Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott, specialist in women’s health at The Marion Gluck Clinic explores how the menopause can affect working women and how they can go about discussing this problem with their employer and create a more open and caring workplace.
It is a universal truth that the health needs of men and women are significantly different. Over the last 50 years, changing social norms have resulted in a 20% rise in woman working in full time employment, and there are 4.4 million women age 50 to 64 at work in the UK representing 50 % of the workforce. 80 % of women going through the menopause are working so recognition and support of women’s health in the workplace is of vital importance.
Business research reveals the benefits of gender diversity with greater financial performance, creativity and innovation. Women bring a variety of specific talents and skill mixes to the table, and small workplace interventions can make a difference to the daily work experience and make women feel safe and supported.
Knowledge and Education
Business leaders must take the lead to educate themselves and their teams on the specific issues that impact women’s health. Training should be given on recognising the signs and symptoms of problems associated with different phases of the female lifespan. For example, women approaching menopause can suffer memory loss, decreased cognitive performance, insomnia, hot flushes, and a lack of confidence. Postnatal depression and other mental health issues relating to pregnancy and conception must be brought into awareness. Employees could be having a miscarriage or undergoing cycles of IVF fertility treatment and suffering in silence. Endometriosis can cause severe pain in the monthly cycle and heavy periods can significantly impact quality of life. This can all have inevitable consequences on performance at work, and it is imperative that line managers have up to date training and develop the necessary communication skills to talk to female colleagues of sensitivity, empathy, active listening and non- judgement. Businesses can set up internal campaigns to promote female health, have awareness days and employ a wellbeing champion, so breaking down barriers and encouraging active dialogue around these topics.
Open Conversational Culture
By encouraging conversations around women’s health at work both in the office and now remotely, we can aim to increase awareness. Fertility, menstruation and the menopause are often stigmatised and viewed as taboo subjects so women themselves may not feel comfortable revealing the genuine physical and psychological implications of what they are going through. It is important to avoid this isolation especially now the post covid landscape means increasing numbers of employees will work part of the week remotely.
Policies and Framework
Employers have a corporate social responsibility to formulate the policies and a framework to adequately support female health issues in the workplace. This will encompass issues with monthly menstruation, pregnancy and maternity leave, fertility and menopause. Organisations such as CIPD and ACAS produce comprehensive guidelines and resources on how to develop effective policies. Currently policies also need to reflect the increased burden the pandemic has had on wellbeing for women with working from home, home-schooling children and the increased domestic responsibilities of everyone at home, blurring work/home boundaries. Employers can survey female employees to understand what workplace interventions would support them. Free sanitary protection with proper bathroom facilities facilitates the life of a menstruating women and access to cold drinking water, a desk fan and ventilation by a window can ease the symptoms of hot flushes experienced during the menopause.
Flexible Working Patterns
Women having to juggle work with childcare and domestic responsibilities is a major cause of stress to most and offering flexible working instead of the conventional 9 to 5 pattern means women can work around their other routines to ensure the job gets done and they remain in employment. It may mean finishing off once the children are in bed but this option can be a life saver. Employers need to have realistic expectations of setting reasonable deadlines, not expecting immediate email responses and that employees should be constantly available on line to respond to internal messaging or other demands. Gender pay gap issues must also be addressed and equality must become the new normal.
Access to Healthcare Services
Women will need access to contraception, antenatal and fertility care, menopause care and routine screening such as cervical smears and breast mammograms. Women should feel that appointments they may need to make can be accommodated with their work timetable as necessary. The pandemic has made many services difficult to access and indeed there is a huge backlog of routine screening services and long waits for GP and outpatient appointments. A caring business should be responsible for putting extra provisions in place to allow access to essential services such as a virtual GP and company funded health checks could include cervical and breast screening.
In conclusion, women have skills and talents that are of enormous benefit and are represented across all employment sectors and professions at every level including presidents and prime ministers. They are smashing that glass ceiling! The workplace must continue to progress and align with the prominent role of women in modern society. An inclusive, diverse and nurturing workplace leads to thriving businesses and has an impact on our social fabric.