WACL’s Menopause in the Workplace event 3rd March 2022
MP Caroline Nokes: “There can be no excuse for employers not to have a menopause policy”
Panelists at WACL’s discussion on menopause in the workplace urge employers to do more to support female employees
Caroline Nokes, Conservative MPand chair of the House of Commons women and equalities select committee, has said that she expects the women and equalities committee to advise the government to make the menopause a protected characteristic in employment law, rather than a disability in discrimination cases.
Nokes was speaking at an online panel discussion hosted by WACL on ‘Menopause in the Workplace’. The women and equalities committee launched an inquiry into menopause and the workplace last July and will issue a report and recommendations following its final evidence session on March 16th. “I would be astonished given the evidence we had if we didn’t include in that a recommendation that the menopause be made a protected characteristic,” Nokes said.
Nokes and her fellow panelists who took part in the WACL event yesterday (Thursday), urged employers to introduce and implement menopause policies. “There can be no excuse now for any employer not to have a [menopause] policy and not to be talking about it,” said Nokes.
The other panelists were WPP CEO Mark Read; Melissa Robertson, CEO of creative agency Dark Horses; and Dr Clare Spencer, menopause specialist and co-founder of My Menopause Centre. The panel was chaired by Sonoo Singh, the co-founder of Creative Salon.
Nokes pointed out that the stigma around menopause continues to pervade workplaces. She revealed that women who gave evidence to the women and equalities committee inquiry asked to remain anonymous out of concern their employer would find out.
“These were female directors of businesses, women of 50, saying ‘please don’t let these details come out, I never want my employer to know what I have hidden over the course of the last couple of years because it will impact my career negatively’,” she said.
Melissa Robertson, who is a WACL member, created and publicly shared her organisation’s menopause policy for other business to use and adapt. She said that the majority of companies do little more than pay lip service on the issue and offered advice for businesses. “The first thing organisations need to do is to start to acknowledge the challenges women are facing and swiftly follow it up with ways they can be supported,” Robertson said. “It’s so important that women don’t feel they need to hide their symptoms and that any discussions will be met with empathy and support.”
More than 1 million women in the UK could be forced out of their jobs this year because their employers are failing to support them as they go through the menopause, research shows. Currently around 13 million women are perimenopausal or menopausal in the UK and 9 out of 10 feel it affects their work life, according to a TUC survey.
Noting these statistics, WPP boss Mark Read said: “If we can make WPP the best place that menopausal women can work that has to be a good thing, right? I think we need to treat it as an opportunity.” He added: “There is a tremendous difference we can make as an employer and that’s what we have to do.”
Dr Clare Spencer noted that even everyday activities at work, such as giving a presentation, can be made hugely challenging by menopause symptoms such as anxiety and brain fog. “If you can change the culture you take away some of that anxiety, you reduce the adrenaline release and you are more likely to keep people in work and they are more likely to maintain their confidence,” she said.
Dr Clare Spencer advised that a supportive culture at work is vital to help menopausal women manage their symptoms. “You can directly affect women’s experience of their menopause symptoms if you have a good supportive workplace policy,” she said. “Plus there are a whole range of treatment options available too.”
Melissa Robertson added: “I think the more we talk about [the menopause], the more it will be normalized. In the same way we can and must talk about mental health, it’s only in doing that that it stops being such a taboo.”