Not just a hot flush: Why the menopause is vital for your organisation’s policies to be truly equitable

Menopause in the workplace: Impact on women in Financial Services

By Kat Anastasiou, Senior Project Manager at The Team

Over the last couple of years, more and more businesses have been going public about their commitment to DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion, an evolution of D&I), but their promises will be somewhat hollow if they fail to consider the menopause as a key aspect of employee health rather than just something warranting ignorant dismissal or childish tittering.

Around 80% of women experience menopausal symptoms (such as hot flushes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, headaches, low mood, anxiety and heart palpitations). Naturally, these are likely to negatively impact a woman’s life – including her work life.

The menopause is a workplace issue

Historically, many have felt they need to “put up and shut up”, that they can’t speak up about the menopause since they feel they either won’t be taken seriously or may be discriminated against at worst; or that at best, their workplace simply doesn’t have protocols in place for who to speak to, or menopause-specific sick leave policies.

This poses huge problems for women who are forced to suffer in silence, and who face inadequate provisions at work for something that will happen to just over half of the population at some point in their life.

Menopause is something that companies need to finally take seriously, and compassionately. We should be able to talk about menopausal symptoms in the same way we discuss other health issues. That means education for men and younger women too, since many have little understanding of what menopause entails until they reach it.

Companies need to acknowledge just how much the menopause impacts their female staff and what can be put in place to make everyone’s lives easier, from the women themselves experiencing menopause to those creating staff policy documents to line managers and trainers. Widespread ignorance around the menopause creates a culture of fear around speaking up honestly about the menopause and how it impacts women – a culture that needs to be changed, and hopefully, we’re moving in the right direction.

How businesses are stepping up

At creative brand and communications agency The Team, we recently created a series of ten menopause-focused videos for IBM, each featuring a woman from a different country around the world.

The films are an honest appraisal of what it is like living and working with the menopause. Together with a series of podcasts, they are designed to make all IBM staff more conscious of the challenges that colleagues face at work.

Many women who were interviewed for the IBM project reported that workplaces exhibit a lack of knowledge from wider staff members around exactly what the menopause is and what it means for those going through it. Few realise, for instance, that menopause is actually a single day (the day that marks a year since their last period); or that symptoms can last from anywhere from around four to 12 years (though a few women don’t experience any symptoms at all.)

In terms of talking about the menopause at work, this is a first for IBM as it leads the way in opening up the discussion about this topic. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the films land: in some ways, it doesn’t matter – as long as it starts a conversation.

IBM isn’t the only big company that’s starting to make strides toward a more supportive workplace for women working through menopause. This year, NatWest provided written evidence to a UK Parliament committee acting as a best practice example and offering businesses advice on how to factor in the needs of employees going through the menopause.

NatWest – which recently signed up to the Menopause Friendly Accreditation – has brought in a number of external speakers to run informative sessions about the menopause as part of its more wide-ranging reproductive health campaign.

It’s also worked with Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace to facilitate line manager training; created an internal colleague film featuring male and female colleagues discussing their experiences of menopause; launched a virtual peer-to-peer discussion space dubbed the Menopause Café for colleagues, as well as a ‘Menopause Chatroom’ on its intranet; and reviewed its absence policy to include reference to menopause-related symptoms.

Changing culture once and for all

Companies need to take gender equality seriously – that means taking the menopause seriously. It’s in their best interests, in terms of fairness and human decency, but also in terms of their bottom line: according to Forbes, “companies with low rates of both gender and racial diversity are 29% more likely to make less money.”

It’s all about changing the culture of an organisation, which might look like implementing training and advice for all colleagues and doing away with the immature and dismissive way we talk about women’s health generally once and for all.

Kat AnastasiouAbout the author

A creative brand and communications agency, The Team are experts in employee experience and brand activation. As a client facing Senior Project Manager, Kat collaborates with brands and internal teams, working closely with IBM as well as Scope and Natwest to develop and elevate their diversity campaigns.

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