Menopause policy and women's rights
In August 2021 an announcement by Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, confirmed that the issue of women’s rights as regards the menopause are high on the agenda. With the Committee currently carrying out an inquiry into menopause discrimination in the workplace, Ms Nokes confirmed that she would not rule out recommending changing equality laws to provide better protection for menopausal women. Many watched the documentary by Davina McCall earlier in the summer which aimed to challenge the reluctance to talk about the menopause, and with more and more high profile celebrities doing so, the issue is one that is cascading down with employees feeling empowered to discuss the menopause and the effects upon them …. and more importantly to ask what their employers are doing to help.
We take a timely look at this issue, including considering the broader impact menopause may have on the retention of older female employees, and the consequential impact there may be upon the gender pay gap.
Menopause in the workplace
It’s a fact - every woman will go through menopause, although the symptoms can vary. These could include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, muscle and joint pain, hot flushes and problems with concentration and memory – many women talk about “brain fog”. The menopause is preceded by the perimenopause, which can also last several years and can involve similar symptoms. Women will generally experience menopause and the symptoms in their late 40s and early 50s, though perimenopausal symptoms can start much earlier. (For the purposes of this bulletin, menopause shall be taken to include reference to perimenopause too.)
As a result, performance at work can be affected, as many women complain of the impact upon their confidence at work, as too can relationships with colleagues and clients.
Menopause and the gender pay gap
Menopausal women are the fastest growing group of workers, there are an estimated 4.3 million women in this category. Davina McCall’s documentary highlighted that nine out of ten women felt menopause had a negative impact on their working life with countless stories of women in senior roles feeling a need to step down or choosing not to take the step up into a senior role in the first place.
The lack of progression of women into senior roles (or indeed their retention in such roles) inevitably has an effect upon the gender pay gap, with the gender pay gap being the greatest for those aged over 50. With an ageing workforce, it’s easy to see how the impact of the menopause upon women of a certain age, may have a bearing upon an organisation’s attempts to close the gender pay gap.
As a reminder - what has changed with gender pay gap reporting?
Due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, employers did not have to report their gender pay gap information for the year 2019/20 and were not expected to do so at a later date (though many organisations chose to do so voluntarily).
The pandemic has also affected employers reporting the gender pay gap for the year 2020/21. Instead of publishing the information by 30 March 2021 for most public authority employers or 4 April 2021 for private, voluntary and all other public authority employers, now all employers have until 5 October 2021.
Given the impact of the pandemic, and the high use of furlough by a number of employers, it is even more important for employers to explain changes to their gender pay gaps and what action they will be taking to close them.
What action can I take as an employer regarding menopause and the gender pay gap?
Employers can take a number of steps in this area to consider assisting employees who are experiencing the menopause and closing the gender pay gap, including:
- Using structured interviews for recruitment and promotions, this will reduce the impact of unconscious bias and allow the responses to be easily compared.
- Using skill based assessment tasks in the recruitment process, ask candidates to perform tasks they would be expected to perform in their role to help ensure fairness.
- Introducing transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes, this can reduce pay inequalities.
- Conducting pay equality audits, this allows discrepancies to be identified between employees of equal experience in similar roles.
- Introducing a policy that deals with menopause to give guidance on addressing any issues that may arise and encouraging open and sensitive conversations. Use of adjustments where appropriate will also be welcomed by employees experiencing negative impacts of the menopause. Managers may require training in handling such discussions.
With an increase in conversations around the menopause, there comes a greater awareness and less tolerance by employees for accepting the status quo. More employees are looking to manage their symptoms with the use of HRT, and other remedies, and Tribunals are starting to see more litigation related to the menopause on the grounds of gender, age or disability discrimination.
Employers should be considering how they can intervene to tackle barriers to progression and support women through this transition – not just to mitigate legal risk but to aid retention of experienced and skilled female staff, assist with the closing of the gender pay gap and increasingly, because it is seen as the right thing to do.
For more information on best practice regarding menopause in the workplace please see our guide: The menopause in the workplace – how best to support staff
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Natasha is a paralegal in our Employment Team, working within our specialist Employment/Education Team, assisting with our education clients and supporting the wider Employment Team.