Three in five FTSE 100 companies have failed to publish menopause policies, according to new research. The study, by INvolve, shows how far employers still have to go in their commitment to the inclusion of women, particularly as they get older. We’ll consider that.
At a time when employers are trying to retain staff this is an important issue. Separate research by the British Menopause Society shows 10% of women leave work as a result of menopause, while ONS data shows that perimenopause and menopause are costing UK businesses 14 million working days a year.
The Women and Equalities Committee has been looking at this. Back in July they published their ‘Menopause and the workplace’ report. Among its recommendations are that menopause should be made a protected characteristic, as well as creating a new legal duty for employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal staff. They say that, together, those changes would help to stop pushing ‘highly skilled and experienced’ women out of work. In the meantime, as an immediate stop-gap, the committee has also called on the government to enact section 14 of the Equality Act 2010 which has been sitting dormant since the Act came into force. That would allow claims for ‘dual discrimination’, combining two recognised protected characteristics, recognising that menopause almost invariably involves a combination of both age and sex, two of the nine protected characteristics already covered by the Equality Act.
Will either of those changes happen? It looks unlikely given that back in May the Minister for Women, Baroness Stedman-Scott, confirmed in a letter to the Committee’s Chair, Caroline Nokes, that the government has no current plans to introduce either measure. It means women have to make the best of the law as it is. Currently, employees can bring a claim for menopause-related discrimination under one of the nine protected characteristics although there have been mixed results with just as many unsuccessful claims as successful ones.
On the lack of menopause policies, People Management reports on the FTSE 100’s failings and that Involve study. They quote Danielle Harmer, chief people officer at Aviva, who says all organisations should start to break the taboos around menopause and start to reshape how it is viewed within the business. She says: ‘Find role models – not just women – to share stories. Create spaces for people to share experiences and support each other. Partner with an organisation that specialises in menopause support. And finally, educate leaders. What businesses do doesn’t have to cost the earth. The most important thing is open, stigma-free communications and caring, pragmatic support.’
We agree with Daniellle Harmer and we have been telling our clients much the same thing so let’s hear more about that. Kate Dodd is a diversity and inclusion specialist at Pinsent Masons who has been working with a number of clients on this issue in recent weeks and she joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss this. I started by asking Kate about that ONS figure showing 10% of women leaving their job because of a lack of support:
Kate Dodd: “We have seen for decades, women leaving the workforce because of menopausal issues, because it's not understood because women themselves don't understand it. The symptoms of the menopause are not just physical symptoms. People think oh it's just a hot flush, we'll give somebody a desk fan, and that will deal with it. What we know about the menopause is it creates all sorts of kind of hormonal imbalances, and it can lead to crushing anxiety, huge loss of confidence, people experiencing physical symptoms that they've never experienced in their life before and they don't know what's wrong with them. People don't know what's wrong with themselves and they don't recognise that what they're going through emotionally and mentally is related to the menopause and we see women opting out of their careers at the very time they should be absolutely flying and, at the very time that the business needs them to be flying, businesses are losing women at times when they can least afford to do so.”
Joe Glavina: “There have been relatively few tribunal cases on this subject, Kate, but I do wonder if that’s going to change given the publicity this is getting. There’s now much more awareness around this issue now.”
Kate Dodd: “Oh yes, absolutely and recently I’ve written an article on this, actually, and we looked at the statistics around this and the numbers in tribunal are growing year on year. It’s still only quite small at the moment but the increase is more than 100% each year so it really is gaining momentum all the time and, the fact of the matter is, it is not just about employment here, it’s also about access to goods and services and I think there's going to be increasing litigation. So, for example lots of private health insurance do not cover menopause under the things that they will help women with because they say it's a natural part of ageing. Now, there is nothing equivalent that is not covered for men in relation to that and, you know, if you need a hip replacement, that type of thing, you would be covered. So, this is something that is unique to women, it only affects women, and in the same way as childbirth is covered in pregnancy this needs to have legislation around it to provide that additional protection.”
Joe Glavina: “In the evidence session that was held by the committee back in May a number of lawyers appeared as witnesses, and they all agreed that having a menopause policy was a good idea. Is that something your clients are asking for?”
Kate Dodd: “Yes, we are increasingly seeing them being asked for and we're always delighted when that is the case. Employers don’t need to wait for this to become legislation to take these steps. What a policy does is it means women find it easier to reach out for help, it makes women be able to say, look, actually, this is not embarrassing to talk about anymore, we never talk about these types of women's health issues in the workplace so why would we suddenly start talking about menopause? There’s a huge taboo that exists around this and therefore a policy can go so far towards that and it's really to see and making sure that, as well as the policy, you've got some guidance for managers to understand how to apply it is absolutely fantastic and if you can set up a menopause support group to bring people together to talk about this, men and women, then all the better because that really is best practice.”
There is also a health and safety angle to this, and you may be interested in that too. Zoe Betts has been talking to this programme about that – the role of HR and H&S specialists in supporting women experiencing menopause. That’s ‘Menopause support at work is both an HR and H&S concern’ and is available now for viewing from the Out-Law website.