Nearly every cisgender woman experiences menopause in her life, as do many trans and non-binary people. As our working ages get older and older as years go on, this means that many women also experience menopause while they are in active employment.
Unfortunately, the menopause is a topic that comes loaded with stigma in our society. Due to gender bias, lack of education and general sexism, people are often made to feel ashamed of their experience with menopause. Particularly so in the workplace.
At Aspiring to Include, we believe that increasing awareness and education around these important topics is one of the best ways to increase inclusivity and accessibility at work. We think that everyone should be accepted at work, no matter what.
As such, we have created this blog to talk a little bit more about menopause and how it affects women. We hope that you can learn something from this blog and take it with you long into the future.
What is the Menopause?
First of all, let’s begin by defining what we actually mean by menopause. Menopause is a term used to refer to the period 12 months after a woman’s last period. This is the time at which her periods are believed to have stopped indefinitely and she is no longer fertile. However, what is often meant by “menopause” is the symptoms experienced in the months and years leading up to this event. Women can go through this experience at different ages, most commonly between 45-55 but it is important to remember that the range of ages can be quite large.
In the lead-up to menopause, the time often known as perimenopause, women can experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms. These can range in severity and duration. Most women are affected to a degree that it affects their everyday life for a decent period of time. Some symptoms include:
- Sweating and “hot flushes”
- Difficulty regulating emotions and mood swings
- Anxiety and panic
- Brain fog
- Interruption of the menstrual cycle
- Problems with sleep
- Issues with bladder control
- General aches and pains
- Change in sexual function
As you can see from this list alone, the symptoms associated with menopause can be difficult to live with. Their effects can be seen in every area of life, including relationships, leisure, and work.
How Can the Menopause Affect Women at Work?
As women are coping with these symptoms, it naturally can impact their experience at work. As well as dealing with the symptoms, many women feel shame and stigma attached to this experience and may not wish to disclose their situation at work. This is particularly true for trans and non-binary people and people going through premature menopause.
Many people may feel that they need to stop working entirely or for a period of time due to menopause symptoms. In this case, they will be entitled to financial support from the government in terms of statutory sick pay or benefits.
Other people may want to or need to continue to work and therefore need support in the workplace. Without support at work, menopause symptoms can be overwhelming and very limiting. Without adequate support, people going through menopause may end up with many absences and interpersonal issues at work. With the right support, the picture can be much better.
How Women Can Get the Support They Need
First up, it is important to know your rights in the workplace. There are a couple of ways in which people experiencing menopause are protected from workplace discrimination. Under the Equality Act of 2010, the following protected characteristics can apply:
- Gender reassignment
Under “sex”, women are protected from discrimination. They cannot be discriminated against based on anything to do with their gender. This includes menopause and related symptoms. With “gender reassignment”, menopause can often be the result of reassignment surgery, in which case employees are protected from discrimination on these grounds. Thirdly, menopause can often be classified as a “disability” depending on the severity and frequency of symptoms. If this is the case, these employees are protected from discrimination on multiple grounds.
So, as you can see, there should be absolutely no discrimination or prejudice coming your way as a result of menopause. Regardless of your individual circumstances, menopause is protected by employment law. You are entitled to be treated fairly, with respect, and with an allowance of reasonable adjustments.
Reasonable adjustments are modifications to your work by employers. If you need something to be changed at work because of menopause, your employer needs to provide this. When it is physically possible. If they cannot do so financially, the Access to Work scheme may be able to help. Some reasonable adjustments that may help include:
- Moving to a cooler desk
- Having extra equipment/different seating
- Extra prep time for meetings
- Extended deadlines
- Flexible working hours
- Access to counselling/private healthcare through work
- Time off for appointments
Whatever you need, ask for it. You deserve the right treatment.
How Employers and Colleagues Can Do Their Share to Help
Employers and colleagues don’t need to be menopause experts in order to help. The most important thing is creating a safe, inclusive environment in which staff feel comfortable. The critical factors in creating such an environment include:
- Empathy and active listening
- Policies and discipline surrounding discrimination, basis, and inappropriate behaviour
- Training and awareness on such topics
- An open door policy
If you can deal with issues such as menopause with an open mind and respectful dialogue, you can make a big difference. There doesn’t need to be any shame or stigma attached to menopause. There can be support and understanding.
Becoming an inclusive, accessible, and diversity-positive employer can be life-changing for your employees. And for yourself and your own company. Being better to people simply makes everything better. If you want to get started on that journey, check out our services for employers on Aspiring to Include. We have a range of packages to help employers take their inclusivity to the next level.
If you are going through menopause and you need more support at work, it is a good idea to look for inclusive and accessible job opportunities. Particularly so those from diversity-positive employers. To find such jobs, take a look at our live job board on Aspiring to Include, specifically our jobs for women in menopause. You can find a job where you will be supported and respected. Regardless of what you are going through.
If you need support to do with menopause and disability at work, check out our sister site, Careers with Disabilities, for further guidance.