So the government wants us all back to work, then what do we need?
What is the Menopause
The last taboo – The Menopause – or the cessation of periods heralding an age where a woman is no longer able to become pregnant naturally. This usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 as oestrogen levels naturally decline. The symptoms are highly variable and can build up over several years during the perimenopause and can also hit a woman cruelly early.
Historically, there has been a lack of awareness even amongst women, of symptoms that can significantly impact their everyday life including; night sweats, vaginal dryness and discomfort, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, low mood, headaches, palpitations, joint stiffness.
The brain, the skin and the bones are all affected and the menopause also brings with it an increased vulnerability to heart disease and stroke.
The Historical Perspective
The subject is bewildering, controversial and confusing – ranging from scientific analysis of the evolutionary purpose of the menopause to conflicting reports on its place in our current socio-economic environment .
Historically the menopause has been treated woefully unsympathetically, and was largely something unspoken about; women just largely got on with it – or not. Sigmund Freud unhelpfully branded menopausal women as ‘quarrelsome, vexatious and overbearing.’
Even intellectual heavy-weights struggled with it on several levels, such as the existentialist French philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir, who at 54 gloomily prepared ‘to say goodbye to all those things I once enjoyed’. And others, notably Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, Helen Gurley Brown and Germaine Greer all warily chronicled their maturity although the latter seemed to come out the other side, wisely proclaiming:
‘Women over fifty already form one of the largest groups in the population structure of the western world. As long as they like themselves, they will not be an oppressed minority. In order to like themselves they must reject trivialisation by others, of who, and what they are. A grown woman should not have to masquerade as a girl in order to remain in the land of the living’.
And she was right. Pre-pandemic research showed that women over 50 were indeed the fastest growing group in the workforce with around 4.5 million women aged 50-64 in employment and who are staying in work longer. Women in this age group can be highly skilled and experienced and at the peak of their careers. However, many leave due to menopausal symptoms possibly because they are not well understood or provided for in workplace cultures, policies or training.
A call to action
But……….hold on, is there wind of change in the air?
It seems that now there is a sizeable and growing cohort of women who are moving into their sixth and seventh decades with a surfeit of energy and more workplace experience than their peers.
There appears to be a different workplace landscape emerging. Now women are needed more than ever, with the country experiencing labour and skill shortages.
The retention of women in the workplace is very relevant as part of the desired economic revival – and if circumstances permit women to be economically productive, they will be economically important.
The winds of change – a political hot potato
So long overdue, in the March 2023 Budget it was announced that free childcare from 9 months will eventually be introduced – conveniently before the next election!
Also, older women will be encouraged back to work. The long standing ignored subject of the menopause has recently become more of a fashionable discussion point. And I don’t make light of it, as the recent case of Nicola Bulley has illustrated. It can be an extremely sensitive subject and a very personal and debilitating condition for many women. Only 25% of us sail through it with no noticeable symptoms.
In a 2019 survey
The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work. BUPA found 900,000 women in the UK had left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms.
They highlighted the stigma attached to the menopause, both around treatment and in the NHS with the ‘normalisation’ of women’s experience. They found a general lack of understanding and awareness, ethnic, and social differences and prejudice. This can have a great impact on women’s relationships with colleagues and work performance.
The Government Act
To be fair, the Government appear to be on the case:
The Department of Works and Pensions commissioned the Menopause and Employment report which made several recommendations to the Government – including nominating a Menopause Ambassador to work on behalf of the Government to represent the interests of people experiencing the menopause transition. The Government has now published a response to that report.
In response, the Government announced in October 2021 the cross–government Menopause Taskforce, and a Women’s Health Ambassador was created – Dame Lesley Regan, June 2022. The taskforce will address issues with diagnosis and treatment. Very lengthy reports can be viewed on the Government website.
In March 2023, Helen Tomlinson was appointed as the new Menopause Employment Champion – with a brief to drive awareness of issues surrounding the menopause while promoting the benefits to businesses and the economy when women are supported to stay in work and progress. There is also much valuable work being done to improve the supply and cost of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – the main treatment which artificially replaces diminishing oestrogen and progesterone.
How does the Menopause affect women in the workplace
Turning to the voices of women themselves, they report;
- Problematic symptoms – the symptoms already mentioned can be exacerbated by work stress and the work environment, leading in extreme cases to women actually being unable to work.
- Lack of support and discrimination – the attitudes of colleagues, privacy concerns and being scared of their reaction.
- Loss of income and reduced work – women cut back their hours, forgo promotion or may leave altogether.
The cost to society of the Menopause
This flurry of initiative is not surprising given the impact of the menopause and the cost;
- to women themselves
- to businesses
- to the wider economy
The Menopause costs the UK economy a staggering 14 million working days a year
There are therefore, significant benefits to employers to create menopause-friendly workplaces to attract and retain female talent and to help women thrive in the workplace. There is an obvious need for practical adjustments and education in the workplace in order to create a supportive environment.
Deborah Garlick , Founder and Director at Henpecked – Menopause in the Workplace, highlighted that talking more openly in the workplace is the first step. Results from their survey highlighted the most important things employers can do to support employees experiencing the menopause:
The danger of course is that we further stigmatise the menopause by further workplace support by appearing to be condescending, and surely there can be no harm in some comic relief along the lines of Men-on-pause and Manypaws (women who go dog crazy at a certain age!)- often delivered by the women themselves.
An Individual Perspective of the Menopause
Menopause is an inevitable and natural part of ageing. Whilst all these admirable efforts are being made, we need to ask ourselves on an individual basis ‘What do I really, really want?’
A menopausal woman may have spent many years raising a family, probably her career has played second fiddle to her husband’s/partner’s as she has juggled the demands of the family with work or a career. She may have had long periods out of work due to maternity/childcare, seen herself being overtaken by younger colleagues, she may have taken a less demanding job. Of course all this will have had financial implications which may not become completely apparent until retirement, or if a divorce rears an ugly head.
So just at the time that she starts to feel less energetic and attractive, a hormonal storm hits as well and quite frankly women may be exhausted by this point – physically, emotionally and financially.
Add-on to that, additional burdens that may appear – such as possible caring duties of grandchildren – and trust me demands will be made – and elderly parents, and you can see that luring a 50 something woman back to work, might not be as simple as just promising a sympathetic workplace, ‘talk to me about your menopause t-shirts ‘and financial incentives.
Look at the evidence – these days very rarely does a woman spend her retirement on the golf course or knitting jumpers, it can be taken up with different caring responsibilities that are just as demanding as being in paid employment.
Financial Implications and Solutions
As far as all this affects the finances of women and their wealth, like many things it will be a case of planning and awareness. Better education and openness about the menopause should ensure that women are more aware of the problems that they might face at this time of their lives, and with that, they can plan alternative strategies and courses of action.
The more financially secure they are, with an appropriate financial regime in place, the easier it will be for them to negotiate the possible storm ahead and come out the other side intact and in the place they want to be. For some women, this may be to continue the ascent to the top of their career, for others it might be time to step back and reassess their life plans and enrich the quality of their life.
Whatever the chosen path, it is easier if it has been laid earlier on. This is where a robust financial strategy and regular financial checks throughout working life is as important as attending to physical health and wellbeing. A Women’s Wealth mentor can guide you through the process with wisdom, and experience and help to prepare you financially for whatever is ahead.