15 Mar 2023
By Alison McRae, Senior Director of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
I vividly remember watching Davina McCall’s first documentary ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ on Channel 4. Others had already previously been vocal on this issue including Kirsty Wark who shared her experiences through the BBC’s ‘Menopause and Me’. It is such a complex subject and affects everyone so differently. However, it was when I saw the second episode ‘Sex, Mind and the Menopause’ focusing on issues including the workplace that I was stopped in my tracks.
Contributions from neuroscientists in the University of Arizona revealed the impact of the drop in oestrogen caused by menopausal changes on brain function. According to Dr Roberta Diaz Brinton ‘sucking it up is deleterious to women’s long-term health’. On a very literal level, without oestrogen, neurons age faster.
Then if we look at context, expectations of working age have been extended to 68 and women of menopausal or perimenopausal age are the fastest growing demographic in our workforce – currently 5.9m in the UK – based on ONS data. At work 44% are affected – often with a resulting lack in confidence and brain fog amongst many other symptoms whilst they are potentially at the peak of their career, with over 1m women looking to leave their jobs due to their menopausal symptoms according to Koru Kids’ research.
Given the current cross-sectoral recruitment challenges being experienced and with Governments keen to incentivise more people back into work, it is absolutely worth highlighting that there’s a significant opportunity to create a supportive environment to retain this crucial demographic in the first place as they go through this natural life transition.
British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) launched research last week, with over 4,000 people responding, focusing on the perceived impact of a range of issues on a person’s career, including the menopause, as well as the support available.
Nearly 75% of women feel there isn’t sufficient support for those experiencing menopause and one in three women who have gone through menopause felt that it impacted their career negatively.
According to BCC Director General, Shevaun Havilland, women want a level playing field. They don’t want handouts or a hand up. Tackling these issues is integral not only to the wellbeing of women and workplaces, it’s crucial to the functioning of any strong economy.
These stark findings have resulted in prompt action by BCC and a three-year gender equity campaign is being established to address the issues.
Thankfully, we have moved on from Dr Edward Tilt’s position in 1857 in the first full-length work in English on menopause - referred to as ‘the nervous and other affections incidental to women at the decline of life’ - setting a stigma and tone which we are still wrestling with today. We do, however, still have a long way to go.
There are already some good examples of businesses who have taken definitive action in this area including Balfour Beatty and BAE Systems, all of whom have Menopause Friendly Accreditation.
Just this month we saw legal firm TLT recognising that menopause is a natural stage of any woman’s career and are building on their flexible working approach to support. They have introduced free menopause testing, a menopause toolkit for managers and menopause champion network to enable discussion and help sensitively manage any challenges the menopause may bring.
It directly affects 50% of the population but in reality, it affects us all. We all have a duty of care to enable relevant support for this largest growing area of our workforce.
However, we also have a role to play to remove the barriers experienced now in support of the next generation where, according to the aforementioned BCC research, nearly 40% amongst those who are yet to experience it are already concerned about missing out on career opportunities due to the menopause. Speaking out in a kind, compassionate and constructive way is so important. Providing protective scaffolding for women and supporting them to realise their full potential is surely a win-win for our economy.
This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 15 March 2023