University of Leicester – Menopause … removing the taboo

The University of Leicester is one of ten universities across the world chosen by the United Nations to be a HeForShe 10x10x10 IMPACT Champion. Amongst other objectives, this means we are committed to creating a cultural transformation around gender in our organization; and making our conversation around gender public, providing transparency and actively monitoring progress on gender issues. We want the university to be a place which allows all of our staff and students to flourish, irrespective of their gender or age.

As part of this commitment, we are developing a menopause at work policy. We will be the first university in the UK to introduce this provision, which will be supported by guidance and training for managers and staff alike. We want everyone to be able to talk about menopause openly and without embarrassment. This is not an issue solely for women, men should be aware too so that they can support colleagues, students, friends and family. We want women with menopause symptoms to feel confident to discuss it and ask for support, if it is needed, so that they can continue to be successful in their roles and enjoy the right life-work balance. We want leaders to know more about menopause, be clear on our policy and feel confident to have conversations with their teams. We firmly believe that fostering an open and supportive workplace environment around menopause transition is the foundation on which other, more tangible changes can be based.

As well as the University’s wider commitment to gender equality across the piece, this project is informed by a recent government report entitled ‘The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UK’. This was written by Brewis, Beck, Davies and Matheson, three of whom work in the University’s School of Business. The report found that many women are reluctant to raise any menopausal symptoms they are experiencing, even if these are affecting their performance and their quality of working life, with their managers and colleagues. This is for fear that they will be stereotyped, judged negatively or criticized. But what the report also establishes is that it is often both easy and inexpensive for employers to introduce mechanisms which will support women going through menopause. If there’s a wide variety of solutions that cater for the equally wide range of experiences women have, they can pick and choose whatever will support them individually. And that could simply be following advice on diet or wearing light or layered clothing, right through to someone referring themselves to Occupational Health to discuss specific adjustments to their working environment or workload.

Other large employers, like Severn Trent, E.ON and PepsiCo are developing similar provision. Like us, they are being expertly supported by Henpicked consultants. And like us, they have recognized that the fastest growing group of employees in the UK is mid-life and older women. With the average age of natural menopause being 51 years old, it is crucial for the impacts of menopause on women from their 40s onwards to be recognized. The demographics of the UK labour force, and indeed across Europe and other industrialized countries, suggest all employers have to start paying attention to menopause transition as an important workplace issue.