What can employers do to tackle menopause ignorance?

A new white paper looks at what employers can do to overturn the taboo around menopause at work and make it easier for women to talk about it.

middle aged woman working


The majority of women working in the hospitality, travel and leisure industry say their employer is not menopause savvy or supportive of menopause, according to a new survey.

The survey and an accompanying white paper by WiHTL (Women in Hospitality, Travel & Leisure) is one of a number of activities for for World Menopause Month. It found that 69% said that their organisation was not menopause savvy and 59% that they work in a culture that is not supportive of menopause.

Fifty two per cent said they did not feel comfortable to openly discuss their symptoms with their line manager and 54% did not seek support from any other source such as a colleague or HR.

The survey shows that, even though every woman will experience the menopause, the majority during their working career and 25% with severe or life-changing symptoms, the impact at work is a topic that remains taboo. One woman who took part in the survey asked: “How do I start a conversation about menopause in the workplace in a culture that actually makes fun or is dismissive of menopausal women?”

WiHTL partnered with Lauren Chiren, Director of Women of a Certain Stage who specialises in Executive Health Coaching and Menopause at Work Training, to carry out research and produce a new white paper with the aim to increase awareness in order to bring about meaningful change. It highlights several areas that need to be addressed.

Firstly, it points out that menopause can affect many things including mood, sleep, concentration and confidence.
It says that when these symptoms are misunderstood, they can be perceived as performance and attendance issues, leading to negative consequences such as women avoiding or being overlooked for promotion, being put on performance plans and even leaving their jobs.

It adds that the financial impact of the related symptoms is hard to estimate due to the taboo surrounding the condition and women not wanting to share the true reason for their absence. Nevertheless, current estimations suggests 14 million working days are lost annually due to these symptoms.

71.2% of women in the WiHTL survey felt that their symptoms may impact or have impacted their performance level. A lack of support is leading to women to not want to speak up about their experiences and their needs whilst they transition through the menopause.

The white paper says that, by managing menopause effectively with practical solutions and ensuring an open, well informed and inclusive culture, employers can increase attendance and performance, improve gender parity, employee engagement and see a rise in the attraction and retention of female talent.

The white paper foregrounds the experiences of women who are affected by the menopause. The first key finding was the lack of awareness in women themselves about the menopause, with 81.7% stating they did not have a solid understanding of what the menopause /peri-menopause is and how it would affect them.

When survey respondents were asked if there was anything they wish they had known about the menopause prior to going through it one woman commented: “The lack of confidence in my abilities, especially at work. I was unable to concentrate and retain information, which impacted my confidence and I felt I would not be able to continue in my
role. Other colleagues were a few years away from the menopause, so I was unable to speak to anyone.”

Another commented: “I thought it would consist of hot flushes and mood swings. I did not expect to struggle with confidence (I had always been a confident person), lots of self-doubt and feeling as though I was no longer adding any value.”

So what can employers do? Chiren highlights the importance of first analysing the data to understand what proportion of the workforce is made up of women aged between 40 – 58, then gaining executive buy-in by presenting the business and potential legal impact of not managing menopause in the workplace effectively. Although the Equality Act 2010 does not specifically identify the menopause, it is capable, in some instances, of being a disability and as it only affects older women there are potential issues of sex and age discrimination where there is detrimental treatment due to the menopause. Other possible legal issues centre around sex and age discrimination.

It then recommends that employers develop a tailored strategy and action plan that includes reviewing existing policies, listening to employees affected by menopause, introducing a menopause policy (if there isn’t one in place already) and line manager toolkits and developing a communication and training plan.

It highlights the importance of creating an inclusive environment that considers wellbeing, good ventilation, quiet spaces, uniform and opportunities for supported discussion and engagement.

*The white paper can be downloaded here.

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