Menopause has for too long been a taboo subject. Despite there being 5 million working women aged between 45 and 60, there is very little awareness of their specific health needs during menopause. This is having a major impact on their rights at work. Rather than support and understanding by employers, they have faced disciplinary action and have been forced to take time off, due to inadequate shift-patterns, or workplace environments.
My speech to conference aimed to raise awareness of the campaign by women’s organisations and Trade Unions to address this issue and to bring employers across Wales on board.
National Women’s Conference 2021
Statutory Menopause Policies in all Workplaces and Menopause Advice Hubs in every Constituency
There are several areas which contribute to the growing inequalities towards women in our society- one such area is the way that women are treated, during menopause. Menstruation and menopause should no longer be treated as taboo subjects. By doing so, this is exacerbating attitudes that lead to gender discrimination.
From shared experience and statistical data, it is apparent that women are highly discriminated against when experiencing these natural, biological developments in their lives. Research carried out by several unions has found that that one in five women take time off work due to menopause, but do not feel able to approach their managers due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the condition. Whilst, more than a third of women say that their employers do not offer any kind of discussion group, awareness session or training on the subject of menopause, despite there being more than 5 million working women, aged between 45 and 60 years. We should be mindful that, not all women may have children, but most women will experience menopause. Importantly, it is noted that women can encounter menopause and the related conditions at a range of ages. Biological responses vary, but include irregular, unexpected and in some instances painful symptoms, that can result in time away from employment.
Therefore, due to the scale of the issue and the impact upon numbers of our people, there must be a standardised and accepted menopause policy, that is as commonplace as maternity schemes in businesses and organisations. Sadly, although the amount of women affected is huge, so too is the scale of the gender discrimination reports.
Women across the UK have reported to Labour Women’s Officers and Union Officers, a range of bullying acts in the workplace, and a general lack of awareness from managers and work colleagues. Such incidents include being the brunt of public and peer-prejudicial gossip, the focus of jokes and ridicule, stereotyping of those of a ‘certain age’, being ‘passed over for promotion,’ seeing their career progression stall, being made redundant, being forced down disciplinary procedures and in some instances being forced to have embarrassing conversations with managers and leads.
Sadly, some women have reported that their careers have been ruined completely by symptoms such as anxiety, confusion and loss of confidence. Rather than support and understanding by employers, they have faced disciplinary action and have been forced to take time off, due to inadequate shift-patterns, or workplace environments. Sadly, through this total lack of awareness and understanding within our Employment Sector, some women have been forced to sell their homes, shift to part-time work, or stop working altogether. This lack of awareness of Menopause is shocking and constitutes, no more and no less, than the breaking of The Equality Act 2010, through indirect and direct gender discrimination.
Additionally, it is noted, that there are a range of employments that are affected, from public and private sector, to the self-employed small business sector, in which women workers constitute a growing category. Advice needs to be given to the self-employed sector in order for women to plan ahead and create a strategy, to overcome hurdles that may occur due to time taken off, medical appointments, and to manage staff that may be experiencing conditions.
We acknowledge that there has been some employment guidance put in place for workers, when experiencing health issues and the resultant workers’ ability to carry out their role, such as changing working location or conditions for a more comfortable working life. We also applaud our nearest partner, the Welsh Labour Government, whose drive for equality through the transformative Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales, 2015), in which ‘A More Equal Wales’ underpins all areas of life. However, there still is a need for ‘Menopause and Menstruation Policies in the Workplace’ through policy and legislation, to guarantee more concerted action to positive change for women.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon our Labour representatives, union representatives and politicians at all levels, to push forward an agenda of change, to ensure that no longer women are subject to this harmful, demoralising and discriminatory behaviour, which sustains gender inequality across the entire Employment Sector. Only in working upon the following actions, will we ensure that Menopause Discrimination ends for all our working women across the UK.
Conference calls for:
• Labour to continue to work with Unions, and the Government, to create a structured list of recommendations, that can be written into Employment Law and Workplace Policies across the UK.
• Shadow Ministers to work with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and other business organisations, to ensure that the full range of businesses are supported in the training of managers and staff, to develop awareness of Menopause Discrimination in the workplace.
• To work with women’s organisations and charities, to ensure that progress is made in ‘knock-on’ areas of gender discrimination within the employment sector, including Unconscious Bias, the increasing Gender Pay Gap, and unequal progression of women appointed into leadership roles.
• To enable voluntary, community and healthcare organisations to create a range of Menopause Hubs, in every constituency across Wales, to enable women to access advice and support on the range of issues associated with Perimenopause and Menopause.
• To monitor the level and incidences of Menopause Discrimination in the Workplace across the UK.
• To develop legislation to ‘bring into line,’ any workplaces that continue, or through poor practice, sustain Menopause Discrimination, across the employment sector in the UK.
• To create legislation that enables women experiencing Menopause conditions, to have paid time off work, change shift patterns, alter workplace conditions, enabled blended ‘working from home’ practices, in order to ease relief, whilst continuing working without discrimination.
• To legislate to ensure that performance management and career-progression is not adversely affected, due to menopause symptoms.