Experiencing menopause in the legal profession
Women first entered the legal profession in 1919 and now make up more than 60% of entrants to the profession.
It’s no secret that the profession would benefit from taking women’s health more seriously and the menopause should be no exception.
Yet the word menopause still carries a certain stigma, a degree of embarrassment and a hesitancy to discuss it.
This needs to change.
As the working world has evolved and there has been an increase in mid-life women joining the workforce, and remaining in it, dismantling the taboo around this topic is even more pressing.
The average duration of menopausal symptoms is five years: not insignificant for a working woman.
It’s important that organisations and their leaders understand the impact of the menopause on their employees and are able to offer support and adapt their environments to be more accommodating.
It’s equally as important that individuals feel empowered to talk about the menopause and are informed on the symptoms both for those that will experience the menopause first-hand, and those that will be supporting family members and colleagues through it.
Menopause is simply the time that periods stop, usually around the age of 45 to 55, although this can occur sooner for some women. The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51.
It’s common for symptoms to start before periods actually stop.
Although the term "menopause" is commonly thought to refer to the time at which periods stop, there are various clinical terms that are useful to know:
Menopause is when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. It is a specific point in time.
Perimenopause is the time leading up to menopause in which a woman experiences menopausal symptoms. Perimenopause can last for months or years, depending on the individual woman.
Post-menopause is the time after menopause. A woman who is post menopausal (more than a year since periods) may still experience menopausal symptoms for many years.
The months or years either side of periods stopping when some menopausal symptoms are experienced is called ‘peri-menopause’.
Around one in 100 women will experience peri-menopause before the age of 40 and face menopausal symptoms sooner, which can cause some health implications if left untreated.
When symptoms start before the onset of any change in periods, it can be confusing and difficult to understand the cause, often leaving women concerned they have a more serious health condition. Even when periods have finally stopped, symptoms may persist for many months or years.
While predominantly experienced by women, it’s important to note that experiences and perceptions of the menopause may differ in relation to other protected characteristics such as:
- gender reassignment
- sexual orientation
- marriage and civil partnership status
We must recognise that, for many reasons, peoples’ individual experiences of the menopause can differ greatly.
Transgender men, non-binary and intersex people may also experience the menopause.
Additionally, transgender women can experience menopausal symptoms when they commence HRT treatment and hormones are adjusted, introduced or stopped, particularly before and after surgeries and procedures throughout the transition process.
Many who experience the menopause will have mild symptoms, but for others, symptoms can be severe and impact their home life, social life and most commonly, their working life.
Around three quarters of women will experience flushes and sweats – a sudden feeling of intense heat, often accompanied by sweating.
Some symptoms are hardly noticeable, but others can stop a woman in her tracks: intense sweating, a tomato red face and heart palpitations.
When this occurs, a woman will often need to stop what she’s doing, take some deep breaths and wait for it to pass.
Hot flushes frequently lead to a feeling of anxiety, particularly in public settings, and it could happen once or twice, or many times a day and at night.
Other symptoms include:
- mood swings
- brain fog
- difficulty concentrating
- increased anxiety
- poor sleep
- issues with self esteem
- memory problems
These symptoms can have a strong adverse impact on both physical and mental health when paired with long hours and high demands on time and output, which are so common in law firms.
Women describe feeling that they are ‘just hanging in’, or ‘pushing through’ in order to work effectively while experiencing symptoms.
For some, this makes work a challenge and affects wellbeing. This is often perpetuated by feeling as though they are not able to discuss this openly within their teams or to their managers. The stigma associated with the menopause encourages suffering in silence.
Routine work becomes a major challenge. Women start to wonder if they can do their jobs and their confidence is threatened.
They also often feel anxious about being seen as less competent, so they carry on, not mentioning their menopause to anyone and never really resolving or easing the symptoms.
Usually it passes, although for some women, it can drag on for many years which in some cases, leads to women leaving their job as the only viable way to cope.
