Claire Welch - Menopause in the Workplace

Claire Welch on the Menopause in the Workplace

In this article, we wanted to cover an issue that’s close to our MD’s heart, and one that should matter if you’re a woman or related to a woman (so that’s everyone, then!).

All women will go through the menopause at some point once they reach 40s and 50s, and sometimes, the menopause or perimenopause can affect younger women in their 30s.

As it’s such an emotive subject to Claire Welch, an experienced recruiter who has witnessed all types of gender discrimination in her career, we decided to interview her about how this phase in a woman’s life can subject her to problems in the workplace, and what we can do about it.

In the wake of 600 UK employers leading the way and making a pledge to create a supportive work environment for those going through menopause or perimenopause, including big players like Royal Mail, BBC and Tesco, what’s the main issue with how workplaces currently deal with this phase in a woman’s life?

From management down to employees, there’s just not enough awareness. Mental wellbeing is at the forefront of a lot of discussion at the moment and employers are really looking at how they can support their staff. Menopause relates very closely to that as it can affect your mental health but employers and senior management need to be educated about it as I don’t think the link is always recognised.

Some big companies are starting to educate themselves a bit more about it and how they can filter that through the workforce.

It’s sad that while age is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010, ageism still goes on. If a worker is treated unfavourably because of menopause, it can be classed as discrimination under this law in certain circumstances (if it relates to age, sex or disability), but as yet it’s still not a protected characteristic in its own right. Have you seen women being discriminated in the workforce because of menopause?

There was a client that I used to work with a long time ago – I don’t work with them anymore – who basically said, “If someone’s in their early 30s or late 20s, I don’t want to take them on because they might want to start a family, and then if they’re in their early 40s, I don’t want to take them on because they’re going to go through the menopause.”

And I just could not believe it, so I said: “So you basically only want 18-year-olds working in your business?”

Age should not be a factor at all. It should be about whether you’re capable of doing the job, if you’ve got the relevant skills and experience. It’s about educating people, because anyone who’s a woman in their 50s and 60s in work has probably gone through or is going through the menopause.

Honestly, my husband watched a programme with me and could not believe it he said, “Wow is this what you have been dealing with?” on seeing Davina McCall’s programme, Sex, Myths & the Menopause on Channel 4.

How can menopause impact job performance?

At the moment, I’m what you’d call perimenopause. I would say I’ve got a really good memory – that’s something that people know me for – and when I can’t remember a name, or a scenario or a date it really does affect you.

And then there’s the lack of motivation, losing your mojo, which then obviously, has the knock-on effect of losing your confidence.

It can be really debilitating for women; it really is sad to think women in the past and present are being misdiagnosed as depressed.

People need to watch the Davina McCall programme. That was what made me and my husband realise how bad it actually is.

66% of employees feel uncomfortable talking about menopause in work(People Management). That’s why it’s great to read about Royal Mail launching a campaign specifically dedicated to this issue, which they’ve named “Let’s Talk Menopause.” As part of this, they aim to educate colleagues, encourage conversation and normalisation, and enhance health and wellbeing.

How can other employers make reasonable adjustments for women going through the menopause without drawing attention to it, and potentially risking embarrassment for people who are shy?

Management have got to be educated about it. And they have to be led by the individual woman, they might be afraid to speak out about it or if they do, they might want complete discretion. I think women need to feel that there is a safe space to talk about how they are feeling, perhaps having someone in HR who is fully trained on the menopause who could be a point of contact.

Many women experience disruption to sleep, feel depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, and in the past, they may well have just called in sick or tried to muddle through. Simple changes to working life such as introducing a flexible /hybrid working policy could benefit everyone and could even take away cause of some of the anxiety.

There’s got to be more education in the workforce. I think there needs to be communications within the business, not directed at anyone in particular but real awareness, what support is available in a trusting environment.

So, what about the perimenopause and what sort of ages are we looking at?

Well, I would say definitely 40s now, but it can be even younger in your 30s.

Personally, I don’t know whether I missed the symptoms with having two young kids and running a business. Feeling tired, irritable, forgetful, anxious and lack of confidence.

Claire is not afraid to have such an open and frank discussion because there are women out there who are dealing with issues, not knowing what is happening to them and often dealing with it in unsympathetic surroundings.

Don’t be afraid to have the conversation with workmates, bosses and family if you feel you may be suffering. The workplace needs to change to allow women of all ages and experience to thrive. Let us help you find a job where you can be confident at any age or stage of your life.

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