Written evidence from Busines in the Community [MEW0067]
About Business in the Community
Business in the Community (BITC) is the largest and longest established business-led membership organisation dedicated to responsible business. We were founded by HRH The Prince of Wales 40 years ago. We work with our members to continually improve their responsible business practice, leveraging their collective impact for the benefit of communities.
We grow the responsible business movement and collectively create a greater impact focused on
Aoife Butler Nolan, Head of Public Affairs and Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Introduction and context
Unlike pregnancy and childbirth, all women experience menopause including people who no longer identify as women. The symptoms vary hugely between individuals: 80% of women say their quality of life is affected by menopause symptoms and 25% describing their symptoms as severe. Some women experience early onset menopause, which brings another aspect of stigma. Symptoms can be interactive and create a domino effect, such as night sweats and insomnia.
Women are likely to be in the peak of their careers and more likely to take on caring responsibilities when symptoms usually happen, between 45-55. Menopause affects women’s working, family and social lives and thus impacts everyone. As such, when raising awareness of the issue, it is important to consider the perspectives of younger women and men.
Evidence suggests that less than half of women disclose their menopause status at work. Data indicates that 1 in 4 women in menopause consider giving up work and that nearly 1 million have done so. So the fact that menopause in the workplace is an issue is clear, but the focus on that issue is new. Business in the Community (BITC) has been supporting its members on this for a number of years, but interest has been increasing in the past few years and BITC now offers a range of employer support options, such as a menopause workshop, advisory team, toolkits and webinars.
Trailblazer companies are making significant progress, but the extent of discrimination and impact data are not fully formed, while best practice is still being developed. The heterogenous nature of symptoms mean that the best solutions generally offer flexibility for individuals experiencing menopause to choose what works best for them.
BITC does not have specific evidence from its members regarding discrimination experienced by women as a result of menopause. It is clear from public sources that recourse to tribunal regarding menopause discrimination has increased, based on evidence from the Menopause Experts Group.
What is the economic impact of menopause discrimination?
While BITC does not have its own data on the economic impact of menopause discrimination, we know that there at 4.5 million women aged 50-64 in the workforce. Menopause usually occurs between 45 and 55 and post-menopausal symptoms can persist over an extended period. Given many women are at the peak of their careers in this period, there is significant loss of skills, knowledge and economic output as women leave the labour force due to menopause discrimination – data suggests that 1 in 4 women in menopause consider giving up work and nearly one million have already done so.
How can businesses factor in the needs of employees going through the menopause?
BITC’s toolkit ‘Menopause in the Workplace’ details the actions employers can take to support women going through menopause at work. This toolkit was developed with the support of academic partners and reflects the business needs of BITC’s members. A copy of the toolkit is attached. Key actions employers can take include:
● Awareness-raising and communication: understanding of menopause is low across the workplace. Awareness-raising, directed at the workforce – not just women and certainly not just menopausal women – is essential to break the taboo. Employers should create an environment where menopause is treated as a natural process and women have the confidence to seek support. Simple actions such as sharing videos have proven an effective initial step.
● Workplace adjustments: environmental and physical adjustments are important but do not need to be difficult or expensive. It may be possible to adapt existing provisions. Valuable adjustments include appropriate workplace temperatures and ventilation, adequate water, rest and toilet facilities, and provision of appropriate clothing where uniforms are required.
● Policies and procedures: absence policies must ensure that menopause-related sickness events do not cause sickness absence procedures to be invoked. Even with this support, menopause sickness can still be a problem for line managers. The TUC found that nearly 1 in 3 survey respondents reported management criticism of menopause related sick leave, while research by the University of Bristol in 2018 found that only 10% of organisations had a menopause policy.
● Flexible working: this can provide important support for women experiencing menopause-related problems, e.g. insomnia and fatigue or anxiety and depression. Flexible working provision for women experiencing menopause symptoms has been found to reduce absenteeism, increase wellbeing and productivity, and build retention in the older workforce.
