudes spring from here, and this is a strict no-no. Second, there needs to be free and easy access to sanitised, womens-only bathrooms as well as clean running water. Third, vending machines with free sanitary napkins for female employees on their period need to be set up. Not only will these measures help women feel safer, cleaner, and healthier, but they will also ensure happier and more productive employees.Nutritious Food In The CanteenMost corporates operate under the myth that serving nutritious food in the canteen is an expensive proposition. While this may be true of salmon or avocados, there are perfectly good options that are local, seasonal, and cost-effective. With the uneven domestic burden on them, women often dont have time to prepare their own nutritious lunches or snacks from home, says Devabhati Kuruvilla, a Patna-based lawyer, and corporate policymaker. If the office doesnt have a cafeteria or free/subsidised healthy alternatives, this could potentially result in female employees having few sensible choices. Unfortunately, there are no standard guidelines or rules in the country for what people can or cannot serve and this is such a key factor that contributes towards health in the workplace. It is linked to good performance, energy, and mood. Even simple offerings like homestyle lentils or dal, whole wheat rotis, brown or red rice, boiled or grilled vegetables, eggs and yoghurt can make such a difference over the standard samosas, parathas or fried rice that are usually served up.Psychological Social SupportDevabhati also stresses on the need for mental health support systems at the workplace, to guide employees through both psychological and social challenges that they may be facing. This fosters trust and comfort between the management and female employees, who may be facing numerous traumatic stressors at work. Women are usually silenced or told not to speak up in case their opinions cause discord. When they are empowered to discuss traumas caused at work, they are likely to ask for and receive help, making their journey more productive and sustainable. Policies should be in place to intervene and provide support for women with mental health issues, specifically those who feel marginalised such as LGBTQIA+ workers, mothers who are unable to put in overtime and so on.Self-Defence ClassesSafety is more than just the desk you occupy. Female employees are more susceptible to assault than their male counterparts. A 2019 #MeToo combined study by several NGOs showed that 81 per cent of women encounter some form of workplace harassment, as opposed to 43 per cent of men. Of these, verbal sexual harassment was top of the list, but unwelcome sexual touching, cyber sexual harassment, being physically followed, flashing and physical assault were also common enough. Corporates need to implement training in self-defence strategies and practical knowledge. This starts with awareness of what constitutes harassment and assault, as well as their rights. It should also include survival tactics to stay situationally aware, use tools such as pepper spray, and physically defend oneself against attackers, says Shalini.Security Measures In TransportShalini adds that providing secure transport to and from the workplace, particularly in the case of early morning/late night shifts is a must for the safety of women employees. Drivers and accompanying personnel should be vetted thoroughly before being enlisted. If workplaces are too far, making daily travel prohibitively expensive for women who need to commute by bike, auto, or car, a safe shuttle system should ideally be provided. The win-win here is that employees are more disciplined when they rely on an external mode of transport that they know they cannot miss. But more importantly, women are relieved of the stress and burden of commuting safely.PoSH trainingAlthough PoSH or Prevention of Sexual Harassment has been the buzzword for a while, several corporates are slow to jump on the bandwagon and implement training to its fullest potential. Sexual harassment at work is illegal, and there are certain behaviours that are considered inappropriate even for small-sized businesses. Organising PoSH training workshops in tandem with a qualified trainer, ensures that people are aware of what constitutes a breach or violation, what the consequences of this breach are, and how to foster a safe and gender-equitable workplace.When companies invest in the health and safety of their female employees, they are not just ensuring happier women, but also more committed and productive ones. In addition to all the measures weve spoken about, yoga classes, regular health check-ups in collaboration with a reputed hospital, and sanitary work cubicles and spaces can go a long way in retaining great women workers.