In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. For women, however, there is another thing which is certain too – the menopause. Although not a subject which is often discussed, the menopause is an entirely normal and natural stage in every woman’s reproductive life.
It is an unavoidable reality which usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, with one in four women experiencing very debilitating symptoms. The most common signs of the menopause are hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping and low mood, but there are also lesser-known symptoms like growth or loss of body hair, clumsiness, pins and needles, and moments of forgetfulness or poor concentration. For some women, these symptoms can last for more than a decade.
The world of work has massively changed recently, particularly for women, therefore going through the menopause in the workplace is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem for some. According to the Scottish Government, there has been a 5.5% increase in the employment rates of women aged between 50 and 64 in Scotland since 2008, with the rate of employment for this group now standing at 63.9%. With more women of this age in employment, more are now working through and beyond the menopause.
Historically, employers have been slow in identifying that women experiencing the menopause may need special consideration and many have long viewed it as a private issue not to be discussed in the workplace. As such, it is rarely discussed with managers who will often have no awareness of the issue, resulting in many women hiding their symptoms and being less likely to ask for the workplace adjustments that may help them.
The University of Nottingham undertook research in 2011 which looked closely at the experiences of women working through the menopause. Their findings showed that many women were not well prepared for the onset of the menopause, and even less equipped to manage its symptoms at work. Where women had taken time off work to deal with their symptoms, over 50% of the respondents never disclosed the real reason for absence to their manager, and the majority felt they needed more support and advice.
Under the 2010 Equalities Act, employers have a duty not to discriminate based on gender and age, therefore they have a responsibility to take into account the difficulties that women may experience during the menopause. In 2012, BT found themselves the subject of unwanted press attention after one of their employees alleged that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her gender when her employer failed to deal with her menopause symptoms in the same way that they would have dealt with other medical conditions. The Tribunal upheld her claim saying that a man suffering from ill-health with comparable symptoms from a medical condition and with related performance issues, would probably not have been treated in the same way.
It appears that menopause is not on most employers’ agendas, and there is clearly a need for this to change.
I am incredibly proud that my colleague on South Lanarkshire Council – Councillor Collette Stevenson – is pushing for this change by leading a campaign on the issue. Cllr Stevenson has pointed to the fact that the menopause is still a taboo subject for many people, and that for women in the workplace it therefore has huge implications. Her campaign is urging employers to ensure women are supported when suffering from the many symptoms associated with menopause, and to end the stigma around it.
Women’s experiences of the menopause must be normalised so that those who are working through it are not afraid of being judged or stereotyped. The menopause is as natural as pregnancy, so employers must realise their responsibilities and put in place the necessary adjustments.
Date published: 7th November 2017