By Lesley Kezhu Wang
There are many issues with menopause at work - negatively impacting the wellbeing of female employees and productivity - action must be taken. Speakers included Carolyn Harris MP, Rachel Maclean MP, Janet Trowse from Network Rail, Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Policy Advisor and Claire McCartney, Resourcing and Inclusion Policy Advisor at CIPD.
Menopause is not only a women’s issue, it is a health as well as a business issue. CIPD’s research shows that three in five women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work and three in ten women have been unable to go into work because of their symptoms. Often, the menopause and a lack of support in the workplace is stopping women from pursuing their career further.
Women experiencing menopausal symptoms report that it is negatively affecting their concentration and interpersonal interactions, yet very few of these affected women feel able to speak to their managers about it. Many symptoms are not just physical ones (such as hot flushes or fatigue) but also psychological symptoms such as stress, anxiety and lack of self-confidence.
Creating an inclusive workspace for menopause is a compliance issue for business. Supporting women through menopause in the workplace is at the heart of gender equality and inclusion. Through addressing these issues, employers will also be able to boost productivity. All five speakers called for greater Government and employer support around the menopause so that all women in any industry will have proper support through their menopause transition.
Carolyn Harris and Rachel Maclean emphasised cross party agreement on this issue and proposed several ways forward. They supported the CIPD’s Manifesto call to appoint a menopause ambassador in every government department to raise awareness and advocate for women who are going through menopause. They also agreed that Human Resources professional bodies such as CIPD should lead by example and create frameworks for support and care for menopausal women. Claire McCartney of CIPD advised on the four pillars of support for women who are negatively impacted by menopause that should be adopted by all organisations and industries:
- There must be an open discussion about menopause in the workplace to destigmatise menopause and to ask the women who are going through it how they would like to be supported through the process.
- There should be a well-defined framework for dealing with menopause including guidelines, education about menopause, policies, and bringing in occupational health professionals.
- Health absence is also a crucial element of support; to promote genuine and accurate reporting to further and improve support, it is key that these absences will not lead to any punitive action.
- Training is the final pillar and it is also at the foundation of support; line managers must be trained to deal with situations surrounding menopause so they can advise their employees appropriately and accurately.
Just having a programme for wellness, inclusion, and diversity alone isn’t enough anymore and much more should be done specifically for menopause.
What Can Occupational Health Professionals Do? - Occupational health (OH) plays a large role in supporting menopausal women in the workplace. One of the main issues of menopause that women are facing is that due to the lack of specific training GPs often misdiagnose menopause symptoms or dismiss them completely. OH professionals should receive specialised training so that they can accurately advise and support women who are going through menopause. OH professionals should also be the biggest advocate for GPs to receive better training so that more women would receive better information and therefore be able to better advocate for themselves.
- Carolyn Harris MP and Janet Trowse of Network Rail both talked about personal experiences with bottom-up, grassroot movements to create an inclusive workspace for menopause. They both emphasised the importance to involve men in the discourse, especially in male dominated industries such as tech, manufacturing, or transport.
- Janet Trowse’s success within Network Rail was made possible because she was able to appeal to a male board member and he then helped her to push the agenda. Carolyn gave a success story on a Tesco shop floor where women banded together to talk about their symptoms and their experience with menopause during their breaktime; management gradually made changes such as flexible uniforms, time outs, and dark rooms to support these women.
Lesley Kezhu Wang is a third year student at University College London and a volunteer at the Society of Occupational Medicine.