Davina McCall has recently brought awareness to a topic which is often viewed as taboo through her book “Menopausing” and the TV programme “Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause”. Around half of the population experience menopause in their lives, so why do we shy away from the topic? Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace (CIPD).
Until 2022, Hamilton Forth was a male-dominated team; however, the team has grown to have a 43% female split in the past five months. With this in mind, at Hamilton Forth, we are doing what we can to educate ourselves and others on menopause and what we can do to support female colleagues.
The Impact of Menopause
With menopause most often affecting women between the ages of 45 and 55, women at the peak of their careers must manage symptoms of menopause. When symptoms first start to impact someone, they may be unaware of what is causing health issues and changes. A quarter of menopausal women will experience debilitating symptoms – from hot flushes and night sweats to increased anxiety and brain fog. This can lead to experienced middle-aged women leaving the workforce in droves. Likely at the top of their game, without the proper support, they may not be able to reach their full potential, and businesses must do more to protect this valuable talent.
Lack of research in the UK is hindering progress and support for women. Studies in the US carried out by neuroscientists Dr Lisa Mosconi and Dr Roberta Brinton have challenged conventional thinking that menopause is a natural ageing process related to the reproductive system. Instead, discovering the fluctuating hormone levels cause changes in the brain.
Menopause and the Workplace
One of the key findings from the Davina McCall documentary was that the symptoms affect nearly 50% of menopausal women’s ability to do their job. Exhaustion, headaches, anxiety, depression, brain fog, and body pain (to name a few complications) all contribute.
Brain fog is suggested to be one of the symptoms most affecting women. Many women become concerned they are developing dementia, demonstrating the severity of this symptom of menopause. These mental challenges indicate how difficult it must be to focus at work during menopause, leaving women feeling incapable of completing their work to the same standard they could previously achieve. Despite this challenge, 84% of women in the workplace say they do not have a manager or designated person that they feel they can turn to for help. Lack of support feeds the mental health impacts of menopause, often resulting in low confidence, embarrassment and shame.
14% of women reduce their working hours to attempt to manage the challenges menopause is causing them in the workplace. Even more shockingly, a study supported by the Fawcett Society found that 10% of women quit their job because of menopause. There are also cases of pay-offs and people being dismissed for not being able to fulfil their role in the same manner they did previously.
Discrimination claims from menopausal women have tripled over the last three years. Although this is shocking, it may not be due not to an increase in cases but rather an increase in women feeling able to come forward and pursue a claim as the challenges of menopause become more widely discussed.
Alongside Davina McCall’s activism, there have been many positive changes for women in the UK. The NHS in England has stopped charging women for repeat prescriptions of Hormone Replacement Therapy. Petitions such as Make Menopause Matter are gaining media attention and helping to share the importance of educating people about menopause from as young as school age. Women are encouraged to share their experiences with friends, family and GPs.
Only through encouraging open conversation and education of the UK workforce will we be able to support women and minimise the negative impact of menopause in the workplace.
Strategies for reducing impact and supporting our colleagues
Studies have found that a healthy diet, maintaining an active lifestyle and medication can help lessen the symptoms of menopause; this is at a women’s discretion, and there are very few ways that workplaces can encourage this. However, there are some methods employers can adopt to help support women at this time.
Employers are responsible for offering support and facilitating open conversations with employees about what they are experiencing. Staff should be trained on how to spot symptoms of menopause or its mental health implications in the workplace and how to make women more comfortable at work.
For decades women have tried to carry on as usual, despite the discomfort and challenges they may be facing at work during menopause. With women still being the minority in the tech sector, it is even more critical that workplaces create an environment which supports them and shows they’re not alone.
You can watch Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause on All4.
For an informal conversation about supporting your female colleagues during menopause, please contact [email protected].