- Menopausal age women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace
- Nearly eight out of 10 menopausal women are in work
- Three out of four women get symptoms; one in four troublesome enough to affect everyday life
Increasingly employers, including law firms, are recognising the important role they can play in supporting women.
According to figures shared in the House of Commons in 2018, 50% of working women found doing their job challenging due to menopausal symptoms and 10% left the workplace altogether.
It’s clear from these statistics that educating both employers and employees is paramount alongside improving working environments.
There are a vast number of positives which come from being proactive in your approach to your workforce and considering the needs and adjustments diverse groups of people may require.
Developing clear processes or guidelines is to everyone’s benefit. It supports an inclusive culture and reaps short- and long-term benefits.
Managers do not need to be menopause experts
Managers simply need an understanding of how menopause might affect some women and a willingness to have an open conversation particularly in regard to the practical needs of the employee.
Influencing culture in this way, where further learning and open dialogue is encouraged, comes with a wealth of benefits.
Championing employees to feel comfortable to be completely themselves and speak freely can have a huge positive effect on productivity, wellbeing, motivation and morale.
- create an open culture
- share resources and guidance
- offer workplace training
- offer staff personalised support with experienced menopause practitioners
- make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010
- Menopausal symptoms are generally short lasting, but not always
- Most women get only some, not all, of typical symptoms
- Menopausal symptoms sometimes go on for much longer than you might expect and can be more troublesome than you might imagine
Staying healthy through menopause
For many, menopause occurs around mid-life, just when other life pressures often build up too. Work is often at its busiest; you may have teenage children at home, leaving home and elderly family that you are looking after.
Throw in hormonal disruption and you can begin to see why some women struggle with life and work at this time.
There are specific ways you can look after your physical health as you go through the changes of menopause:
- eat a balanced diet
- stop smoking
- limit alcohol intake
- exercise regularly
- seek professional advice
When looking for information and advice, always think about the following:
Is it accurate?
Look at the ‘about us’ section of web pages. Look for sites that are open about working within UK NICE Guidance. Is the author a health care professional or if not, what are their credentials?
Is it biased?
Are they selling a product or a service? Although not overtly an issue, it should be transparent. Many sites will separate advice from adverts, with clear distinction between sections.
Is it recent?
Medical information changes fast. Is there reference to recent research? Make sure to look at dates on the site and try to find information produced in the last five years.
Menopause: The One Stop Guide, Kathy Abernethy, 2019
Menopause: The Change for the Better, Henpicked and Deborah Garlick 2018
Managing Hot Flushes, A Cognitive Behavioural Self Help Guide to the Menopause, Myra Hunter 2013
Men…Let’s Talk Menopause, Ruth Devlin 2019
Information on the menopause
We've been working with Peppy to develop guidance on the menopause specific to the legal profession.
- Six-week programme of education and support around menopause topics to enable confidence and understanding of the changes that occur
- One-to-one chat with menopause practitioner
- Group support in small moderated chat groups, anonymous if preferred
- Personal telephone consultation with specialist nurse
- Access to resources, tips, webinars and more
Peppy Menopause Service also provides access to a personal menopause practitioner, at the end of your phone, through confidential chat, at a time that suits you.
The opportunity to ask anything you like about menopause-related topics, to have personalised support and to learn all about the changes that may occur, how you can deal with them and what your options are at this time. Imagine learning what is happening to your body, how you cope with symptoms and look after your health in the best way possible.
Add a personal 45-minute telephone consultation with a specialist nurse, someone who is experienced in menopause practice, fully vetted and indemnified to give accurate evidence-based advice, specific to you.
Tell her your story, your medical background and know that the advice she gives will be in line with UK clinical guidelines and recommendations. Ask her your personal questions, share your thoughts and anxieties, discuss your options in confidence and work through solutions that are right for you, both at home and at work.
More questions? Go back to your chat nurse, keep asking questions, and receiving tips and advice. Link to online exercise classes, mental health support and access a directory of resources as you journey through the menopause transition.
Peppy works with employers to offer this service directly to staff.
To find out more about how Peppy can support your employees, email firstname.lastname@example.org and quote The Law Society.