The government’s response to the Menopause and workplace report is damaging to women’s careers, their contribution to our places of work and the economy as a whole. The government’s report states that there are 4.5 million women aged 50 to 64 in employment.
This excludes those aged 45 to 49 which considering the average women will be when they experience symptoms is 45 to 55 is approximately half the women who need to be included.
It also excludes the 5% of women who have their menopause before the age of 45. It is therefore an underestimate that downplays the effect of this decision.
Menopause at work:
The economic impact of not supporting women through this phase in life means that around 10% leave employment altogether and a further 10% consider leaving, often reducing their responsibilities or hours and stepping away from their potential.
The effect of this across business and society in general is considerable and that's not forgetting the massive headache for HR departments.
So, how can we approach this differently?
Well there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
In my work I speak to numerous organisations. Some are offering time off (one to two months months) for women to step away, manage their stress, think through their treatment options and act on whichever is best for them.
This is particularly helpful at the beginning of this process, when women are struggling to understand what’s happening. In addition to this they offer meaningful and effective support when they return, in the knowledge that menopause is not static and lasts many years.
Those that take this approach retain some of their most brilliant employees. Women and those experiencing menopause report that they feel valued and heard. These organisations recognise and value the skills and experience these women bring.
They also recognise the cost of replacing these women is far in excess of that invested in support. At a time when there is a serious skills shortage, not supporting women in this way is short sighted and demeaning.
Regarding not making menopause a protected characteristic, under the current legislation women during menopause have the option of bringing a case to tribunal under age, sex or disability. All three have proved to be extremely complex.
However with the Labour Party's plans to bring in paid menopause leave and support and adjustment reporting should they win the next election, there is increasing hope that a change to the Equalities Act will be included in this.
We are witnessing seismic shifts in where and when we work, with people now able to request flexible working from day one of their employment and lots of success with the trial of the four-day working week.
Of the 61 companies that entered the six-month trial, 56 have extended the four-day-week policy, including 18 that have already made it permanent. Both these changes have the potential to positively impact the way women work during menopause.
All this creates a greater imperative to support those in this phase of life, rather than lose them to an alternative employer. Could it be as simple as giving employees more space and time to focus on their wellness?
There are other ways we can support our colleagues:
- Raising awareness for yourself and your colleagues. Listening to what is said by colleagues, customers, and women themselves. This will reveal whether you truly have an inclusive culture.
- Stop banter in its tracks. If you hear inappropriate comments being made about others and menopause, be an ally and make it clear that it’s neither acceptable or appropriate.
- Consider what support could be offered – what gestures make it meaningful? Access to cold drinking water, free sanitary ware, consideration of flexible working conditions and help with prescription charges where applicable, can help women feel heard.
- If it’s you that’s menopausal, think about the support you need and how you talk about your menopause - learn to talk about it with confidence.
It really is time to change the way we approach both menopause and those who are experiencing it. Women post menopause are a force to be reckoned with.
Not recognising menopause in this way shows a lack of understanding of what it is and its impact on 51% of our population. Our businesses and economy need the contribution we bring, it really is that simple.
Kate Usher is menopause coach and gender equity consultant at Menopause in Business