● Training for line managers: this should cover understanding of how menopausal symptoms can affect women and what policies and procedures are available. Training should also include the development of listening skills and sensitivity, and guidance on how to have difficult conversations.
● Support groups and specialist support: providing informal, peer-based support is valued, as is providing a safe space for women to discuss and share experiences. More formal support can include educational programmes and provision of specialist support, perhaps through an employee assistance programme.
How can practices addressing workplace discrimination relating to menopause be implemented? For example, through guidance, advice, adjustments, or enforcement.
BITC seeks feedback from its members to understand actions being taken and best practice. Current actions BITC members are taking on menopause include:
● Developing a definition, policy and guidance on menopause.
● Recognising the business case for menopause support. For our members, the most significant business benefit reported is building the retention of women in the organisation.
● Raising awareness of menopause as a workplace issue. BITC members have sought to use awareness-raising campaigns to break down stigma, holding webinars and other events and sharing information and resources on intranet and wellbeing hubs.
● Disclosure processes are challenging, but some BITC members have added menopause issues as a reason for sickness absence.
● The most common reasonable adjustments reported by BITC members to support women experiencing menopause are changes to the work environment and job design e.g. flexible working.
● Training and awareness-raising with line managers is also identified as a priority for BITC members, including training on how to have difficult/sensitive conversations.
● BITC members have also developed support networks including menopause ambassadors and employee groups.
What are examples of best or most inclusive practices?
Effective support for women going through menopause at work will include a combination of guidance, advice, adjustments and enforcement. In particular, enforcement provision will be required to ensure that employers take appropriate action according to guidance and advice, and provide recourse for women who feel they have been disadvantaged or discriminated against. Please see Appendices A (Aviva), B (Santander) and C (South Wales Police) for case studies on what companies are doing to support employees with menopause.
How should people who experience the menopause but do not identify as women be supported in relation to menopause and the workplace?
As stated above, menopause is experienced by all women, including trans and non-binary people assigned female identity at birth and whose female biological characteristics persist. Support should be available to all individuals experiencing menopause. However, the low levels of disclosure of menopause in the workplace should be considered, plus the potential for issues of dysphoria, and a sensitive, individually-led approach is appropriate.
How well does current legislation protect women from discrimination in the workplace associated with the menopause? Should current legislation be amended? What further legislation is required to enable employers to put in place a workplace menopause policy to protect people going through the menopause whilst at work?
With the highly varied experiences of menopause and different business contexts, legislation is a blunt tool and the government might be better placed supporting businesses to find what works for them. This could be signposting guidance and management training from organisations like BITC. Where employers are discriminating against women experiencing menopause symptoms, this should be treated as a serious infraction.
The number of employment tribunals referencing menopause is increasing. The expert view is that this is a result of women feeling more empowered to challenge employers rather than more menopause-related discrimination taking place. However, this suggests that such discrimination is not uncommon and should be acknowledged and challenged. Any legislation should create a minimum threshold for employers to meet with respect to menopause, such as requiring employers to have a workplace menopause policy. It may not be that current legislation is lacking, but that a lack of enforcement is the real issue.
Awareness of the menopause in the workplace is relatively recent and we are early on in the data gathering stage. New legislation is not a priority until it is clear where current legislation is lacking. Any rushed protections may bring unintended consequences that could put employers off hiring women aged 50+. Instead, the priority for government should be disseminating best practice and supporting employers who improve their menopause policies, and workplace wellbeing more generally.
How effective has Government action been at addressing workplace discrimination related to the menopause, and what more can the Government do to address this issue?
In earlier decades, much of the menopause was experienced after women had retired or left the workforce early, such as to take up caring responsibilities. This is clearly no longer the case and now menopause is very much a workplace issue.
All women experience menopause and most experience symptoms that impact their quality of life in some way. But with the right support those symptoms can be effectively managed and women can continue successfully at work – employer action is critical. However, government should consider what guidelines or statutory protection is provided for other employees who are disadvantaged by a health issue or disability, and consider whether there is parity in the workplace protections provided to women experiencing menopause.
