The CIPD has recently launched new guidance on the menopause at work in an effort to break the stigma surrounding the subject and ensure women are properly supported throughout their career. The CIPD believe that there is currently a huge gap between how different organisations address equality and that the menopause is part of a broader equality issue.
The menopause, when the menstrual cycle naturally stops as oestrogen levels decline, typically occurs in women aged between 45 and 55 and can cause symptoms including hot flushes, chills, mood swings and sleep problems.
Last year, a BBC survey revealed that the majority (70 per cent) of women did not tell their bosses they were experiencing menopause symptoms, yet nearly half of the 1,000 people surveyed said the menopause had affected their mental health and a quarter said it made them want to stay at home rather than work.
The guidance was welcomed by Rachel Maclean MP for Redditch, who has campaigned for greater awareness around the menopause and raised the topic in the House of Commons. “There is a real need for us all to talk about it more,” she said. “The menopause is the ultimate taboo because it combines ageism and sexism, a toxic combination. By raising awareness and bringing this issue into the spotlight, employers will understand how important it is for their culture and retention, and that will drive change.”
I took part in a really interesting discussion about menopause in the workplace last week on Twitter on the HR Hour (every Thursday night between 8 and 9) which is amazing for connecting with other HR professionals and discussing employment related topics.
The general consensus was that menopause is a part of life like any other, that different people will experience it differently, and that no one size fits all policy would work, but that the key point was to encourage communication and discussion, and create a supportive environment where women can raise this issue without feeling embarrassed.
This is about equipping employers with the tools and confidence to be supportive and flexible (the CIPD offer some great resources here).
Some male HR professionals expressed the view that the menopause was not their area of expertise. While this is true, as an HR professional I have supported employees with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, employees who were experiencing domestic violence or mental health issues or going through a bereavement – none of these are my areas of expertise but I believe empathy, support and understanding go a long way in these situations.
It’s also about removing the taboo around the menopause and challenging deep-seated sexist attitudes and preconceptions, creating an empathetic and compassionate environment where women can talk about the menopause if they wish, but also appreciate some women may not wish to discuss this is in the workplace.
It’s also about making reasonable adjustments and being flexible, inclusive and supportive. While each individual is different and will experience the menopause differently, employers can be open about discussing their needs and make flexible adjustments whenever possible. Very small changes can have a significant impact on the quality of life of women at work experiencing the menopause.
But it’s only by challenging taboos and mindsets that we’re going to see any change. So let’s get on with it.
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