Research carried out by the Fawcett Society, a charity that campaigns for gender equality and woman’s rights, has highlighted the challenges faced by women going through the menopause. The research was focused on the UK’s financial services industry.
For many, the menopause occurs at just the point at which the opportunity to reach for senior management roles arises. The research shows that the menopause:
- Usually occurs between ages 45 and 55, although it can be earlier or later than this.
- Symptoms can last between four and eight years, according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.
- The transition is not a uniform experience for all women – approximately 75% experience symptoms and a reported 25% experience serious symptoms.
- The severity of menopausal symptoms and experience in the workplace can result in women leaving their jobs with one in four considering it according to the Wellbeing of Women survey in 2016.
The research found that 28,000 women, or 1 in 10 employees, working in the financial services sector are currently going through the menopause. For almost half of employees experiencing the menopausal symptoms, it makes them less likely to want to progress in their role. For a quarter it is the reason they are more likely to retire early. Other key findings included:
- A culture of silence means the impact of the menopause is hidden. Only 22% of women currently experiencing the menopause disclose their status at work. Worries about social stigma are a bigger block to disclosure than preferences for privacy and there was strong support for action to reduce that stigma.
- The sector is losing talent because of the menopause. For almost half of women and trans men who are currently experiencing the menopause, it has made them less likely to want to apply for a promotion. One quarter of employees currently experiencing the menopause said their experience has made them more likely to leave the workforce before retirement.
- With the right support, women can stay and progress in financial services. Women’s message was clear: just as employers have with mental health, we need to break the stigma and taboo on the menopause. Most of the women spoken to, who reduced their seniority or left their roles, believed had they known more about the menopause and been given support, they would have stayed or progressed.
The research will of course apply in other work areas, and according to ONS data, approximately 13% of the UK workforce are women over 50. This is a significant problem that largely remains unspoken.
Women who feel that they have been subjected to unfair treatment at work relating to menopause have to squeeze their claims into existing legislative parameters. One of the options is to bring a discrimination claim by relying on one of the existing protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010, which, in a case involving the menopause, is likely to be disability, sex or age. Disability is the most obvious route but to qualify the woman has to experience symptoms that are sufficiently severe and long term to satisfy the definition of a disability. If they do not, then the fall-back position will be sex or age discrimination. Depending on the circumstances, a woman may also have a claim of unfair dismissal, constructive unfair dismissal, harassment and victimisation. Trans men may also be affected by the menopause which may open the legal door to gender reassignment discrimination.
Disability discrimination can provide protection for women, as the Employment Tribunal case of Daley v Optiva (ET Case No.1308074/19) shows. In that case the tribunal accepted that the claimant did have substantial difficulties in undertaking day-to-day activities as a result of the effects of menopause and/or an underactive thyroid. It also considered that the effects were substantial and were likely to last a year (all elements of the disability test).
However, trying to fit the menopause into the existing legislative framework is not ideal, and so the Women and Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into workplace issues surrounding the menopause in July of this year. It closed in September. We await the result.
Guidance for Employers
In the meantime, what can employers do?
- 1. Provide information and advice about the menopause and coping at work
- 2. Train managers and HR on the menopause
- 3. Publish a policy or a guidance document on the menopause
- 4. Facilitate support systems and networks
- 5. Demonstrate senior leadership support
- 6. Cover the menopause in private health insurance plans and employee assistance programmes
- 7. Allow Flexible working and flexible working arrangements
- 8. Make simple changes to the workplace environment
Got a question specific to your organisation or employees? Get in touch with our HR consultancy team today for legal expertise and advice you can trust.