I talk a lot about women’ health in the workplace and how it isn’t just a female issue but a business one. It is my view that women are having to deal with pervasive health inequalities and, as a result businesses suffer from breaks in our talent pipelines.
All women will go through menopause and in the UK there are nine million women aged between 40 and 60. These women are likely to be experiencing some of the numerous symptoms of menopause or perimenopause. For one in four women this is significant. Whilst hot flushes may seem inconsequential, they can be debilitating. Often, they are worse at night they can cause serious sleep issues which lead to fatigue. There is also difficulty concentrating and subsequent mood issues. In addition, things like vaginal dryness, reduced libido, urine infections and erratic periods can significantly affect quality of life.
It’s not really a surprise that menopause isn’t openly talked about in the workplace, these symptoms are personal and sometimes embarrassing. Almost half of menopausal women find their symptoms negatively affect their job performance and many lose their confidence and as a result leave the workforce for good.
Our data shows that 12% of all 51 to 55-year old women that came for a health assessment were unsure if they were going through the menopause. The truth is, because we haven’t historically talked about this, we don’t always realise what’s happening to our bodies. With better information and the right support, we will be better informed, and we would have a much better experience as a result.
As businesses we have a responsibility to support our people and create cultures that are inclusive and where everyone can thrive. If we want to change the culture, around menopause we need to address three things:
Education: Education is critical, women’s health in general is not openly discussed and this is exacerbated in a work environment, in society there is very little dialogue about menopause, so it isn’t a surprise it’s neglected by businesses.
To raise awareness, we have created infographics to help managers, have open conversations with members of their team who are experiencing menopausal symptoms, so that everyone feels supported. This has been particularly popular with our male managers who have been unaware of the symptoms and impact menopause can have on their teams.
Policy: Symptoms of menopause can present as intermittent, frequent absence. This can prejudice career progression and employment prospects. So, recognising menopause in your sickness policies is essential, we must ensure that women are not discriminated against.
In addition, we must give managers the latitude to make appropriate adjustments, to better support line managers we have created a health & safety risk assessment form to help. This can be used as a starting point for line managers to have a conversation and support their colleagues in workplace adjustments.
Services: Menopause is largely managed in a primary care environment and access to these services is extremely important. Businesses that have access to virtual GP and onsite primary care are fortunate. It is worth considering how you can facilitate better access to services and encourage women to engage with them.
When it comes to menopause we have to understand that no woman is the same and that each will need different support. As a business we recognise that we need to do more to support women. Which is why Bupa have committed to training our doctors. We are working with British Menopause Society (BMS) so that by the end of 2020, a fifth of Bupa GPs in our clinics will have received additional training in menopause. We are also working with some of our largest clients including, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Citi to improve services for their people. The BMS course will enhance our GP’s understanding of the menopause and the most up to date recommendations of how to manage its symptoms.
I find it astonishing that we support women through their child rearing years, yet, when women are at a point that they can commit to their careers free from the burden of child care responsibilities, we are not supporting them through this transition. To lose women at this point when we have everything to gain, not only commitment but experience, is nonsensical.
It’s within our power to normalise menopause and, if we can, businesses will reap the benefits of being at the front-end of recruiting and retaining female talent. Women don’t need special treatment, but we do need businesses to act in a way that levels the playing field, changes perspectives and creates cultures where everybody can thrive.