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Menopause strategy key to effective support, says D&I expert

Kate Dodd tells HRNews why it is not enough for firms to have a standalone menopause policy 

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  • Transcript

    There has been good progress made in supporting women with the menopause but there is a lot more to be done. That was central message from the Women and Equalities Committee when they published their report at the end of July and it has been highlighted once again by one the witnesses that gave evidence to the committee. Most large employers have a menopause policy, but is that enough? We’ll consider that.

    Professor Joanna Brewis was the lead author on a UK Government Equalities Office-commissioned report back in 2017, and she gave her views to the MPs during their inquiry earlier this year, Reflecting on the committee’s report she has told People Management that it makes for welcome reading, but that we mustn’t lose the headway made so far on the issue – there’s a concern the government will not be acting on the committee’s recommendation to amend the Equality Act to offer greater protection to menopause and so make it easier for women to bring tribunal claims. 

    On the question of whether employer should have a specific policy dealing with menopause, notably the committee has not pushed for new legislation on that and Jo Brewis agrees with that approach. She says: ‘I’m pleased that the report doesn’t advocate that the government make having a workplace menopause strategy obligatory for all employers. She says: ‘I’m also pleased that the report doesn’t advocate that the government make having a workplace menopause strategy obligatory for all employers. While there are plenty of instances – particularly in large bureaucratic institutions – where this is the only way to go, there’s too much evidence that policies can fail to impact workplace practice. In many organisations, it would be much better to encourage open conversations, guidance and support.’

    So let’s pick up on that point, policies that fail to impact workplace practice. Earlier I spoke to diversity and inclusion specialist Kate Dodd to discuss that point:

    Kate Dodd: “It’s a good point, Joe, because, of course, we all know that there is a real danger in all of this stuff to do with health and wellbeing,  diversity and inclusion, that an employer, particularly a big employer who can be quite bureaucratic in its processes, will just think, great. I've got a policy, it sits on my intranet and I don't need to do anything more about it now and actually, of course, that is less than useless. For a long time, we've known that having, for example, a grievance policy that nobody follows, or a bullying and harassment policy that nobody follows, leads to legal liability but also, more importantly, it leads to the fact that there is no best practice actually being pursued by that business because they think, oh, it's fine, we've got a policy, we're covered and we don't need to do anything more about actually rolling it out.”

    Joe Glavina: “You’ve talked to this programme many times on this subject, Kate, and I think your view is this is difficult ground for managers – even more challenging than mental health?”

    Kate Dodd: “Yes, my view is that menopause is harder for women to talk about than mental health and the reason for that, I think, goes back to childhood, goes back to school days, whereby, girls don't talk about periods and, if they do, they only talk to other girls about it, they certainly don't talk to the boys. Cut 30 years later, however long later, you're in a workplace and, again, nowadays, women - and they didn't used to - but women now are willing to talk to other women about it and we have all sorts of forums going on at Pinsent Masons, we obviously have our clubs, which are open to men and women, but of course, are massively predominantly populated by women, whereby there's very open supportive conversations, but it's incredibly hard to talk about menopause to men because, essentially, for women, the menopause represents the end of their reproductive life, it represents potentially becoming invisible, represents the kind of end of sexuality, all of these things that are caught up with it which, of course, aren't true, but that is what it is seen in the media to be. So for a woman to talk to a man about it, she feels that she's revealing something of herself that may be that she doesn't want to, or that she finds difficult or uncomfortable and, in that way, unlike things like anxiety, depression, OCD, whatever else it might be that can be experienced equally by men and women, menopause is something that is particularly hard, I think, for women to talk to men about.”

    Joe Glavina: “The Women and Equalities Committee have said that they would like to see the government reform the Equality Act to add menopause as a tenth protected characteristic. Where are we on that?” 

    Kate Dodd: “I have to say, I don't think we're going to get anywhere with it, Joe, and I think it's terribly disappointing. I fundamentally believe that menopause should be a protected characteristic in exactly the same way that pregnancy is, and the fact of the matter is, women who are experiencing menopause, unlike women who are experiencing pregnancy, do not often realise that they are even experiencing menopause so I would say it becomes even harder to deal with as an individual. There are all sorts of kind of hormonal changes, all sorts of changes in health, mental health, etcetera, that are very hard to spot even for the individuals themselves and it is the natural end of a cycle which, of course, begins in teenage-hood. So, for me, having menopause as a protected characteristic is really important because at the moment you have to try and cobble together a claim based on mental health, so potentially disability discrimination, potentially age, potentially the protected characteristic around gender, so it's not satisfactory at present but I do not think that we're going to see anything from this current administration that will make things any better.”

    Joe Glavina: “So your message to HR watching this, Kate? A policy, yes, but focus on the strategy?”  

    Kate Dodd: “Yes, I think that having a strategy in place is really important. I totally take the point that having a policy that sits in a drawer is no use whatsoever, but having a strategy that is clear and very structured is very important and behind that strategy should sit guidance for managers, and also guidance for employees themselves, because the problem with menopause is that women often don't realise that the things that they are experiencing are down to hormonal imbalances and this is where we see women opting out of business. This is where we see women who've been very successful, whether they be nurses, or CEOs, or company directors, or secretaries, or whatever they are doing, suddenly find their day to day life incredibly difficult to live and often they don't always realise why. So, I think having a series of education that is more than just ‘great, it’s World Menopause Day, let's have somebody in to talk about the menopause’ but having a strategy that lasts throughout the year and is backed by training, education, and guidance for both line managers and employees themselves, I think is absolutely critical.”

    Kate mentioned World Menopause Day - that’s in a couple of weeks’ time on 18 October. Also, it’s worth saying there is an important health and safety dimension to menopause that HR should be alive to, in our view. Health and safety specialist Zoe Betts has talked to this programme about the of HR and health and safety professionals in supporting women experiencing menopause. That’s ‘Menopause support at work is both an HR and H&S concern’ and we have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme.

    - Link to HRNews programme: ‘Menopause support at work is both an HR and H&S concern’

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