Companies are finally introducing menopause policies, but are employers going far enough to provide the support that women really need?
On top of unequal pay, a lack of part-time opportunities, incidents of harassment, and disparity in promotions, women* can add a lack of support when experiencing menopausal symptoms, to the inequalities that they may face in the workplace.
A flurry of recent news stories and research findings have provided a stark reality check. The number of women being unfairly dismissed because of their menopausal symptoms is on the rise, and a shocking 1 in 5 women cut their career short as a result of lack of support. With nearly four million employed women in the UK aged between the ages of 45 and 55, menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace.
Retaining women through this life-stage has a plethora of business benefits: improving innovation, keeping talent, reducing the gender pay gap and avoiding litigation, to name but a few. Time and time again research proves that diversity fosters innovation, better decision-making and, ultimately, higher profits. Retention is also key to meeting future staffing demands, and keeps valuable knowledge within organisations (not to mention that hiring a replacement employee costs an average of £30k). Furthermore, businesses that fail to support women during menopause, are growingly putting themselves at legal risk.
Some companies are beginning to wake up to these realities, and have started showing support for employees going through menopause. Announcements introducing policies have been made by Channel 4, Vodafone, Diageo, Zurich UK and our own SLR. However, we must ask: does adopting a policy go far enough?
If we reflect on how women feel, research finds that seven in ten women who took time off as a result of their symptoms, did not tell their employer the real reason why, while nearly three quarters of women experiencing menopause said they did not feel able to talk openly about their symptoms with colleagues. It is all well and good introducing a policy; however, if women do not feel comfortable taking advantage of it, then the policy is essentially void.
Much of the challenge in the workplace, is about encouraging conversation and creating an open culture. Menopause isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue. So we must find role models in our leaders and create opportunities for people to share experiences. We can’t rely on women to do this – we need all colleagues to become allies. The first step to eliminate taboo is by talking about the menopause as a workplace issue, so employees and managers are not embarrassed if, or more likely when, it comes up.
Women who feel comfortable speaking up when experiencing menopausal symptoms, will be able to work with employers to adopt personalised working arrangements if needed – it is these women who are then able to remain in the workplace long term and achieve their full potential, while companies will retain valuable members of their teams. It is a win-win for all parties. Menopause ignorance has gone on for too long, and it’s our joint responsibility to start the conversation.
* The issues discussed in this article may apply to any person who experiences menopausal symptoms, not just women.
Author: Rosanna Greenwood