Celebrating progress, aiming even higher

Two years ago, a groundbreaking report into menopause was published. Here, we look at what’s changed since then… and what progress we’re looking forward to seeing in the future. 

The report, Menopause transition: effects on women’s economic participation was published for the Government Equalities Office, and examined a number of key areas around menopause in the workplace. These included:

  • To what extent is the menopause transition a problem for working women, and what is the nature and scale of the problem in the workplace and wider labour market?
  • How do the symptoms of menopause transition, attitudes of workers experiencing the menopause transition, and attitudes of employers impact on women’s economic participation?
  • How can women employees experiencing the menopause transition be better supported?
  • Can the economic costs of the menopause transition on women’s economic participation be quantified? If so, how?
  • What are the key evidence gaps relating to the menopause transition and the workplace and/or labour market?

Menopause support in the workplace was in its fledging stage at the time the report was published. In fact, one of the authors, Professor Jo Brewis, stated: “I could have named all the UK organisations with support in place back then.” Reassuringly, she went on to say: “Now that would be extremely difficult.”

The report highlighted the essential and urgent need for employers to put the right support in place for menopause. With women over 50 the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace, this makes sense for commercial reasons as well as demonstrating responsibility and accountability on the part of the employer.

The right information, training and processes could offset the potential costs of menopause transition for organisations, with some women leaving their jobs due to menopausal symptoms, or even going to tribunals if they feel they have been discriminated against.

Where are we now?

Menopause in the workplace has gathered traction and is now finding its way into the policies, procedures and training practices of forward thinking organisations.

Professor Jo Brewis continues: “There are a substantial number of workplaces that have implemented some kind of intervention around the menopause, be it a policy, guidance, a menopause support network or something else. We know that one of the things that women who experience problematic menopausal symptoms really want is more understanding and more awareness, as well as concrete support, so this is  excellent to see.”

These are sentiments echoed by her co-author, Dr Vanessa Beck, who says: “I have seen an increase in attention to the next stages / use of this provision in terms of the importance of changing cultures and sensitivities to menopause. There has also been a marked increase in people’s knowledge about menopause.”

Northumbrian Water

Alison Corner of Northumbrian Water says: “We’re now highlighting support for women who are experiencing the menopause with a menopause toolkit, resources on our intranet and guidance for managers. We’ve also run face-to-face workshops and webinars.

“This was an idea that come from our 2018 Innovation Festival, and it was great that we could bring this back to our 2019 festival and showcase this important subject. Over 2,600 people attended over the week from over 550 organisations, so we were proud to shout about what we have achieved and encourage other organisations to do the same. We’re also proud of our women’s support group which was been set up by some of our employees as a result of the workshops, where they regularly share stories and support each other.   

“We’d like to see more organisations educating their people and providing support to both the women they employ and the men who have wives, partners and other family members who will be experiencing the menopause. We’d particularly like the water industry to be leading in this area.
“The feedback we have received about our menopause education and awareness programme has been excellent and I’d recommend all employers to start talking about this important issue.”

Network Rail

Karen Venn, Diversity & Inclusion Project Manager at Network Rail says: “Our menopause awareness project has been successfully received across the business, as well as being recognised by our Chair Sir Peter Hendy and CEO Andrew Haines.

“Our gender diversity project 20by20 highlights the importance of the menopause project and retaining our talent.

The toolkit now features on our safety central website and includes the film, our Everyone Guide to managing menopause in the workplace, and a presentation. Colleagues can download the material and use for discussion, lunch and learns etc.

“This project has led to other difficult conversations being discussed, from IVF to cancer treatments and menstrual issues, as well as other issues that impact on men.  The project more generally has reportedly promoted better conversations.

“Next, we would like to see references to menopause in our other policies, including the reasonable adjustment policy and items like performance and capability – a work in progress for us. We would also like to see other train operator companies or the transport sector as a whole also promote menopause awareness so that it become an industry-wide initiative.”

The menopause at work: guidance for people professionals produced by CIPD features Network Rail’s case study.

Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion

Becky Brooks, UK Membership Director at Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei) says: “Creating an inclusive environment can make a real difference in the workplace. We held a training session in October 2017 for ENEI members (with Henpicked) and published a document to help members understand the reasons why, and how they can support colleagues. We had another conference call in May 2019 with Henpicked.

“Many members are now putting the right awareness, education and support in place. It’s fabulous to see how many employers are now getting behind this.”

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

Rachel Suff, Senior Policy Adviser (Employment Relations) at CIPD says: “We see this as a public policy imperative and a priority for workplaces too. I’d like to see an ongoing campaign to ensure all employers take menopause transition seriously, break down the stigma in society and at work, and provide any necessary ongoing support for women who need it.

“Thankfully, in many cases we are pushing at an open door, but there are still far too many workplaces where the ‘M word’ is never spoken and there’s no guidance or policy. This means women continue to suffer in silence. Momentum is building, but there is still a lot of work to do.”

What lies ahead?

Although it’s clear that some great progress has been made, and heartening to see so many organisations with support in place, there is still work to be done to break the menopause taboo. Jo Brewis would like: “Menopause to become as standard a conversation in workplaces as discussions around pregnancy and maternity leave,” adding “It’s a real privilege to be a part of these developments – long may it continue!”

Deborah Garlick, Director of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, says: ” It’s great to see so much progress from so many inspirational organisations we’re working with. We’re very grateful to them and have seen how much difference it makes for their colleagues and their business.

“Having seen how it’s done and the benefits this support brings, there’s there’s every reason for all organisations to put the right menopause awareness and education in place.”

And what are Dr Vanessa Beck’s hopes for the future? “I’d like to see menopause formally considered in the equality legislation. And equally, to have menopause listed as a possible option on return-to-work forms and exit-from-work forms in all organisations so that, nationally, we can collect detailed information on the number of women who require time off from work or who leave their job as a result of their menopause symptoms.

On a personal note, this has been an amazing journey and I hope that we can continue to make a difference for individual women and for organisations.”

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Also read the research published by Professor Jo Brewis, Professor Andrea Davies and Dr Vanessa Beck, together with Dr Jesse Matheson – the Government Equalities Report ‘The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK’.