Imagine, you’ve spent your adult life building your career only to find yourself forced to leave due to a completely natural bodily transformation. For many people experiencing menopause, this is their reality.
Generally speaking, menopause arrives between the ages of 45 and 55, although for some it may begin outside of this age range. While this is the time to be reaching for the top jobs and senior management roles, as many as 1 in 4 who experience menopausal symptoms considers leaving their jobs entirely.
The symptoms experienced, such as depression, anxiety, brain fog and hot flushes, can be intense and many people feel embarrassed by what they are experiencing, particularly when it happens at work. Of course, embarrassment is also a symptom of cultural attitudes towards menopause in which women have been told to hide what they’re going through and carry on regardless.
This stigma and shame negatively affects peoples careers at an incredibly important stage. In a 2019 study it was found that three in five menopausal women were negatively affected by menopause at work and that almost 900,000 women in the UK left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms. This can and does impact diversity at senior levels, exacerbates gender pay disparities and feeds into pension disparities. It is also an enormous, and avoidable, waste of talent, knowledge and experience.
Inadequately supporting people through menopause costs the UK economy 14 million working days per year. Employers need to take action to support workers that are going through this transition, yet this is currently not standard. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 women, 63% said that their employer had no policy in place to deal with menopause.
The UK government is currently hearing evidence on the extent of menopause discrimination. It’s also investigating how policy can best support those experiencing menopause, with some arguing that, like maternity, it should be made a protected category in itself, instead of being covered under the three protected categories of age, sex and disability.
The conversation is already changing. With MPs and public figures raising the profile of menopause and starting conversations to educate, the tide is turning on shame and stigma. People need forums to discuss what they are going through, along with flexible leave to manage symptoms, and clear information about what they can do if they are facing discrimination.
For too long people have had to suffer in silence. Hiding menopausal symptoms and managing their bodies privately. It is not, and has never been acceptable that people experiencing a natural and normal bodily transformation are being driven out of the workforce due to a lack of support, education and proper policy.
Through a combination of better government policy, employer support and continued campaigning, we can prevent people experiencing menopause from being forced out of work.