The UK’s parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee recently held a call for evidence scrutinising existing employment legislation and workplace practices regarding the menopause.
Menopause and the workplace:
This call for evidence is just the latest signal that there is appetite for changes in UK policy and legislation when it comes to the menopause, particularly in the workplace.
In 2019, the Government Equalities Office created a ‘roadmap’ on gender equality that commits the government to conduct research into "what works to improve women’s reproductive health, across the life course" and "develop indicators relating to women’s health experience and impact on their work".
The Department for Health and Social Care also recently had a consultation on Women’s health, with a goal to redevelop England’s strategy for women’s health. Scotland recently published its own Women’s Health Plan in August 2021.
It’s getting increasingly important for HR teams to open up this issue (if they haven’t already) and start to address it proactively.
The stats are still emerging, but recent surveys have shown that three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work, and almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms.
This is often at a peak time in their career when they may be eligible for senior management roles. For employers, this is obviously a retention issue, but it makes it especially hard to address the gender diversity agenda for senior leaders. For the individual it contributes to the gender pay gap and gender disparity in pensions.
The four steps we see as being most effective are:
- Creating awareness: This can be through ‘lunch and learn’ type sessions, employee resource groups, ‘menopause cafes’ (regular drop-in sessions), or virtual groups on platforms such as Yammer. Initiatives like this create the ‘permission’ to discuss the topic and it is often a surprise to the organisation to realise how many people are affected by the menopause, either directly or indirectly. It is important that menopause is not just seen as 'an older woman’s issue’. Initiatives should be inclusive, with an explicit invitation for colleagues of all ages and men, where possible.
- Training: For line managers or colleagues who want to support their peers in the workplace, it is important to provide training on what issues may be occurring and how to handle conversations. Many people are reluctant to discuss menopause with their line manager, out of embarrassment, or because their manager is of another gender, or younger than them and ‘won’t understand’.
- Procedures and policies for reasonable adjustments: As well as training, both individuals and managers need guidance on how to ask for, and make, reasonable adjustments where required. A lot of organisations have chosen to create a specific menopause policy to supplement existing policies. Both ACAS and CIPD have great resources available for this
- Personal support: Steps 1-3 lift the taboos on the menopause and enable conversations to take place from a place of mutual understanding and respect. However, ultimately any individuals who are struggling with menopause symptoms need access to trusted, professional support, that is tailored to their own state of health, family and relationship status and the nature of their work.
An increasing number of employers are embracing supporting menopause in the workplace, and the trend is set to continue. There are clear benefits to employees, and the business too, in terms of recruitment, retention, absence management, productivity and diversity and inclusion.
Mridula Pore is CEO at Peppy