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25th Jun, 2023

Victoria Sartain
Victoria Sartain
Job Title
Senior Content Writer

Women’s health charity, Wellbeing of Women, is dedicated to funding research, education and advocacy across all of women’s reproductive and gynaecological health. Through their Menopause Workplace Pledge, the charity is rallying employers and employees to push for better support for menopausal workers.

We interviewed Janet Lindsay, Chief Executive at Wellbeing of Women to find out what the charity is doing to promote menopause support in the workplace, and how businesses can better support their menopausal employees.

Watch the video or read the full interview below:

Q: Why do you think it has taken so long for menopause to be taken seriously in society?

A: Women's health has been neglected and underfunded for decades as a result of a centuries old patriarchal society. Issues such as periods and the menopause have largely been viewed as ‘women's problems’, and they’re shameful and embarrassing. And we've been brought up not to discuss our health and cope as best we can in silence.

And many people have the idea that menopause also ties into us getting older. This is typically not been seen as desirable in women, even though we know that women, between the ages of 45 and 65 when they're working, it can be their most productive years.

So I think that feeds into people's reluctance to publicly acknowledge and discuss symptoms that they may be experiencing. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics says that there are 5.2 million working women in the UK between the ages of 45 and 59 and that menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace because obviously the menopause typically happens when women are around the age of 51, so they fit into that figure.

And the research shows that women don't disclose their menopause and have difficulty working and that this is due to embarrassment, stigma, taboo - and they really do fear being discriminated against or stigmatised by their colleagues or customers or clients. And this has all been reported in the government's recently published Women's Health Strategy for England. But we're really pleased that the tide is turning and that menopause, and women's health in general, is starting to get the recognition it so desperately needs.

Our Menopause Workplace Pledge campaign has been leading the way in raising awareness of menopause as a workplace issue and really encouraging employers to offer really meaningful support to colleagues.

Q: Can you explain what your Menopause Workplace Pledge is and why you would urge employers and employees to sign it?

A: So we created the Workplace Pledge because in our conversations with women, and through a lot of research that had already been done, we could see that the workplace was often an area where women were really struggling to manage their menopause symptoms and that women over the age of 50 are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.

Yet, it has been reported that women are leaving their jobs, that they're reducing their hours, and they're passing up promotions due to the menopause. This has a real effect on both the women themselves from an economic point of view, but also the economy more generally.

Q: Has the charity’s focus shifted in terms of menopause research as the subject has become more topical?

A: Well, as a women's health charity, Wellbeing of Women will actually be celebrating its 60th anniversary next year. But we've always been dedicated to improving the lives of women, girls and babies across the life course. And over the years we have funded a number of menopause-related research projects - and we currently are at the moment.

In 2021, following the development of our new five-year charity, which now includes both education and advocacy, as well as research, and with the appointment of Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Edinburgh as our royal patron, we've really expanded our work. And it's one of the reasons we did develop the Menopause Workplace Pledge is our first campaign. We knew from our previous research studies, and from speaking to women, that it's in the workplace that women do struggle with their symptoms and that they need more empathy and support from their employers.

The pledge we launched in October 2021, and we’re delighted to say that since then it's become hugely popular. It's facilitated better workplace support for millions of women and people around the country. And of course, the topic of menopause has become much more mainstream. We will continue to do everything we can to reduce the stigma around the menopause and in fact, across all of women's health.

Q: In raising awareness and changing workplace mindsets, do you believe formal staff training/learning is the answer?

A: For menopause support in the workplace to be successful, information and training for staff is crucial, as well as open conversation. So, when organisations sign up to our Menopause Workplace Pledge, they commit to recognising the menopause and that it can be an issue in the workplace and that people need support, that people talk openly, positively, and respectfully about the menopause, and that there is good active support and information for employees affected.

