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Workplace menopause support: a diversity priority

Posted on 13 June 2022

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The Fawcett Society's 'Menopause in the Workplace' report, published in April 2022 highlights the significant impact of the menopause on women in the workplace. It also highlights the need for employers to develop ways to support this significant element of the workforce as a key part of their EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) strategy. In this article, we explore the current landscape as well as initiatives employers can consider to support their female workforce and reduce the risk of employment tribunal claims.

So why is this such an issue now? In part, it is driven by increased media coverage and a recognition from the Government that it needs to do more. It is also thanks to employers' increased awareness of the importance of attracting and retaining diverse talent (both in terms of age and sex), and taking steps to improve their gender pay gap. Finally, more women over 50 are working than ever before, and so the problem affects a larger proportion of the workforce than it has previously.

It's estimated that approximately five million working women are affected by the menopause. However, only around 9% of UK employers have any form of policy in place to support this substantial demographic of employees.

Recent surveys suggest that one in ten menopausal women in the UK end up leaving their jobs due to menopause symptoms. That is an estimated 333,000 women. The Fawcett Society report goes further and highlights that 44% of women said that their ability to work had been affected, 61% said that they had lost motivation at work due to their symptoms, 52% said they had lost confidence, 14% had reduced their hours at work, 14% had gone part-time and 8% had not applied for promotion.

Yet even these stark figures do not reveal the true impact on employers as a whole. Most of these women are likely to be aged between 45 and 55, which puts them at the peak of their professions and careers. This issue will therefore directly affect skills, attrition rates, retention and succession planning in many organisations. Generally, if women are not supported through the menopause by their employer, gender diversity suffers and the adverse impact on the gender pay gap, which in most industries is already heavily impacted by a lack of senior women in high-earning roles, is likely to be significant.

Employers have another reason to take the issue seriously – in recent times we have seen a rise in tribunal claims with menopause and menopause-related issues. Usually, these will be couched as either age, disability, or sex discrimination claims (although this is not an exclusive list), because the law doesn't currently include specific protection for the menopause in the way that it does for, say, pregnant women. The Fawcett Society report calls on the Government to amend discrimination law to better accommodate claims for menopause-related discrimination, but this does not prevent women from asserting their rights using existing employment protections. Separately, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 provides for safe working, which extends to a woman's working conditions when experiencing menopausal symptoms.

There is consistent evidence that a mix of appropriate interventions by employers can support women. The Fawcett Society reports that eight out of ten women surveyed say their employer hasn’t shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy. Culture change may be key: one survey reports that 41% of women have experienced jokes in the workplace about the menopause – this can lead to claims of discrimination and harassment.

Recommended steps include:

  • Putting in place an action plan on the menopause. 81% of those surveyed by the Fawcett Society agreed that every employer should have an action plan to help employees with the menopause, and it is a formal recommendation of their report that (i) employers be required to put in place gender pay gap action plans, and (ii) when mandating this plan the Government should make it clear that action to support women with menopause is key to closing the gap.
  • Normalising open and frank discussions about the menopause and fostering proper engagement on the issue;
  • Implementing a menopause policy;
  • Providing training for HR, senior employees, and managers (studies suggest approximately 75% of employers do not offer or consider offering training);
  • Providing support and assistance to affected employees, which may include making reasonable adjustments to work stations, offices, and working arrangements generally. The Fawcett Society Report, for example, recommends making flexible working the default as an important accommodation for menopause symptoms; and
  • Creating information and awareness campaigns in and around the business. Wellbeing of Women has created the "Menopause Workplace Pledge", which, encourages open and free conversation about the topic as well as provides help and support to those experiencing difficulty managing the menopause at work. As of the date of this article around 600 employers have already signed up to the pledge. Similarly, the Fawcett Society has called on the Government to require all employers to have action plans on the menopause and for employers to set out their own action plans to support menopausal employees. 

If you would like more information on how best to manage these issues in your business, please get in touch with your usual Mishcon de Reya contact or with a member of the Employment team.

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