It’s time to properly support women experiencing the menopause at work

By Claire McCartney, Diversity and Inclusion Adviser, CIPD

International Women's Day is an annual opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The theme this year #BalanceforBetter:  the future is exciting and everyone has a part to play in building a gender-balanced world.

At the CIPD we couldn’t agree more. We promote gender balance and equality all through the year by providing practical support and guidance to our members as well as through partnerships with organisations like the Government Equalities Office. We help these organisations by testing their practical tools with employers and contributing to webinars, on topics such as flexible working and reducing the gender pay gap.

But there’s something that’s holding many women back from reaching their full potential at work: the menopause.  Most women will go through the menopause during their working life and many will face difficulties at work as a result. As long as it remains a taboo subject, these women won’t get the support they need. We’re aiming to break the silence on the menopause at work when we publish our practical guidance for people professionals and separate guidance for line managers later this month.  We think it’s time to normalise the conversation about the menopause in the same way many workplaces have begun to break down the barriers and foster inclusion around mental health issues. And there’s a compelling rationale for taking this issue seriously.

There are now around 3.8 million women over 50 in work (DWP 2015). Therefore, the potential to support the continued employment of women in the perimenopausal and menopausal age bracket, for the benefit of themselves and organisations as well as the wider economy, is considerable. At the same time, the quality of working life for women experiencing the menopause could be improved for millions now and in the future.

The menopause is still a taboo subject in many workplaces. This means many employees with menopause symptoms, which can be severe, suffer in silence. But the menopause needn’t be an awkward or embarrassing topic. And it certainly shouldn’t mean that a woman needs to press pause on her working life. Often a few simple changes to someone’s working environment can make a world of difference – enabling someone experiencing menopausal symptoms to continue performing and contributing to their full potential. Even just talking about it openly can reduce the impact of someone’s symptoms.

We are therefore calling on:

  • The Government to tackle the stigma surrounding the menopause at work and raise awareness across business, linking effective support on the menopause to attracting and retaining valuable female talent, often at the peak of their careers, knowledge and skills.
  • People Professionals to take a proactive approach to the menopause at work through a dedicated policy or plan and create an open, inclusive and supportive culture.
  • Line managers to brush up on the facts about the menopause and what they can do to support members of their team.

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • Whilst I'm fully in favour of encouraging an open dialogue between employer and employee concerning health issues impacting work, am I alone in not wishing to 'formalise' the menopause into an issue that will, I think, give employers one more reason to look unfavourably on a specific section of the workforce?  Claire has suggested that menopause is "holding many women back from reaching their full potential at work".  I would suggest that if we arrive at the situation where line managers, promotion boards and other decision-makers are required to make allowances for the onset of menopausal symptoms, this will also have the effect of holding many women back from reaching their potential!

    Menopausal symptoms can indeed be severe (I know, I've been experiencing them myself for the last 11 years) but is it too idealistic to believe that the kind of symptoms that affect work can be treated the same as any other medical symptoms? I will admit that I'm lucky in as much as I feel 'happy' mentioning my symptoms at work if it's necessary.  I appreciate that some women's menopausal experience is much worse than mine, but I don't want to be labelled 'a menopausal woman' at work, any more than I would have wanted to be known as a woman with 'pre-menstrual tension' - another hormonal condition that can also result in quite nasty symptoms.

  • Unfortunately Gender Pay Gap proves that not only is the female working population battling to receive the remuneration they deserve, there is also  the added problems where majority of Boards are all Male.  Generally women`s issues are swept under the carpet and are not considered more important than the bottom line.  I applaud your call to arms but I simply don`t think it`s robust enough unless women`s health and Wellbeing are made mandatory considerations like Gender Pay Gap.

  • Great to see the guidance out there.just had a full house branch meeting in Leicester on monday night talking Menopause in the Workplace.See for lots of useful resources.Thanks again Deborah Garlick.

  • Delighted to see this topic being put front and centre, and I look forward to seeing the guidance being published.  Too many of us are suffering in silence/embarrassment.