By Cathie Donaldson, Director of People Development, Connor Consultancy Ltd (an NFP company)
In recent years, the business world has made tremendous progress in ensuring that women’s needs in the workplace are better met. Women’s rights to equal treatment throughout their pregnancy and the subsequent parenting years are now protected in law, and some forward-thinking companies have begun to offer bereavement leave for miscarriages.
Yet there is one key evolution that every woman will experience in their lives that remains largely forgotten by many businesses – the transition that is menopause. Though usually only spoken about in small circles and behind closed doors, around 30-60% of women experience intermittent physical and/or psychological symptoms during this transition.
The average age for a woman to go through menopause is 51, and with 3.5 million women aged over 50 in the workplace in the Irish, this group represents a large proportion of our workforce. In fact, menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic of workers in the country.
Menopause in the workplace
With an ageing Irish population, the impact that menopause can have upon women in the workplace is set to persist as a growing issue in the years to come. While symptoms such as stress, anxiety, and brain fog continue to go unnoticed and poorly managed, the loss of female staff will only worsen.
This not only has a detrimental impact on the skills and expertise that is held within businesses but gender diversity at senior levels and consequently, the gender pay gap, are also negatively affected.
It is therefore vital that businesses across Ireland begin to step up to tackle an issue which not only affects the livelihood of female workers but also has a huge commercial impact on talent management. Ensuring that female staff are properly supported through this important life event is an investment that will serve to retain a wealth of expertise and skills within the talent pool.
Cathie Donaldson, Director of People Development at Connor Consultancy Limited, believes that the first step to achieving this change is education. Cathie continued, “educating all employees on the topic of menopause is the key to enabling businesses to begin to move forward. Through raising awareness of menopausal symptoms and their impact on women at work, positive progress can be achieved in removing the taboo and stigma attached to menopause.”
Indeed, there are many benefits to talking openly about this subject. Having transparent and respectful conversations can not only help women feel more confident in communicating any issues that they are facing, but it can also provide them with a stronger understanding of the changes they may be going through and how this can affect their work. Education also helps employees learn how best to respond to and support their female colleagues who may be experiencing menopausal symptoms. For example, understanding that heavy uniforms might not be appropriate for those experiencing hot flushes and that notes may be required during presentations for those who are impacted by brain fog, can go a long way in helping female staff to feel more comfortable and assured.
“While these conversations may initially feel awkward or uncomfortable, a tailored approach that is aligned with your company values, mission, and culture will help this feeling to quickly dissipate and, ultimately, make certain that anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms gets the same support that a person with any other health issue would receive,” Cathie added.
“For those looking for practical ideas to help kick start this process, hosting external speakers, delivering webinars or launching internal campaigns can all be useful methods to begin to facilitate open and honest conversations.”
Formal adjustments and policies
Although it is not currently a legal requirement for businesses to have a menopause policy, implementing formal workplace adjustments and procedures is another key step in making sure that female staff are properly considered and cared for whilst going through menopause.
Companies such as Kelloggs are currently leading the way having recently announced that managerial staff will receive training on how to talk about and provide menopause support. However, the number of employment tribunals regarding women who have been performance managed out of organisations as a result of their experience of going through menopause continues to rise. Recent figures from HM Courts and Tribunals Service highlighted that menopause was cited in five cases in the last nine months of 2018, compared with ten in the first half of 2021. This would reach 20 for the full year if the rate remains consistent. With these concerning trends, it is likely that a shift in regulation will soon come.
With this in mind, businesses should be taking action to get ahead of the game and put their best foot forward by making the necessary adjustments to ensure that the workplace environment does not become a barrier to female employees’ performance. Extended sickness leave for menopausal symptoms, flexible working hours and arrangements, and access to a counselling service are all approaches that should be considered.
But it’s important to remember that addressing this issue cannot be a one size fits all approach. To make certain that your business is providing its female staff with the correct care and support, confidential conversations to identify the obstacles women face, and how they can be overcome, should also be initiated.
Wider diversity and inclusion strategies
Building on the implementation of formal menopause policies, Cathie believes that to achieve true progress for women these guidelines should be fully integrated into companies’ diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategies.
“With the increasing quality of D&I gap reporting, the next key issue that businesses in Ireland will be expected to continue to develop and manage is the improvement of D&I programmes. Through incorporating menopause policies into these refreshed programmes, businesses will ensure that support for female staff is truly embedded within the organisation while also demonstrating their commitment to driving D&I forward,” Cathie says.
“The team at Connor have observed many businesses who have already seen the benefits of committing to a menopause awareness programme in combination with other wellness, mental health, and general employee support initiatives. In the coming months and years, we expect the formal incorporation of menopause policies into diversity and inclusion strategies to continue.”
Through these key initiatives, businesses can take the necessary steps to ensure they are retaining the skills and expertise of the female talent pool, enabling them to overcome one of the biggest issues currently facing talent management.
Connor is a Berkshire based, leading consultancy helping businesses in Ireland, the UK & Europe to improve performance through their people development, organisational change, and outplacement and career transition. Connor has 30 years’ experience of helping organisations to navigate the changes that are happening in the workplace. The business does this by creating fit-for-purpose internal structures and processes and helping organisations get the most out of their people. Connor believes that your people have the potential to be the magic ingredient in your organisation’s evolution.
Connor is small enough to provide the personal touch essential to success, and a track record of experience in handling large, difficult projects. Connor’s network of experts can support you on a local, national and international basis.
Visit Connor at: www.connor.co.uk