Pervasive taboos, a “culture of silence” in the workplace, and the impact of the physical symptoms of the menopause are all contributing to a blockage in the retention and leadership pipeline of women in financial services, according to new research.
For a quarter (25 per cent) of women working in the UK’s financial services industry who are currently going through the menopause, their experience makes them more likely to leave the workforce altogether before retirement.
And a further one in five (22 per cent) are more likely to retire early, according to new research by Standard Chartered Bank and the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC).
Among the findings of the research, the most striking figures surrounded the impact that menopause has on career progression and leadership for women in the City – in an industry already facing a skills gap.
A significant proportion of women experiencing challenging symptoms of the menopause are making a conscious decision not to progress into more senior roles, or even reducing their seniority, in part due to the lack of support offered by their employers to manage symptoms.
Almost half (47 per cent) of the 2,400 women surveyed across 100 organisations said they were less likely to apply for a promotion because of their experiences with the menopause, and 52 per cent said it made them less likely to take on extra responsibilities.
But this is not for lack of ambition – almost 40 per cent said that they wanted to progress to a more senior role.
Worry over their ability to perform adequately in a more demanding role due to menopause symptoms, and a perception that they would be judged as unable to perform adequately by their employer, were the main reasons cited by women for why they were pressing pause on their climb up the career ladder.
An information gap surrounding the actual symptoms of the menopause – such as brain fog – also contributed to these worries, and could be addressed by employers providing information and advice about the menopause to both women and men in their organisation, the research suggests.
And this goes further than simply publishing a guidance document on a company’s menopause policy, but communicating it effectively around the organisation, to “legitimise the menopause as an issue”.
“A menopause policy is an empty document unless everyone knows it exists and you have people of all genders supporting it,” one senior leader in banking said.
Two thirds (67 per cent) of women working in financial services did not know if their workplace had a guidance or policy on the menopause, and of the remaining third, only 13 per cent said that it had.
“There’s a culture of silence around the menopause in financial services, with many women taking it on themselves to absorb the impacts of their experiences,” said Tanuj Kapilashrami, Group Head of Human Resources at Standard Chartered.
Those impacts go beyond the stereotypical “hot flushes” and stretch to numerous non-physical symptoms that can severely impact women’s ability to work – namely difficulty sleeping (reported by 69 per cent), anxiety and worry (by 63 per cent) and problems with recall (by 58 per cent).
“For too long the menopause has been a taboo subject in the workplace,” said Claire Tunley, Chief Executive at the Financial Services Skills Commission says, who warned that the sector could lose “tens of thousands of women” due to their experience of the menopause at work.
Ending this taboo is “essential to mitigating the potential fallout of talent in the workforce,” said Miles Celic, CEO of TheCityUK.
“Openly recognising and discussing the impact the menopause can have on women and their careers, and ensuring they have proper support, is the right thing to do both ethically and commercially,” he said.