It should also be remembered that every woman’s experience of menopause is individual and unique. Government support and action should therefore focus on issues of equity rather than take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to statutory protections.
How effectively is the Government Equalities Office working across Government to embed a strategic approach to addressing the impact of menopause in the workplace?
Menopause as a workplace issue cuts across health and wellbeing (both physical and mental), gender and age, and hence is covered by more than one protected characteristic as defined by the Equalities Act. Issues of workplace benefits and protection, plus health and safety, are all relevant. As an example, work gender pay gap can be boosted by supporting those experiencing menopause symptoms in the workplace so that they stay in the labour force.
Businesses should receive guidance on how to support menopausal employees. Evidence shows that a growing number of women are looking to tribunals to address workplace discrimination arising from menopause. It is therefore essential that government action is coordinated across the variety of departments and statutory bodies involved in these various actions to ensure clarity and consistency of approach.
Why Aviva is supporting menopause in the workplace
Employees aged 45 and over are Aviva’s fastest growing employee population by age, and so numbers of employees experiencing menopause are growing rapidly too. Menopause support is built into Aviva’s wellbeing strategy, where the aim is to build a culture of psychological safety supporting colleagues and managers to co-create a psychologically safe workplace.
Support for action on menopause starts at the top, with Board level engagement including the CEO and Chief People Officer, and senior leaders regularly speaking at menopause engagement events. Aviva’s menopause support ranges across awareness-raising and training, individual and group support and workplace adjustments.
Aviva run regular menopause awareness-raising campaigns, timed to align with wider campaigns such as World Menopause Day. Activities - including information sharing, seminars and showcasing of employee stories - aim to break the taboo of talking about menopause in the workplace.
Support for individuals
Aviva offers a menopause support App, run by women’s health experts Peppy, providing one-to-one phone consultations and personalised live support from a menopause expert. The response has been highly positive and the service has been extended to cover partners of Aviva employees.
‘I felt empowered. I knew exactly what needed to be changed and why. I really appreciated having the opportunity to speak to someone else about my symptoms and how they were making me feel." Aviva menopause App user
Aviva provides menopause awareness training as part of their ‘Aviva University’ offering. Led by experienced professionals and aimed primarily at line managers, trainings are available to all employees, and seek to help people support colleagues by examining the what, why and how on supporting those experiencing menopausal symptoms. Over 150 leaders have completed the training, and awareness-raising campaigns are regularly used to encourage more to take part.
Menopause guidance and workplace adjustments
Aviva’s training resources also form the core of their advice and guidance on menopause – allowing support via workplace conversations rather than a policy manual. Training equips leaders and line managers to have conversations successfully and identify necessary support and adjustments. A workplace adjustments passport is available to record details of conversations and adjustments agreed. This can be transferred to a new job, avoiding the need for repeated conversations on a sensitive issue.
Employee support groups and wider menopause support
Aviva offer menopause support cafes - support groups led and driven by employees which provide a safe space to discuss any issues relating to menopause. The groups are fully inclusive, welcoming anyone experiencing menopause, including transgender, non-binary and gender fluid colleagues, plus younger people and men.
The support groups are supplemented by an on-line menopause community, where people can connect and share experiences and stories. Aviva also provide menopause support to their wider value chain, including via a wellbeing hub for their brokers and employer guidance for corporate clients.
Support for transgender and non-binary employees
Aviva sought feedback from their Pride LGBTQ+ network on the experience of menopause for transgender and non-binary colleagues. This identified how menopause will be experienced by transgender and non-binary employees and increased understanding of the potential for mental health impacts from experiencing what is seen as a women’s issue.
Aviva now make their menopause support available to all people who experience menopause, including transgender and non-binary colleagues. All communications use inclusive language, referring throughout to people who experience menopause, unless information relates to a specific demographic group.
