Employers' lack of support for menopausal symptoms is pushing "highly skilled and experienced" women out of work, with knock-on effects on the gender pay gap, pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions, says a report published last week.
The cross-party House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report calls on the government to act, amending the Equality Act 2010 to introduce menopause as a protected characteristic, and to include a duty for employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees.
The MPs also urge the government to remove dual prescription charges for oestrogen and progesterone as part of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) nationwide, replacing it with a single charge for all women.
The average age of menopause is 51, with perimenopause often starting years earlier. With 4.5 million women aged 50 to 64 currently in employment, the report emphasises the scale of the problem facing “individuals, the economy and society”.
Women experiencing at least one problematic menopausal symptom are 43% more likely to have left their jobs by the age of 55 than those experiencing no severe symptoms, and research by BUPA shows that 900,000 women experiencing the menopause have left work.
Significant progress could be made to reduce the flow of women forced out of work, says the report, by appointing a new Menopause Ambassador who would produce model menopause policies and disseminate good practice, in collaboration with employers, unions and other stakeholders.
The report also addresses the significant barriers women face in obtaining an initial diagnosis of menopause or perimenopause. The current postcode lottery determining access to specialist care is, say MPs, "unacceptable", and necessitates a specialist menopause service in every Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
Claire McCartney, senior inclusion adviser for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “The CIPD welcomes the findings from the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s report on menopause and the workplace. The menopause affects millions of women each year and it’s vital that employers take action to ensure that those experiencing menopause are properly supported in the workplace and retained.
“We are pleased that findings from the inquiry that we gave evidence at are shining a spotlight on the importance of workplace support for those experiencing menopause transition. The CIPD has worked diligently to raise awareness of the importance of creating menopause-friendly workplaces, including being the first to call for the creation of Menopause Ambassadors. A Menopause Ambassador should work across government departments to ensure that they are joined up and considering the implications of menopause transition across all areas of public policy.
“We are also fully behind the report’s recommendation to make the right to request flexible working a right from day one of employment. This is something we have campaigned for over the last year through our ‘Flex from First’ campaign. This statutory change would support not only those experiencing menopause to manage their symptoms and remain in work but should be beneficial for all employees and support greater business agility and staff retention.”