Tuesday 12 November 2019 6:30 am

Time for firms to menopause for thought

Alaana Linney is commercial director at Bupa Health Clinics.

From 12-month statutory maternity leave to tackling the gender pay gap, the Labour party unveiled a package of proposals last week to transform the workplace for women. Among the lesser reported is a requirement that large employers have a menopause workplace policy in place. 

It is a positive sign that we are finally seeing politicians and organisations tackle the stigma around this subject, but we still have a long way to go. It’s a matter of business sense, as well as equality. Ultimately, for those businesses that fail to support women’s health in the workplace, there is a real risk of losing female talent.

Women are physiologically different to men, yet our different needs are not addressed by society, let alone the workplace. The menopause, for example, is a physiological change that every woman will experience, yet we don’t discuss it. It typically affects women in their forties when they are usually at the top of their game professionally, yet businesses ignore it.

We know from our client data that these women can be under-prepared for the significance of the symptoms because of a gap in menopause knowledge. As such, employees can end up suffering needlessly.

Our research found that almost one million UK women have left a job during their working lives because of these symptoms, while many others have taken long-term leave.

In the UK, there are nine million women aged between 40 and 60 in the workplace who are likely to be experiencing menopause; for a quarter of them it could be debilitating. The lack of support for these women is resulting in breaks in our talent pipelines. 

Businesses have the opportunity to stop this talent drain. To increase accessibility to informed menopause care, we’re investing in upskilling a fifth of our GP workforce, who also work under the NHS, through the British Menopause Society.

UK businesses have a responsibility to act now, but how can we do that if menopause is still a taboo subject?

While many businesses will offer bespoke maternity leave packages and consider flexible working arrangements for parents, the same degree of flexibility isn’t given to the menopause.

Studies show that the number of companies with a menopause policy is still under five per cent. This imbalance needs to change. 

Channel 4 made headlines recently for introducing a menopause policy to address the taboo and normalise the subject of menopause at work. It’s 2019, and the policy is believed to be the first among UK media companies – let’s hope that it’s the first of many across other industry sectors.

Education is also critical. Businesses that impart knowledge to all their employees and their leaders will be creating open cultures, which ensure that all women have the support they need. 

We helped our managers by providing infographics that explain the symptoms and the severity of menopause, with a guide on supporting measures. 

While a simple technique, it is one that has proven popular with male leaders who were unaware of the symptoms and potential impact.

Symptoms of menopause are personal and can be embarrassing, but this is not an excuse to avoid the conversation. The fact that we’re losing female talent because of it is nonsensical. These women are at a point where they can offer businesses experience and are possibly at, or reaching, the pinnacle of their careers.

It’s within our power as leaders to normalise the menopause, and if we do, businesses will reap the benefits of being at the front-end of recruiting and retaining female talent.

Women don’t need special treatment, but we do need businesses to act in a way that levels the playing field and changes perspectives.

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