In January 2023, the UK government rejected a proposal to include menopause as a protected characteristic, warning of “unintended consequences which may inadvertently create new forms of discrimination, for example, discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions or eroding existing protections.” It also said it would not launch a consultation on amending the Equality Act to introduce a new protected characteristic of menopause “including a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees”.
This has got me so riled. To argue that a law to protect women who suffer with significant debilitating menopausal symptoms could potentially discriminate against men is outrageous. All I can think is that the people who made the final decision on this are people who have absolutely no idea how debilitating symptoms can be.
In order to help understand why change is so necessary, let’s go back a few generations… In Victorian times, women died in their 40s, so we didn’t really have the full experience of menopause. During the 1900s, women where just expected to get on with things and that menopausal symptoms (a little like menstruation and pregnancy) no matter how severe were just a part of being a woman and we should just all get on with it. As an example, my grandmother was in her late 30s when she was ‘institutionalised’ and told to take up smoking for her ‘hysteria’ (she later developed lung cancer) which we are now all convinced was perimenopause.
Now, however, women in their 40s are only at the mid-point in their lives. We have half of our lives still left to live when we start our peri/menopause. Almost 50% of women consider leaving the workplace because of the impact of peri/menopause symptoms and, in the UK, over 1 million women have left work as a result of menopause. Essentially the UK Government is saying, ‘Employers, it’s up to you to retain your own staff, if we step in, we take away this decision for you’. Surely, the point is that not enough businesses are doing this, and women are being forced to leave their employment. It’s not important enough for the Government to intervene so no need for businesses to take this step either.
Quite frankly, however, the ‘warning’ of unintended consequences of discrimination towards men who might be on long term sick leave is nonsensical. Why is this even a comparison? It absolutely stinks of ignorance toward the symptoms women suffer and the impact it has on their ability to function. Women can be suffering with symptoms for over 10 years. However, they’re not a constant, they come and go. There are things we can do to help manage the symptoms once we know exactly what it is we’re facing. However, from time to time, symptoms change, and we need to manage it as it happens.
The government also rejected calls for a large-scale public sector pilot of menopause leave in England, adding it was not seen as “necessary” and could turn out to be “counterproductive”. In a world where we are encouraging a growth mindset and agility, surely a pilot would help inform the decision rather than just assuming it could be ‘counterproductive’.
Can we please ask that raising awareness to the symptoms and understanding what’s going on for women at this time be the priority for those decision makers before they make any more outlandish interpretations about menopause?
I am sorry for men (& women) who have long term health issues, that must be awful. In my experience, employers are generally very compassionate and understanding of people on long term sick leave (especially when it’s been something caused by the employer or other serious illnesses) where it is almost always left to the discretion of the manager and people retain their sick leave payments – followed by statutory payments.
Menopause is NOT an illness. It is a stage of life for every single woman! Not everyone has the same experience. Some women have early menopause, some women have a medically induced menopause, some women do not have any symptoms at all. We are all different but for the most part, at least 2/3 of women have menopausal symptoms that negatively affect their everyday lives. That’s 2/3 of 50% of the TOTAL population!
It is time for change and if the Government won’t acknowledge this, I do hope employers act and recognise the impact that menopause has on women in the workplace and make provisions for women going through this stage.
If you are an employer and would like to find out more about how to be more menopause supportive, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.