Some women navigate their menopause with ease, but that isn’t the case for everyone and given menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic (ONS), the business case for raising awareness and providing the right support continues to build momentum.
Awareness raising from those in the public eye (e.g. Davina McCall,Mariella Frosturpand Louise Minchin) has further helped to break down taboos and educate women and men about the menopause. More women are speaking out about their own journey, more people (men and women) are calling out discrimination and bias, taking action to support loved ones and colleagues and creating healthier workplaces, where even those with challenging symptoms, can thrive and contribute.
Last year, household brand Kellogg’s committed more support for staff experiencing menopause, (as well as pregnancy loss or fertility treatment) and began to train managers on how to talk about the menopause (and also pregnancy loss). Many other organisations have followed suit and The Menopause Workplace Pledge has now been signed by more than 2,500 employers (including the BBC, Tesco and Royal Mail). Even the House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has signed a pledge to make the house of Commons “menopause friendly” for staff.
However recent high profile legal cases highlight that not everyone recognises the business case surrounding this topic. Women still face challenges and discrimination when it comes to menopause and work. For example, Karen Farquharson was recently awarded a £37,000 payout after her manager said that she used the menopause as ‘an excuse for everything” and was told to “just get on with it” after being off ill due to her symptoms. In another case, Maria Rooney has recently made legal history by bringing a constructive dismissal claim against Leicester City Council. It is the first time an employment tribunal has considered symptoms of menopause as a disability.
Whilst these could be dismissed as the ‘extreme cases’, a recent report, polling 4,000 women ages 45-55 found that one in 10 had left their job due to symptoms of the menopause. That’s the equivalent of 333,000 if extrapolated cross the UK.
There are plenty of survey and stats out there, but here are a few that begin to show a fuller picture:
77% find at least one menopause symptom ‘very difficult’, with 44% say their ability to work has been affected.
Severe symptoms are worse for working class women - women in a household where the main earner works in semi-skilled or unskilled manual work, were more likely than those where they work in managerial roles, to have difficulty with physical and psychological symptoms.
22% of disabled women who have been employed during the menopause said they had left a job due to their symptoms compared to 9% for non-disabled women.
23% of key worker women say that their uniforms are uncomfortable given their menopause symptoms.
45% of Black and minoritised women say it took many appointments for their GP to realise they were experiencing the menopause, compared to 30% of white women.
Suicide rates in women of menopausal age have risen by 6% in the last 20 years (Office for National Statistics)
Behind these stats are women with skills and talents that contribute significantly to organisations and society. Additionally, they are people with families, friends and colleagues and these relationships can sometimes be affected by the challenges faced by some women during their menopause. So doing more to help menopausal women thrive in the workplace can also help the teams they lead and the loved ones in their lives.
One positive legacy of Covid is the moral and commercial case for businesses to invest in supporting the health and wellbeing of their people. Empowering employees with practical tools, support and a safe environment to process, recover and heal, can increase loyalty and connection to the company, reduce absenteeism, improve talent acquisition and retention, and of course positively impact the bottom line. However, workplace menopause support (as well as for pregnancy loss and fertility) is still uncommon across the board. A CIPD study showed that only 24% of organisations has a menopause policy or other support measures in place.
We can make a start by listening to those impacted and then educating our workforce. It’s easy enough to add a line or two around support/paid leave into a policy and distribute across the company. However, to really shift the dial on this, (like so many areas of DEI), the right conditions need to be created if people are to feel psychological safety to speak about their experience, ask for help or raise concerns. So, conversations need to start, managers need to receive training and colleagues need access to resources and information.
Women can often go undiagnosed as they struggle with menopause (the NHS list 19 ‘common’ symptoms but it varies between individuals). You may notice that a colleague is suffering with memory loss or anxiety, and if left undiagnosed, they are not getting the support that they need. They might take time off or their work may be affected in some way. However, if your organisation is properly educated and can have an open dialogue with people, they will be able to signpost support, work with the individual to develop strategies that will help them stay in work, stay confident and continue to add value to their teams and organisations.
So, as we reflect on World Menopause Awareness Daywhich took place in October, it’s a great time to make a start or assess our impact so far and decide on our next steps.
At Head Resourcing:
We offer leave and specialist support for pregnancy loss, menopause and fertility treatment.
We have recently established a Menopause Support Group who meet regularly and where our DEI and wellbeing work interconnect
We have published guides and information for colleagues and those with management responsibilities to improve knowledge and capability
We have signed up to the Menopause Workplace Pledge.
There is still much to be done but if organisations begin with an open conversation and provide simple educational resources to break down the taboos, then actions can follow to better benefit individuals, teams and the whole organisation.