MPs are calling on government to appoint a menopause ambassador who would report every six months on “particularly poor” employer practices in supporting menopausal women.
The recommendation features in a cross-party House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report published today which also calls for the piloting of a menopause leave policy and to make menopause a protected characteristic, along with a range of other proposals.
The appointment of a menopause ambassador would help to introduce model workplace policies covering how to request reasonable adjustments, advice on flexible working and sick leave, and build a supportive culture, the report said.
The appointee would work with stakeholders from business, unions, and advisory groups to encourage and disseminate awareness, good practice and guidance to employers.
And crucially the ambassador would also publish a six-monthly report on progress made by businesses including examples of good and particularly poor practice.
Other recommendations in the report were:
- For government to remove dual prescription charges for oestrogen and progesterone – both components in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – and introduce a single charge incorporating both hormones. The government should also communicate effectively with GPs and patients, letting them know about prescription guidelines and work with the NHS and the ‘HRT tsar’ to help prevent shortages and blockages in supply, as witnessed this spring.
- The launch of a consultation by the end of 2022, exploring how to introduce menopause as a protected characteristic, as with pregnancy or maternity and for government to also immediately enact Section 14 of the Equality Act, which would allow claims based on combined discrimination, for example sex and age.
- A visible public health campaign encompassing the symptoms of the menopause, its impact, and how to seek treatment and support at work. This project should consult a wide and diverse range of expert stakeholders to ensure an inclusive and impactful campaign is produced, and that it reaches communities often underrepresented in discussion around menopause.
- The piloting of a menopause leave policy within a public sector employer, and for government to publish an evaluation, including proposals for further rollout, within 12 months of the scheme’s commencement.
- For the Royal College of General Practitioners to make training on menopause a mandatory aspect of continuing professional development requirements for GPs. And in the meantime, for GPs to ensure that at least one member of their clinical staff has received specific training around menopause. By 2024, there should be a menopause specialist or specialist service in every clinical commissioning group area.
Discrimination forcing women out of work
The report also found a lack of support and discrimination played a key role in forcing menopausal employees out of the workplace.
In a survey of more than 2,000 women commissioned by the committee, 67% reported a loss of confidence as a result of menopausal symptoms and 70% reported increased stress.
Despite this, only 12% of respondents sought any workplace adjustments, with one in four citing their worries about an employers’ reaction as their reason for not doing so.
The report also found current law “does not serve or protect” menopausal women. Witnesses told the committee that while menopause-related discrimination in the workplace is “widespread” and “shocking”, the Equality Act 2010 fails to provide adequate solutions, with women forced to frame claims as sex, age or even disability discrimination.
And many women felt their GP was not well-equipped to properly diagnose or treat menopause, with a postcode lottery of services meaning that access to specialist services, including bone density scans, womb lining ultrasounds, access to endocrinologists and gynaecologists, was dependent on regional variation in provision.
Steady haemorrhage of talented women not inevitable
Caroline Nokes MP, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, said that while menopause was inevitable, the “steady haemorrhage” of talented women from the workforce was not.
“Stigma, shame and dismissive cultures can, and must, be dismantled,” Nokes continued.
“It is imperative that we build workplaces – and a society – which not only supports those going through the menopause, but encourages some of the most experienced and skilled workers in our economy to thrive.
“The omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act is no longer tenable, given that 51% of the population will experience menopause.
“We were shocked to hear that many women have to demonstrate their menopausal symptoms amount to a disability, to get redress. Our committee is calling on the government to make menopause a protected characteristic in its own right.”
Nokes further called on government to facilitate a healthcare system which recognised and treated menopause symptoms.
“Too many women are dismissed when coming forward with symptoms and too many women are unable to access the care and medication they need,” she added.
“It is easily within the government’s power to remove the financial and regional barriers to doing so. The inclusion of menopause as a priority area in the newly published Women’s Health Strategy is very welcome. But we must go further and faster.
“Menopausal women have been mocked and maligned for too long. It is time that the government seizes the opportunity to enact change. It is time to support, and celebrate, these women.”
Dan Crook, protection sales director at Canada Life, highlighted that building awareness around the menopause was fundamental to normalising the topic in the workplace and society, allowing people to talk openly and seek support when needed.
“With more than one in four women feeling their career negatively impacted by the menopause this could quickly become a key recruitment and retention issue for employers if not handled openly and compassionately,” Crook said.
“Women experiencing the menopause are usually at the height of their careers and an asset that employers should work hard to keep.
“Almost a fifth of women said they would be more likely to stay with their employer if they felt better supported in the menopause and by making relatively simple changes such as improving sick leave policies and flexible working, employers can give their workforce the best chance of success.
“Virtual support services also have a key role to play through helping employees via the workplace and employers should take every opportunity to promote their use,” Crook added.
Appalling knock-on effects
BMA representative body chairwoman Dr Latifa Patel said the report definitively showed the stigma surrounding menopause was driving women out of workplaces with “appalling” knock-on effects for the gender pay gap, pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions.
“Menopause-related discrimination in the workplace is widespread and deeply damaging to the physical and mental health of women,” Patel said.
“So we welcome the committee’s call for greater awareness and support for people with menopause symptoms. It is also encouraging that the committee has accepted the BMA’s recommendation to introduce a menopause policy in workplaces by piloting a menopause leave policy within a public sector employer.
“People who experience menopause, no matter where they live, must be able to access health advice and support, and this must include ending the postcode lottery in access to specialist services.”
She added that doctors would need support and with 55% of GPs being women they also needed to know their own workplaces would be supportive when they experience menopause symptoms.
“Within the medical workforce, menopause is still a taboo subject and this has to change,” she continued.
“The health service is under immense pressure and we cannot afford to lose experienced doctors because of a lack of flexibility and support during a relatively short phase in life.”