Data and impact
Aviva include menopause as reason for sickness absence, and have found that the incidence of reporting menopause as a reason for absence has increased since launching their menopause support. They feel that this is a positive development as it indicates that people are prepared and confident to be open about their experience of menopause. With more people disclosing menopause-related absence, Aviva will be able to track this and respond more effectively.
● 2,165 female employees are in the 45+ menopause age group.
● 30% of these have taken up the menopause app service in its first year of operation.
● 300 colleagues are members of the online menopause community.
Why Santander is supporting menopause in the workplace
Santander has developed its menopause strategy over the last 2 years in response to a number of key findings:
● Over 25% of female colleagues are of menopausal age (over 3,000).
● Over 50% of people managers are male.
● Approximately 15% of absence in 2019 was taken by women aged between 45 and 55 and 10% of branch banking leavers in 2019 were women in the same age group.
● In a survey on menopause in late 2019:
● 15% of respondents reported absence in the previous 12 months
● Just under half of respondents did not feel comfortable talking to their manager about menopause and only 1 in 3 felt supported at work
Support provided aims to improve colleague wellbeing, increase engagement, reduce absence and attrition, and enhance employer brand and attraction. Policy on menopause is set in Santander’s broader wellbeing strategy, which encompasses physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing. Action on menopause focuses on four priority areas: building awareness and understanding; leadership and management support; a psychologically safe workplace; and guidance and practical support.
Building Awareness and Understanding
Santander started its menopause journey with an awareness-raising campaign, launched on World Menopause Day in 2019. This included a colleague survey, awareness sessions to accompany the launch of their new menopause online site ‘Let’s talk about menopause’, a series of webinars and podcasts, information leaflets, and a relaunch of their menopause guidelines.
Tips & Learnings
Enabling employees to speak up
In order to help employees speak up about menopause, Santander built inclusion into their messaging from the start, and communicated their messages widely throughout the organisation. They sought and gained senior sponsorship, which proved to be an important element of success, and onboarded menopause champions. Safe spaces were created to allow menopausal women to engage and get support, including the online site and an MS Teams private chat group, and Santander specified menopause symptoms as an absence reason.
Tips and learnings
Leadership and management support
To support the process of individual engagement, Santander introduced a programme of training and awareness-raising to develop leadership and management support for menopause in the workplace. Managers received e-learning training, which provided guidance for managers on the Santander menopause online site’ Let’s talk about menopause’, and covered issues such as workplace adjustments and sources of support such as occupational health services. Training was also conducted for HR consultants who support absence and performance issues, and webinars were held for people managers.
Tips and learnings
Guidance and practical support
Santander created a ‘Lets talk about menopause’ site on Santander’s Wellbeing Hub and have developed a range of resources for the site to support menopause in the workplace. They have also partnered with a specialist provider, Peppy Health, to provide expert clinical advice to colleagues going through menopause. Santander’s menopause guidelines have been reviewed and refreshed, and twelve Menopause Advocates have been trained to help raise awareness and signpost support, for both colleagues experiencing menopause and their managers.
Tips and learnings
Planned future actions for Santander
Future actions planned by Santander include:
Appendix C: South Wales Police case study
Why South Wales Police took action on menopause
BITC member South Wales Police started their menopause journey in 2015/16, working through their Gender Equality Network. Issues were highlighted by the case of a PCSO who was struggling to drink enough during the day to offset the impact of menopause related dehydration and headaches.
After some initial uncertain feedback, support was sought for a utility belt hook to attach to a water bottle. A number of clips were identified and trialled, and one has now been successfully introduced into the uniform. This example highlights how workplace adjustments may be possible with an adaptation of existing workplace practices, rather than potentially high-cost new measures. A recent survey on menopause found that 1 in 5 respondents had considered leaving the police force due to issues arising from the menopause.
Menopause support now available
South Wales Police now have a range of options available to support women during menopause:
Next Steps for South Wales Police
South Wales Police is continuing to take action on their menopause journey: