A report at the weekend noted a rise in women taking out cases against their employers due to the menopause. Awareness of menopause discrimination is increasing and employers should take note.
A report out at the weekend on the menopause showed a growing number of women are resorting to legal action due to their treatment at work. The analysis by Menopause Experts is based on statistics showing that in 2018 there were five employment tribunals linked to menopause. In 2019 there were six and in 2020 that number jumped to 16. There have been 10 cases in the first half of 2021.
The numbers are small, but the growth is significant amid more awareness generally about the impact of the menopause on women – a plethora of books, tv programmes and the like – and about menopause at work specifically. More and more employers are launching menopause policies in recognition that a sizable amount of women either reduce their hours, leave work or get pushed out because of the menopause. Yet there is still wide-scale ignorance and stigma.
The Women and Equalities Committee has just launched an inquiry into menopause discrimination at work and is looking for examples of best practice.
There are small adjustments that employers can make. The Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s guide suggests, for instance, providing a private area where women can “rest temporarily, cry or talk with a colleague”; allowing employees to work more flexibly or to take more frequent breaks; providing adequate drinking facilities and desks and making it easy for employees to control the temperature in the areas where they work – for instance, through access to ventilation’ and giving them adequate access to showers/washing facilities and toilet facilities. Clothing, particularly uniforms, can also be a particular problem for those experiencing frequent hot flushes and may need some adaptation.
The main issue is, however, awareness and empathy – and not just for women. Colleagues and managers need to understand the experience of the menopause too. The more teams understand each other’s circumstances the better they work together.
For those going through menopause, it’s important to understand yourself and how it is affecting you. That might mean getting enough rest, delegating where possible, using organisational tools and not expecting too much of yourself. Different people suffer different symptoms to a lesser or greater degree.
Sam Baker’s recent book The Shift describes not just the hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia and the feeling of being constantly drained, but also the sense of confusion, falling confidence and the all round emotional and physical upheaval.
Despite having a very difficult menopause, Baker’s book is optimistic and wide-ranging about the role of middle-aged women in the workforce.
She shows how older women are increasingly re-evaluating their lives and relationships, how their ability to survive constant change enables them to reinvent themselves and how millennial women’s activism is encouraging them to review their own experiences and channel any rage they hold productively.
That optimism is part of a growing confidence among middle aged women as large numbers remain in or rejoin the workforce. The increasing number of tribunals is perhaps witness to that.
Our sister website workingwise.co.uk is cataloguing many of these shifts and highlighting best practice. Employers should be aware. Growing numbers of women are prepared to challenge discrimination whatever form it takes.