So, a question for you:

At a time when women are finding it all but impossible to get hold of HRT treatment and risk seeing their symptoms spiralling out of control, where does your business stand on menopause and its effect on the workplace?

You may have missed the news a few weeks ago that, faced with a golden opportunity to make menopause a protected characteristic within the Equality Act, the government failed to take it.

This followed the news last year that, having appointed an HRT taskforce in 2021, the government also failed to implement any of the recommendations that resulted from a year-long reporting process.

Add to that the current acute shortage of HRT treatment that has left thousands of women unable to medicate against the symptoms of menopause and it’s easy to see why some might believe Westminster has got it in for women above a certain age.

In that context, it’s not exactly surprising the government has come in for fierce criticism on the subject, but for me the real failure here is not about the presence or not of menopause on the political and legal agenda, or whether local pharmacies have stocks of HRT (important though both those things undoubtedly are).

Instead, it is about the failure to legitimise a grown up conversation around menopause that enables wider education about health equality between men and women and the health discrimination that is still widely experienced by women in the UK and beyond.

Perhaps the area where women are most marginalised by their natural biological decommissioning of reproductive function is in the workplace.

The question of whether menopause should be better represented in the equality statute book is decidedly polarised.

Some argue that highlighting it in law simply gives employers another opportunity to publicly single out, patronise and marginalise older women in the workplace, because why single that out and not some say, also, erectile dysfunction or male pattern baldness?

Others take the view, arguing that menopause and the debilitating symptoms it often causes place inevitable hurdles in the way of career advancement and access to support.

But doesn’t that kind of miss the point?

Surely, from an employment and inclusion perspective, it shouldn’t take legislation to force employers to make provision for those employees who find themselves at the mercy of what can be a physically and emotionally brutal physiological process, should it?

It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which any reasonable employer would refuse to make reasonable adjustments for an individual whose health circumstances had significantly changed to a point where, without some consideration, they were unable to do their best work.

I wrote on LinkedIn a little while ago about how gaming company GOG had made headlines by offering menstrual leave to those employees who needed it.

I think this is a brilliant initiative. It gives people the option of taking paid or unpaid leave from their employment if menstrual symptoms leave them unable either to go to work or to perform effectively.

And if we have forward thinking organisations like prepared to break new ground with menstrual leave, is it such a big leap to suppose or hope that similar initiatives might serve to level the playing field for older women in menopause?

Menopause has been the punchline to a string of bad jokes for long enough now.

It has bred an almost institutionalised indifference and intolerance to the point where those who struggle to manage their symptoms at work are side lined – either quietly into the corporate backwater of project-leadership (surely the pinnacle of all pseudo-promotions?) or more overtly through lack of opportunity.

It’s not difficult to see the advantages of menopause leave.

Organisations with a proactive approach to menopause in the workplace will find it easier to:

  • Attract and retain talent
  • Maximise productivity
  • Demonstrate and practice true inclusion and diversity
  • Improve employee relations
  • Champion their employer brand

Although it can start earlier in life, menopause is most common within women aged between 47 and 73.

If you consider that most senior executives hit their professional prime in their late 40s and early 50s, it’s bewildering that so many organisations have either refused or been reluctant to make menopause a focal point of their talent strategy.

In an employee-driven market – which is where we are right now – the businesses that commit to grasping this nettle (and others that relate to age in the workplace) may well find they also have the power to harness a talent pool that gives them a distinct competitive advantage.

If you’d like to learn more about inclusion in the workplace and the practices and processes that work, please get in touch. We’d love to talk to you.