Why law firms need to raise staff awareness of the menopause

A guest post by Daniella McGuigan, a partner in the London office of international firm Ogletree Deakins

McGuigan: Need for change

There is no doubt that issues related to the menopause have been in the headlines in recent months, more than ever before.

High-profile female media personalities such as Davina McCall have helped to shine a spotlight and raise awareness on issues surrounding the menopause and menopause-related symptoms.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, this is often a taboo subject for many people, male and female alike. There is a reluctance to talk about it openly and it is often the source of flippant jokes and embarrassment.

Those experiencing the menopause or menopause-related symptoms often feel it is just a rite of passage that needs to be tolerated with minimum fuss. For others who do not experience the menopause, there can be a trivial lack of understanding about what the menopause is and how its symptoms can affect and impact an individual.

Menopause in the workplace is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Employers large and small are starting to consider how the menopause and menopause-related symptoms might impact their workforce.

Some law firms are following the trend and offering menopause training to raise awareness in the hope of improving the working environment for those affected. Should all firms follow suit?

Why the focus by law firms now?

Recent studies which have focused on women in the workplace have produced results that are particularly interesting in relation to the impact of the menopause on individuals.

A 2019 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five (59%) of menopausal women aged between 45 and 55 were negatively affected by their symptoms at work.

A further CIPD and Bupa study found that almost a million women have left a job directly because of their menopausal symptoms. Those who did not leave may have higher absenteeism than their male peers.

In the 2019 CIPD survey, 30% of women surveyed said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms, and only a quarter of them felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.

A third said embarrassment prevented them from saying why they had to take time off and another third said an unsupportive manager was the reason.

There are close to four million women at an age most likely to experience menopause (around 45-55) in work in the UK. Typically, those individuals will be at the height of their career, highly skilled and capable.

The statistics are starting to convince some law firms, as well as other employers, that there is a need for change and support for this group of workers – or risk losing them. Taking action is becoming crucial for law firms that still struggle with a gender pay gap and lack of gender diversity at the senior end of their business.

Good moves for law firms

Educating the workplace
Training is usually a good place to start. This could include organising training and events so that employees can develop an understanding of the symptoms and effects of menopause. This will ideally be delivered to staff at all levels of the firm, much like equality and diversity training.

The aim and effect of any training delivered should be to raise awareness and an understanding of how menopause can impact colleagues in the workplace and should be sensitively conducted.

It is a difficult balance to strike – impacted employees should not be exposed or asked to share experiences – and it should be emphasised that colleagues cannot treat it as an opportunity to stoke existing sexist prejudices. An ‘equal but different’ rhetoric would be a sensible approach.

Implementing a menopause policy
Having such a policy and training on the policy will ensure all employees – particularly those with management responsibilities – are comfortable and capable of handling the issues faced by menopausal employees.

Organising external support
Consider expanding private health insurance packages to cater for physical and mental health menopausal conditions.

Conduct health and safety risk assessments
Ensure the work environment in the office and at home does not worsen menopausal symptoms by implementing appropriate solutions – for example, creating quiet rooms and ensuring the workplace remains a suitable temperature.

Law firms should look to introduce a multifaceted approach, in creating a work environment which is understanding, supportive and devoid of stigma for their workforce experiencing the menopause.

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