Menopausal women can be overlooked in the workplace, but progress is underway
For most women, when dreaming of an illustrious career in their chosen industry, factoring in companies that would support them through their menopausal years was probably not high on their agenda, if on it at all. However, with The Times stating that there are more than five million working women aged 40 to 55 in Britain, with some 80 per cent having symptoms of menopause transition during their career, it’s an overlooked cultural taboo that is mistakenly swept under the carpet.
What is menopause?
So what is menopause? Women’s health company Theramex suggests "Menopause literally means stopping periods. ‘Meno’ refers to menstruation and ‘pause’ means to stop. The medical definition of menopause is when one year has passed since a last period. “During the menopause, your periods will decline and then stop. It typically starts between the ages of 45-55 and the transition can last for several years.”
Impacting women in the workplace
Menopause for women and non-binary people is historically a health concern that falls under the radar for many employers, with the Faculty of Occuptational Medicine stating that the management of gender-specific health issues other than pregnancy are rarely discussed. Indeed, a recent study on menopause by Circle In found that ‘there is a culture of ignorance and isolation around menopause in the workplace, and a glaring lack of support for employees and their managers.’
While maternal and general wellbeing concerns have long had strategic HR protocols, the intricacies and person-specific symptoms of menopause make it hard for businesses to develop a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue. And with the amount of women in work still consistently behind men for every year after 50, it’s clearly having an impact on gender equality in the workplace.
According to Lawyer Monthly, between 30-60% of menopausal females will suffer extreme symptoms over the course of four to eight years, which include but are not limited to hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and ‘brain fog.’ And statistics suggest that the UK could be losing around 14 million workdays per year because of the recurring yet irregular physical and/or psychological ailments suffered.
It is unsurprising then that data from the Circle In study showed that 83% of respondents said their work was negatively affected, over half (58%) of respondents that experienced menopause said that managing work during their menopausal transition was 'challenging,’ while 48% of all respondents struggled with their drop in confidence at work, and almost as many (46%) felt stressed by having to hide their experience.
With approximately 75-80% of women of menopausal age currently in work and the fastest-growing demographic in the UK workforce, according to Lawyer Monthly, this poses an existential threat to commerce if not swiftly addressed.
Increasing visibility of menopause
However, while this disparity in employee health benefits is continuing to affect menopausal women, it seems that the tide is turning, and menopause is no longer the taboo subject it once was. Indeed, even celebrities are speaking out, with People magazine highlighting that women such as Michelle Obama, Gywneth Paltrow, Emma Thompson and OprayWinfrey are all discussing the subject.
And with an increasing amount of women feeling discriminated against for the lack of policies supporting them through menopause, female employees are also making their voices heard. According to The Times, the rate of employment tribunals referencing menopause has almost doubled over the past four years. Likewise, research from consultancy firm Menopause Experts has shown that menopause was cited 116 times in the first half of 2021, compared to just five cases in the first nine months of 2018.
It goes without saying that both statistics are a positive indicator that, while a problem clearly exists, the female workforce is finding its voice, as well as the confidence to challenge the outdated issue.
Making positive change
The call-to-action from celebrities and employees alike has seemingly been heard, with greater focus now being placed on the issue. The UK government, for example, has made advancements in addressing this imbalance, stating on its website, “While menopausal symptoms vary widely between women, research shows that those with serious symptoms take an average of 32 weeks of leave from work, and without the support of employers this limits progression and can lead to long-term unemployment.”
Indeed, it has called on businesses to tap into specialist advice offered by a national network of advisors known as 50 Plus Champions, which is there to support employers to retain their workers over the age of 50, including women experiencing the menopause.
Discussing the need to empower women in the workforce going through menopause, Minister for Employment, Mims Davies MP explained, “Our new and expanded DWP team of 50 Plus Champions is there to help – I urge employers to make the most of their knowledge and local links to help us retain women’s skills and expertise and support them through this transition.
“This is a clear win for all. Employers and sectors with better support and clearer understanding are able to keep female talent and boost inclusivity. So women who have worked hard in their careers, don’t feel concerned that they may need to curtail their careers early due to the impact of the menopause.”
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), a non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), advises that companies should develop a menopause policy to clearly support women in the workplace. It suggests covering management training, menopause point of contact, define the company’s open stance on menopause discussions, and include information on gender identity and gender reassignment discrimination and how talking with staff about this is important.
Companies are also advised to manage sickness absence and job performance taking into account menopause symptoms, carrying out health and safety checks, and staff support.
Diageo is one such company striving for greater inclusivity, having launched its first ever global Menopause Guidelines Thriving Through Menopause, which it hopes will raise awareness and understanding on an often less discussed subject.
“We are committed to creating a fully inclusive and diverse workforce and as part of this to championing open and empowering conversations, particularly in subjects that can often be difficult or taboo," explains Louise Prashad, Diageo Global Talent Director.
It’s clear that addressing menopause in the workplace is not only imperative for gender equality, but companies that do so will benefit from happy and appreciated employees as well as reaping the rewards of a large demographic of talent.