Rachael Saunders, Director, Business in the Community age at work calls for the menopause to be brought into the open and for taboos to be broken down.
Menopause is on the map – three government ministers convened a roundtable yesterday to talk through how we better support women through the menopause – with a focus on workplaces. The event was co chaired by Caroline Dineage MP, Minister for Women and Equalities, Baroness Altmann, Minister for Pensions, and Jane Ellison MP, Minister for Public Health.
The menopause is something that every woman will experience as she gets older. Let’s start talking about it.
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Women, Menopause and the Workplace
We had a broad ranging discussion – this area covers a number of campaigning areas for BITC, with relevance to gender and wellbeing as well as age. My particular interest is that this is an issue which only has an impact on women – and the men who are close to them – in later life, and there does seem to be a direct correlation between age, and dialogue about an issue. Something that has an impact when you are older is much harder to talk about. Menopause is one of the last taboos.
The conversation had two strands. One focussed on the importance of mainstreaming the response to menopause, including advice and support in existing wellbeing information, making sure line managers are able to spot the signs and are open to conversations about menopause, and making sure it is treated fairly in sickness polices. I suggested it would be worth employers reviewing their data on disciplinaries, because I have spoken to members who have found they have a spike in issues amongst women in their 40s and 50s, and have found after asking, that menopause underlay them. We also discussed the importance of really flexible flexible working – being able to work differently for a period of time, then return at full strength afterwards.
The other part of the conversation was more complex. I and others advocated for promotion of role models to talk about experience of the menopause, to break down taboos and normalise the issue, which then makes it much easier for women to openly ask for advice and for line managers to feel comfortable seeking information about the appropriate response.
There were some warning flags raised on this in the room – partly “initiativeitus” with a warning against too many communications campaigns and initiatives, and partly a real concern that drawing attention to an area of female vulnerability undermines women’s ability to progress at work.
I can imagine that similar doubts were expressed about anti stigma campaigns for mental health, HIV, or tackling pregnancy discrimination. Pioneers sometimes pay a personal price for long term progress, and being one of the first women in a business to talk publicly about their experience of the menopause might be hard. Being the second, third or fourth will be much easier.
So much of lived experience in work or more broadly in later life is unwritten and unspoken about. We will all have times in our life where physical change or ill health will have a big impact on our relationships with other people and our ability to get things done at work, and this has more of an impact on most of us as we get older. The menopause is something that every woman will experience as she gets older. Let’s start talking about it.