In this competitive marketplace, DE&I is never far from the conversation. Many job seekers consider the diversity and inclusion policies of companies a deciding factor when looking for a new role. This means that companies must look at ways to ensure they provide a workplace where people feel supported if they want to attract the best candidates.
A new campaign, the “Women’s Workplace Pledge” asks employers to provide support and understanding to their female employees, as recent research by Bupa shows that 900,000 women in the UK have left their jobs due to menopause.
To help raise awareness of the issue, Katrina Stewart, Executive Search Partner within the Human Resources Practice at Eton Bridge Partners, hosted an event on 6th October entitled “Demystifying Menopause at Work”. Lauren Chiren, the founder of Women of a Certain Stage, discussed how organisations can open the dialogue about menopause within their businesses. By removing the stigma, employers are better able to attract the fastest growing workforce demographic as well as support some of their most valuable employees.
“Menopause is not a medical condition; it is a life stage”
All women will experience menopause, which is the 12-month anniversary of her last period. As hormone levels in the body change to trigger menopause, women go through perimenopause, the transitional time before menopause.
There are between 30 and 50 known symptoms that might affect women at this time, which usually occurs between the ages of 45-55, the average age being 51.
Symptoms can last anywhere from 2 to 12 years. Physical symptoms might include:
- Hot flushes
- Poor sleep
- Erratic periods
- Increased urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Joint stiffness, aches, and pains
- Brain fog
Psychological symptoms might include:
- Low mood
- Lack of confidence
- Poor concentration
- Memory problems
Any one of these symptoms could make it more difficult for a woman to carry out her role. And while all women go through menopause differently, for many it can be a debilitating time.
Women should feel empowered to be honest about their experience with menopause and line managers must ensure that everyone affected is provided with the understanding and flexibility they need to carry out their role.
How can women help themselves during menopause?
Women who are struggling with menopause symptoms are encouraged to visit their GP, but there are some things that women can do to help themselves:
Talk about it and ask for help
One of the risk factors of menopause is women feeling that they are going through it alone. Social interaction is crucial. Women should feel that they are able to talk about it and ask for help when they need it.
Awareness and taking responsibility
Learn about the symptoms and be aware of how they might be affected. Keeping a symptoms diary over 2-4 weeks can provide women with a tool to help them describe where they need more support in the workplace, or when they visit their GP.
How can employers support their people through menopause?
There are 5 million women aged 45-60 currently in work, many of whom might be struggling. And as employers look for ways to attract and retain top talent in this employee-led marketplace, being a menopause-friendly employer is crucial.
Employers should consider making “reasonable adjustments” to their working practices to ensure that women feel more comfortable.
A menopause savvy employer might:
- Reconsider uniform choices – looser, lightweight clothing which makes people feel more comfortable during rapidly changing body temperatures
- Provide flexible working options and showering/changing facilities
- Make women feel able to step out of meetings etc. if they need to
- Train line managers about menopause, to recognise when their employees might be struggling and understand they there is a lot that they can do to help
- Set up a “menopause social,” a regular event where people can chat about their experience with menopause
- Create a menopause supportive culture and environment which encourages women to be open about their needs and experiences
Why are we talking about menopause now?
Women have been experiencing menopause since the dawn of time, so why has it taken this long for it to become the topic of conversation?
“Women over 50 are the fastest-growing economically active group in the western world,” Lauren says. “We are using the voice that we’ve always had, but perhaps not in the way we’re using it now. We’re voting with our feet; we’re walking out of workplaces and we’re setting up on our own. Women are more likely to leave their jobs and set up their own business or leave and retire early, so we want to be doing things that encourage them to stay and use their skills, knowledge and experience in the work environment.”
As the conversation gets louder, employers who fail to listen will find themselves losing out on the top female talent, to the organisations that are menopause supportive.
What does the future of menopause at work look like?
There have been more employment tribunals citing menopause in the first half of 2021 than in the whole of 2020. This shows that women who are struggling at work with menopause, are failing to feel heard, but they are starting to speak up.
Women can currently ask for help and support during menopause on the grounds of disability (because the symptoms go on for 12 months or longer), age, and sex.
But there are moves to discuss whether menopause might become a Protected Characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010, or whether it should be included under risk assessment for Health and Safety 1974.
As the conversation continues to gain momentum, employers should continually assess their practices to ensure they are doing everything they can to support their people.
Women are working longer and later in life as well as holding more senior roles, so things must change. “We’ve shoehorned our way into a male-dominated masculine environment for so many years, but it doesn’t work for us,” Lauren says. “The kind of rigid routine that we’ve been used to doesn’t allow women to thrive, so we’re using our voice now.”
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