By Heather Jackson and Sam Simister, co-founders of GenM
For many, the menopause is seen as the last taboo in modern society. In fact, despite the progress that is being made in the area, our groundbreaking Invisibility Report1 revealed that 75% of menopausal women still feel that the topic cannot be openly discussed. One of the many disadvantages of this is that in the workplace, many employees with menopausal symptoms suffer in silence, with many being forced to pause or even end their careers.
Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace according to the Office for National Statistics2. But with 48 clinical, medical and credible potential symptoms, many of which can be debilitating and invisible in nature, the menopause presents a big challenge to this demographic. The effects can be physical, emotional and psychological and can have a huge impact on their confidence, mental health and productivity. Frustratingly, for many, this transition comes at the lifestage when they are at the tops of their careers.
According to our Invisibility Report2, 88% of women wish their workplaces were better set up for menopausal colleagues, while only one in five would say that their current employer is well-informed about the menopause. What’s more, 90% of women who’s careers were on a high when entering the menopause said they felt completely blindsided and unprepared for the change.
It is crucial to address the role that workplaces have in understanding the menopause and making it a more positive experience for those experiencing it, whilst also helping to normalise the conversation for those who don’t. After all, the menopause doesn’t just affect those going through it – it also impacts everyone who interacts with them whether colleagues, friends or family. It also affects businesses too, from employee retention, to morale, to customer engagement, and ultimately bottom lines.
For business leaders, this can feel like a difficult issue to tackle. Particularly for those who are just waking up to the issue, the problem can be knowing where to start. But, while it can’t be denied that there are many changes in the working world that need to be made, there are some straightforward first steps that can help to make a difference in the workplace.
With our Invisibility Report showing that three in four women still feel that the menopause can’t be spoken about publicly, normalising, destigmatising and demystifying the conversation is key. What’s more, establishing an environment for people to talk about the menopause comfortably and authentically is vital for employers to learn which accommodation strategies would best benefit colleagues.
For example, an employer might consider flexible working schedules, offer options to work from home, provide fans to help with hot flushes, or host menopause information sessions to empower staff to discuss the topic confidently and raise awareness for menopausal symptoms.
Clearly, there’s also a very pressing need for more education and awareness surrounding the menopause. Our research shows that more than half of women (51%) can only name three of the 48 potential symptoms. If women themselves can only name three, how much less do their male colleagues know about the menopause? One of the most important steps in making menopause better understood and supported in society, at home and at work is spreading awareness and normalising the conversation. Responsible employers and managers can play their part by creating a workplace culture where there is no penalty for respectfully raising or openly discussing this natural transition.
Last year, we saw huge companies such as ASOS, Timpson and Kellogg’s commit to certain actions for menopausal employees, from offering up to 10 days paid menopause leave to offering to cover the cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy treatment. At GemM, we also have over 40 companies on board from Marks & Spencer and Next to Simba and Modibodi. Each of these brands has pledged to do more to understand the needs of the menopause and represent them in workplace policies, as well as in products, services, signposting, and marketing campaigns. All of these represent a huge step in the right direction, but it’s only the beginning.