These commitments are relevant to every single member of staff and all colleagues need to understand what the menopause is, who it can affect, and what it typically involves, so that they can support those they work with as needed. And managers really need to understand the impact that the menopause can have and really be empathetic to help create an inclusive and open workplace so that people feel comfortable and know that they can trust their colleagues if they want to confide in them and they need to ask for support.

People experiencing symptoms do need to feel safe and they don't want to be discriminated against for disclosing their menopause status. And I do think that ongoing training and information for everybody in the workplace is a great way to start. And I think that the more companies that do it, they will be able to attract staff more easily and they will be able to retain them - and that's so important in the workplace today.

Q: What practical steps is Wellbeing of Women taking to improve menopause support in the workplace?

A: Well, the Menopause Workplace Pledge is just the start of our work to improve menopause support. Research funded by Wellbeing of Women previously has helped improve the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy treatment, and that was particularly for menopausal women managing their symptoms in the workplace. But it applies whether or not you're working or at home. So, that's been very interesting.

We're actually funding some research at the moment at the University of Lancaster to develop an online toolkit for employers and employees to help increase awareness of the menopause, improve workplace attitudes, and enable staff to become more confident in their approach to dealing with the menopause at work. And it will be the first evidence-based menopause toolkit for organisations. It will provide information, training, and resources to not only improve the workplace culture around menopause and women's health issues, but also improve working women's experience of the menopause.

We're also very excited because we're running free menopause training for small to medium businesses in Luton and Bedfordshire, and that's using a virtual reality film followed by a workshop. So that's relatively new, we've been doing that for the last few months.

We also have our Let's Chat Menopause campaign, which is a public campaign to normalise conversations about the menopause. And we've got people like Penny Lancaster, the MP Carolyn Harris, Lisa Snowden, who's recently just launched a book talking about the menopause, and women from the Armed Forces, as well as a group of people from Tesco. So again, it's very relevant to the workplace.

We're really committed to improving menopause care and we're also currently jointly funding a research project in partnership with NHS England, and that's tackling existing barriers to accessing care and support in primary care, which is things like your GP. So, we really are doing a huge amount to improve menopause support.

Q: What are the charity’s biggest successes in terms of its menopause work to date?

A: The Menopause Workplace Pledge is definitely driving positive change across the UK workplace. Around 2,500 organisations have signed up to the pledge and the measures they are developing and implementing is already benefitting millions of workers across the UK. And that includes the Civil Service, NHS England (and NHS England has so many employees who will be going through the menopause, so that's important) others that people will have heard of are Channel Four, the BBC, the Royal Mail.

And our Let's Chat Menopause video campaign ‘Normalising conversations’ reached over a million people in the first month, so it has inspired lots of people to share their stories. And as I say, we're not we're not stopping there. We've got our online toolkit and we've got our menopause training in Luton and Bedfordshire.

We've had huge successes, but we can't rest on our laurels. We've got so much more that we need to do to ensure that women are supported and have the right information which enables them to go and access the right care for them when it comes to their health.

Q: What three things could employers do to show support for their menopausal workers?

A: Our pledge is one. I think the most important thing is to listen to their staff, listen to women, listen to everybody, and find out what it is that people want when it comes to menopause support. So, that can be developing policies - and the reason we say listen to your staff is because to develop a policy, you need to understand really what's needed and you can only do that by talking to everybody who's working with you.

I think providing staff training is very important too, but there are some simple things that organisations can do and that is looking at flexible working hours. And I think with Covid, we've seen that flexible working really is something that people and organisations are embracing, so I don't think that's probably as hard as it used to be.

Better ventilation or air conditioning - making it flexible if you want to turn the heating up or down. A lot of offices are set at a temperature that actually is perhaps more pleasant to male colleagues. And that's just historical, that's not just something that we feel, it is a known fact and historical.

Providing information and advice, greater awareness, and as I say, training for managers and colleagues so that everybody does feel supported and that menopause just becomes a normal part of conversation and it's no longer taboo, and people really feel that they can continue working if they want to.

For more information on how to support menopausal employees, download our free eBook.

Menopause: how to support your employees