Lifting the taboo: let’s talk m for menopause

Lauren Chiren
Lauren ChirenExecutive health coach and menopause specialist

Lauren Chiren, executive health coach and menopause specialist, discusses the m word: menopause.

Mature women walking to exercise class

Menopause is important for everyone to learn about. 51% of the population will experience it and 100% will be impacted.

150 years or so ago, women typically went through menopause at 57 and died at 59. Towards the end of the last century, women went through menopause quietly at home and, typically, didn’t have to worry about juggling the world of work, childcare and elderly relatives. Now we go through menopause on average, between 45 - 55 although many women experience early menopause or surgically or medically induced as result of certain medications and cancer treatments.

Now, women over 50 are the fastest growing economically active group of women in the UK. 80% of us are in work and we are holding ever more senior roles and carrying more responsibility.

When I spoke at the Women in Law conference at London Olympia in 2019, it was clear from my audience that menopause was a topic not discussed by many in the legal profession at that time. I had a queue of women approach me at the end of the talk asking for more information and how they can broach the conversation with their firms.

I had the pleasure of chatting with a woman from a predominantly all-female practice who was keen to have me come in to chat about menopause. However, when she tried to progress the conversation, it was not deemed a high enough priority.

Traditionally, menopause has been a taboo topic. It was associated with middle aged and older women who were deemed belligerent, out-of-control, plagued by hot flushes and mood swings. Often the butt of jokes and considered irrelevant (think harassment and bullying in today’s employment law terms.) All things that any successful, dynamic and powerful woman today, would actively distance herself from so as not to be tarnished with such accusations.

In order that women start talking more openly – or even privately with a trusted colleague – employers must normalise menopause in the workplace.

Key facts

  • Perimenopause is the time when a woman’s regular cycle may become longer, shorter, heavier, or lighter. She may experience symptoms like brain fog, hot flushes, night sweats and anxiety
  • Menopause is the 12-month anniversary of a woman’s last monthly cycle
  • Postmenopause is the time after menopause
  • There are 34 recognised symptoms of menopause, from physical and emotional to psychological. Some lesser discussed symptoms are hair loss / gain, incontinence, anxiety and depression, vaginal dryness and atrophy. All are manageable and treatable
  • 25% of women will experience severe, life altering symptoms without the right knowledge and support
  • 55% will experience mild to moderate symptoms without the right knowledge and support
  • Menopause can be caused by medical procedures and treatments e.g. hysterectomy, oophorectomy, certain cancer treatments
  • Menopause typically occurs between ages 45 – 55, 1 in 100 women go through an early menopause i.e. under the age of 45, and 1 in a 1000 under the age of 40

Given the range of symptoms, which can vary from day to day and month to month, without the right support women can struggle cognitively, with sleep and with mood, making concentration and focus a challenge at work. This is why it’s so important that education and support is provided.

The impacts of menopause at work – a case study

In my early 40s, I transformed from being a top performer in a senior executive role – looking after regulatory and business-critical change programmes for a financial services firm – to thinking I had early-onset dementia.

I had no idea what was going on and although I had built a great team who continued to perform, I started losing confidence in myself and my performance. I felt excluded from meetings, and became emotional in front of my boss, something I’d never have done in the past.

After 18 months, I left my job. It was a big step. Ultimately, when I reflected on my experience, I realised I had not known what was wrong or how to ask for help. I simply didn’t want to be ‘found lacking’ and, by return, no-one in the business had reached out to help.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I’d simply been through a short, sharp and nasty menopause?

Often women will not be aware they are starting their menopausal journey and it will be someone else who notices that their behaviour is changing. Until menopause is being taught effectively in schools and is understood by our GPs (at the time of writing, GPs may only get 30 minutes to five hours of education in their 10 years of medical training), it is imperative to provide workplace education.

I set up my company Women of a Certain Stage to educate employers on creating a menopause savvy culture and to provide coaching and mentoring for women transitioning through menopause. No woman or employers should go through what I did.

What can firms do to support their staff?

Law firms, like any organisation, must understand that being menopause savvy is critical to improving employee engagement and productivity, and in increasing attraction and retention of highly skilled female talent.

It is also imperative employers understand that menopause impacts everyone. The women going through it, their colleagues, partners, family and friends.

  • Consider menopause from job design, through recruitment processes, annual mandatory training, attendance policies, working environments
  • Menopausal symptoms can last from three to 15 years, so consideration must be given throughout an organisation, across all HR policies, to ensure female employees feel supported, valued and remain in the workplace
  • Consider reasonable adjustments under the protected characteristics of disability, sex and age under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety Act 1974
  • * Be aware of the successful Employment Tribunals citing menopause [A vs Bonmarche Ltd [2019], Davies v Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service [2018], Merchant v BT plc [2012]
  • Providing flexibility on working conditions, desks near natural light, access to cold water, make changing facilities available, have variable temperature control in offices, loose fitting clothing and regular reviews to monitor symptoms
  • Provide annual training on menopause for each of the populations in your organisation: senior stakeholders, line management, single and mixed gender groups
  • Provide Menopause Socials – opportunities for those experiencing menopause to gather and share their experiences in a safe, confidential place

When I engage with corporate or individual clients, our initial conversation is always about understanding the bigger picture, the journey that the client wishes to embark on and together we create a plan of action.

As well as delivering training for their own team, often my legal clients will host seminars for their clients. DWF in particular, have been outstanding in inviting me to deliver introductory training on menopause at work for their clients, ensuring that more organisations become menopause savvy. I share best practice, including examples of a training needs analysis, introductory and annual communications, policies and guidance documentation, coaching and mentoring.

Menopause training, support and guidance needs to be deeply integrated into organisations as a priority. With it impacting almost all women, it simply makes sense.

 

Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

The Law Society have launched a menopause resource, in partnership with Peppy Health, including recommendations to organisations within the legal sector to create more inclusive environments. The resource also includes a comprehensive overview of the menopause and suggestions to individuals to manage symptoms.

We’ll be marking the launch with Peppy with an event discussing the menopause and the resource. Join us for free on Thursday 17 September.

Book your place

* Case outcomes

Marchant vs BT [2012]

The tribunal upheld Ms Merchant’s claim for unfair dismissal and direct sex discrimination. The manager had failed to investigate the possible impact of the menopause, the reason being, according to his evidence, that his wife and his HR adviser had both been through the menopause and so he could make a judgment on the effect on Ms Merchant’s performance and the impact on her ability to concentrate.

This failure was a clear breach of BT’s own performance management policy could only be explained by the fact that he did not take menopause, a strictly female condition, seriously as a medical condition and that he would never have adopted “this bizarre and irrational approach with other non-female-related conditions”, in circumstances where it is self-evident that all women will experience their menopause in different ways and with differing symptoms.

Therefore, the failure to refer the claimant for medical investigation, after being informed of her menopause, before taking the decision to dismiss, was direct sex discrimination as a man with ill-health in comparable underperforming circumstances would not have been treated in the same way.

Davies v Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service [2018]

The respondent shall reinstate the claimant by the 20 June 2018, and shall 35 pay to her the sum of Fourteen Thousand and Nine Pounds, Eighty Four Pence (£14,009.84) in respect of arrears of (net) pay for the period between the date of termination of employment and the date of reinstatement. The respondent shall also restore to the claimant all rights and privileges including seniority and pension rights.

A vs Bonmarche Ltd [2019]

The judgment of the Tribunal is that the respondent unlawfully discriminated against the claimant on grounds of age and sex. The respondent shall pay to the claimant compensation therefor in the sum of £27,975.

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