For too long women at work have suffered in silence when it comes to the menopause. Many experience debilitating mental health and physical menopausal symptoms that have a huge impact on their everyday activities, not to mention their personal and intimate relationships too. And far too many are left feeling ashamed of this, trying their best to get on with things.
The menopause is also a workplace issue. It is central to women’s lived experiences of working life, with one in ten women employed during the menopause having left work due to its symptoms. Thousands upon thousands are struggling at work due to perimenopausal symptoms, whilst women in their mid-life make up a large proportion of people who are out of work. This taboo is not just damaging for women but damaging for business and our economy too.
Fortunately, talking about menopausal symptoms at work is beginning to move out of the shadows of stigma. High-profile figures like TV presenter Davina McCall are bravely telling their stories to shine a light on this neglected issue.
More and more responsible employers are also taking action to support menopausal women – from implementing cultural changes, training, advice, adapting absence policies, flexible work, and environmental changes. When I spoke to business leaders at the CBI’s Future of Work Conference this week, it was inspiring to see many nodding heads across the audience as I mentioned the need to support women at this age, to boost not just their health but also productivity at work. It’s also great to see employers like John Lewis, Adecco and Aviva leading the way in offering this kind of targeted support, recognising the benefits they reap too. But elsewhere too many women still aren’t getting the support they need at work.
That’s why, as this year’s International Women’s Day approaches, together with Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, Anneliese Dodds I’ve set out a step change to help businesses to support their employees going through the menopause at work. The next Labour government will require large employers with more than 250 employees to submit menopause action plans annually, alongside their gender pay gap reporting, setting out how they are supporting their employees to thrive.
We won’t dictate what should be in these plans as workers and employers from different sectors may have different needs. But they may include alterations in working conditions and working patterns, like provisions for flexible working where possible for women suffering from perimenopausal symptoms like fatigue or insomnia, or measures covering temperature control, or uniform alterations for women experiencing hot flushes.
Labour’s plan is a business-led, simple and effective way to help employers to support the wellbeing of their women workforce, helping to keep them in work, boosting productivity and contributing to economic growth. We want to work with employers on issues like this, where all of us learn from best practice to make Britain work for working women.
Our step change on supporting women with the menopause is not only backed by the evidence, it’s the right thing to do. This simple, pro-worker, pro-business step towards supporting menopausal workers is good for women, good for business and good for the economy.
With menopause action plans, we’re showing Labour is on the side of women and business.