11 insights on menopause in the workplace
A UK Government inquiry is examining the extent of workplace discrimination faced by those who experience menopause. OT reports
27 January 2022
AOP menopause resources
The AOP has a range of tools available for those experiencing menopause and employers looking to support their staff.
These include an introduction to menopause, tips for navigating menopause in the workplace and template menopause policy.
Despite one in four working women being of menopausal age, the committee was told that many women feel embarrassed to discuss their symptoms with their manager, partner or even their doctor.
The House of Commons women and equalities committee has compiled written and oral evidence that examines the extent of discrimination faced by menopausal people in the workplace. OT presents 11 insights from the hearing.
1 Menopausal symptoms prompted 900,000 UK women to leave their jobs
The inquiry reports that a 2019 survey by BUPA and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that 900,000 women left their jobs in the UK over an undefined period of time because of menopausal symptoms.
As many women who experience menopause are between the ages of 45 and 55, the inquiry noted that these women were often leaving jobs “at the peak of their experience.”
“Their exit can lessen diversity at executive levels. It can also contribute to the gender pay-gap and feed into a disparity in pensions.”
2 Three in five menopausal women reported being negatively affected at work
The same research by BUPA and CIPD revealed that three in five menopausal women reported a negative impact at work.
Nearly two thirds (65%) said they were less able to concentrate, while more than half said they experienced more stress (58%) and felt less patient with clients and colleagues (52%).
Close to one in three women (30%) had taken sick leave because of their symptoms. However, within this group only one in four women felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.
3 Forcefully expressed opinions by female barristers were attributed to ‘hormones’
A survey conducted by the Bar Council, which represents around 17,000 barristers in England and Wales, found that 86% of women experiencing menopause reported a negative effect on their role.
Respondents reported a decrease in work or earnings in comparison with male colleagues at the same career stage.
Many felt that this was because of a perception that during and following the menopause, women were less energetic, driven and focused than a man perceived to be “hitting the peak of his powers.”
“It is felt that the Bar, as a male-dominated profession with a culture that values strength and stamina, finds this a particularly difficult topic,” evidence presented to the committee stated.
“It frequently manifests itself by the couching of all references to menopause in terms of a joke or a euphemism, often in a way that undermines and diminishes the professional women involved,” the Bar Council highlighted.
Women who responded to the Bar Council survey reported “explicit belittling or dismissal” of the opinions of women of menopausal age.
For example, “putting forcefully expressed or challenging opinions down to ‘hormones’
or the menopause.”
4 Nearly one in four women in employment are of menopausal age
The Trade Union Congress highlighted in its evidence that 23% of employed women are of menopausal age (45-54).
Looking at all people in employment, more than one in ten (11%) are women of menopausal age.
“All workplaces need to adopt workplace policies that support women and others who
experience menopause. In doing so it will help challenge the stigma surrounding
menopause and other conditions that affect women,” the Trade Union Congress stated.
5 The current designs of personal protective equipment can be challenging for women experiencing menopause
The Nottingham Women’s Centre (NWC) interviewed 82 women for evidence presented to the committee.
Interviewees told the NWC that wearing PPE can be challenging for those experiencing menopause.
“Most women reported that current designs of PPE have made working difficult and uncomfortable due to overheating,” the NWC highlighted.
One respondent shared her experience of wearing PPE while offering therapy sessions.
“Hot flushes and PPE are a nightmare. My goggles steam up, my apron sticks to me, my face burns under my mask and my gloves fill with sweat,” the survey participant said.
6 A third of women are too embarrassed to discuss menopause symptoms
Evidence presented by BUPA included a 2020 survey of 1000 UK women who have experienced menopause.
The research found that close to half (45%) never went to see their GP about the symptoms they experienced, while a third of those surveyed were too embarrassed to talk about their symptoms generally.
7 “The menopause hit me like a tsunami”: one woman’s evidence
Former pharmacist, Hilary Carse, presented written evidence to the committee about her experience of menopause.
After more than three decades working within the profession, Carse felt that she was approaching the peak of her career in 2010.
“My children were becoming independent and now was the moment for me to savour the culmination of my professional knowledge and experience,” she shared.
“And then the menopause hit me like a tsunami,” Carse added.
She reported experiencing debilitating symptoms and unsupportive working conditions.
“For months I tried to cope but menopausal symptoms kept flooring me and I had to take the odd day off to stabilise myself… I was faced with the humiliation of disciplinary interviews because of these absences,” she shared.
Carse left her job in 2014 with her experience leaving her defeated and “with a sense of shame at not fighting more for my right to remain in professional employment.”
“Now I find myself noticing such an absence of women of my age in the workplace and I
wonder if their journey experiences have been similar to mine,” she said.
8 A survey of more than 400 companies in 2021 found only one in four offered menopause support
Research conducted by the professional body for HR professionals, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, in 2021, surveyed individuals from 421 organisations.
Only one in four respondents reported that their organisation offered support to women experiencing the menopause – such as a policy, framework or guidance.
“We think all workplaces should have a framework to support employees
experiencing menopause transition,” the CIPD highlighted.
The AOP offers a template menopause policy for members that can be accessed online.
9 There is no word in British sign language for menopause
GP and women’s health specialist, Dr Nighat Arif, presented oral evidence to the committee.
She discussed efforts to make conversations around menopause more inclusive.
Arif noted that in 2019 she was involved in the BBC’s Wake up to Menopause campaign.
“For the first time, there was an ethnic minority voice to that conversation… [menopause] was always seen as a western conversation and women from South Asian and black heritage were partly excluded from that,” she shared.
Arif noted that she looks after three patients who are deaf.
“I only recently realised that there is no word in British sign language for menopause,” Arif shared.
She encouraged campaigns raising awareness of menopause to consider publishing materials in a range of languages.
10 Changing attitudes: “I have been a gynaecologist for 30-odd years and yet my mother never mentioned the word ‘periods’”
Dr Heather Currie, trustee and former chair of the British Menopause Society, presented oral evidence to the committee.
Currie shared that people are now becoming more comfortable to talk about menopause.
“Overall, I think there has been an enormous change. I do not think there is the stigma and taboo that there was before generally,” Currie said.
She acknowledged that this was not the case for her parents’ generation.
“I have been a gynaecologist for 30 odd years and yet my mother never mentioned the word ‘periods’ and never mentioned the word ‘menopause’,” she shared.
11 Women report unwillingness from employers to make adjustments
A small qualitative survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was described as part of written evidence.
Respondents highlighted an unwillingness from employers to make workplace adjustments for women experiencing the menopause, with one respondent leaving the job as a result.
Another respondent noted that “When I explained to my employer that I was experiencing health difficulties including severe headaches, memory loss and brain fog plus exhaustion, I was asked to resign if I could no longer do the job.”