Why menopause is a manager’s issue

It’s up to company bosses to ensure their organisation has a culture where issues affecting female staff are talked about openly, argues Luula Abdulkadir

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Now that even the speaker of the traditionally male-dominated House of Commons has vowed to make the institution menopause friendly for staff, the days of the ‘change of life’ being a taboo subject that’s often swept under the carpet are truly numbered.

Signing the Menopause Workplace Pledge, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said women run his office and he doesn't want to see them leave because of the menopause. The pledge commits employers to supporting employees who are affected by the menopause, with measures ranging from providing access to fans to cool their hot flushes, to extending flexible working terms.

Launched by charity Wellbeing of Women and now signed by more than 600 organisations including Tesco, John Lewis & Partners and the UK Civil Service, it commits employers to recognising that women going through the menopause may need support and to talk openly and respectfully about the subject.

The menopause is therefore now officially added to the plethora of HR issues that modern employers must take account of. But what does this mean for how other organisations, including smaller businesses, should respond?

At CharlieHR, we see adopting progressive menopause-related policies becoming a regular part of the care that companies provide for their teams, with many firms including it in their efforts to become certified B-Corporations. All of our customers now use our menopause policy, which helps employers stay abreast of what’s expected in a modern workplace. The policy is not just about supporting female team members but should apply to anyone who menstruates. Employers have to start showing that they care about this issue if they want to attract and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce. 

The first thing they should do is create a safe environment to have discussions about the menopause openly without anyone feeling any embarrassment. It’s important that we normalise this subject, making it clear that it is a natural stage in a woman’s life and everyone should feel comfortable to be transparent. In drafting and implementing workplace menopause policies, companies should consider previous legal cases that have been found to favour employees for menopause discrimination. The menopause is covered under the Equality Act 2010 and employers must support their team adequately. Under the Act, employers have a duty of care to raise awareness and understanding and educate their teams on menopause.

Employers should create clear policies and make them visible to all team members, create a safe space for team members to speak to their line managers and offer appropriate reasonable adjustments and support.

Bear in mind that everyone’s experience will be different. The range of actions necessary may include, but is not necessarily limited to, flexible working arrangements; a change in duties; and the provision of professional support. Employers should give consideration to menopause-related symptoms in the workplace and integrate menopause care in other female-friendly policies, including offering enhanced family leave and progressive policies around periods.

Meanwhile, policies on how to treat staff returning from maternity leave can include subjects from breastfeeding at work to flexible working opportunities and how to ensure that taking maternity leave does not hinder career paths or prevent leadership opportunities from being taken up. Businesses can stand out when it comes to supporting women's issues in general by creating an inclusive culture with appropriate language throughout their processes and policies.

Employers need to ensure that they are walking the walk and not just talking the talk. You can’t say that you support women’s issues if you still have an all-male leadership team – change has to start from the top. Talented potential recruits increasingly expect employers to provide them with a clear career progression framework, including transparency on gender pay gaps and policies to allow women to develop and take on leadership roles.

Employers need to actively listen to the concerns women face and drive change through leadership actions. The best female talent is looking for evidence that women are not only well-supported in the workplace, but are being offered opportunities to get promotions and take up leadership roles. Progressive menopause policies need to be an integral part of that. 

Luula Abdulkadir is a senior HR advisor of CharlieHR