On top of unequal pay, a lack of part time opportunities and inflexible hours after having children, women can add a lack of support for the years they go through the menopause to the gender inequality they face in the workplace.
In a stark reality check, new research has found a shocking amount of women are forced to take time off work, cut their hours or even leave their jobs, due to suffering symptoms and not enough support.
The results of a poll of 3,800 women, carried out for menopause medic Dr Louise Newson who runs non-profit Newson Health Research And Education, is due to be presented at Royal College of GPs’ annual conference. It found that 99% of women felt their menopause or perimenopause symptoms had a negative impact on their careers, 59% had taken time off work – 18% for more than eight weeks.
One in five (21%) women passed on the chance to go for a promotion they would have otherwise considered, 19% reduced their hours and 12% resigned.
Newson says: “For far too long menopausal women have been faced with an impossible choice: struggle on with often debilitating symptoms or leave behind careers they have worked so hard for. The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51, at precisely the point where many women are at the peak of their careers, with an abundance of skills and experience to offer.”
Symptoms which usually start years before your periods stop, include hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, headaches, mood changes, anxiety, palpitations, join stiffness and recurrent UTIs. The NHS say most (eight in 10) will experience symptoms for some time after their periods stop – one in 10 women suffer them for up to 12 years.Expecting women to simply act like it’s not happening and continue working as normal isn’t fair, and companies can’t simply ‘play dumb’ to the realities if lots of their female employees are struggling around the age of the menopause.
Talking about it isn’t the norm
One of the issues is that too many women are suffering in silence; either because of a stigma felt in opening up about the effects of the menopause, or for fear their symptoms won’t be taken seriously (as is so often the case for women’s health). Add the workplace into the mix – particularly in male dominated industries – and it’s no wonder women don’t always feel comfortable sharing.
Deborah Garlick, director at Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, says: “For some of us it can feel difficult talking about menopause with our line manager for the first time. Remember they’re there to help you be at your best at work, whether you’re experiencing menopause symptoms or any other health condition.”
Firstly, she suggests, check whether your organisation provides support on the intranet. “Book time in with your line manager in a private room or somewhere confidential. Prepare ahead of the meeting: what are your symptoms, how are they affecting you at work, what are you doing to manage them (have you talked to your GP), and think about how your line manager could help.
“Your line manager may need time to reflect on your conversation or even talk to HR about the support they can offer, so book some time to catch up again.” It’s a health issue and almost all UK workers are legally entitled to sick pay if they need it.
Companies need to do more
Of course the onus can’t just be on employees to open up – if they feel like the workplace environment or company ethos is hostile towards women’s issues and health problems in general, they won’t feel like there’s a safe space to do so.
“While we’ve made an enormous amount of progress over the past few years – going back five years, we couldn’t find an employer treating menopause seriously at work – by 2018 the CIPD survey [a professional body championing better working lives] said one in 10 employers had started to take action,” says Garlick.
Three years later and the new Newson Health Research and Education survey still found the majority (60%) said their workplace offered no menopause support.
“It’s essential all employers open up the conversation about menopause,” says Garlick, “and keep it going until they’ve created an inclusive culture where it’s easy to talk about menopause, and for those experiencing symptoms to ask for support if they need it.”
It’s a double whammy of sexism and ageism
“We’re an ageing population and menopausal women are the fastest growing part of the workforce,” says Garlick, who adds it’s common for women to curb their career ambitions, often taking work with fewer hours or less responsibility, during the menopause transition. Not only are companies losing valuable talent, but these are people who’ve worked hard – for 30 odd years – to get their career to a certain point, only to feel forced out at often senior levels, due to something completely out of their control, something that only affects women, and older women at that.
“Consider the impact on equality in the organisation. We know how much women appreciate it when their employer demonstrates that they understand and will support [them] if they hit a bump in the road during menopause – with that comes greater loyalty,” says Garlick. Otherwise, workplaces can lose talent and experience that’s costly to replace.
“For those employers who do nothing, there’s also a significant increase in the number of menopause employment tribunals,” Garlick warns.