Female solicitors undergoing the menopause have expressed concern about the impact it can have on meeting their billing targets, with firms urged to do more to understand the symptoms and their effects.
Earlier this month, the Law Society, in conjunction with healthcare support business Peppy, issued guidance on experiencing menopause in the legal profession and more than 200 people attended a virtual launch of it.
Comments left by participants during the Zoom event highlighted fears about billing.
One women, who was suffering from an “intense faux menopause” induced by cancer treatment, said she was struggling to meet her billing target and was “under scrutiny as I take longer to do things due to fatigue and concentrating and lack of sleep”.
She asked whether it would be reasonable for the target to be reduced as she was suffering from a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
The Act defines a disability as a mental or physical condition which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal ‘day-to-day’ activities.
Another woman wrote: “I am doing hours but can’t bill for it all as takes me longer, ie I have to do longer hours to meet target which means more fatigue etc.”
A third woman said: “I’m in a similar boat – surgical menopause after breast cancer, everything takes me forever now, half my time can’t be billed.”
One of the speakers, Amandeep Khasriya, a senior associate at Moore Barlow and a member of the Law Society’s Women Lawyers Division committee, told Legal Futures that law firms and employees should “work together” to find solutions.
She said: “It’s important that organisations and their leaders understand the impact of menopause on their employees and are able to offer support and adapt their environments to be more accommodating in situations like these.
“In the first instance, women who find their menopausal symptoms are affecting their wellbeing and their capacity to work should speak to someone at work, possibly their line manager, about their concerns and ask what support could be offered to help them manage their symptoms when doing their job.
“Perhaps with the help of their HR or an occupational health specialist, the line manager and the employee should discuss changes which would help them manage their symptoms when doing their job.”
Ms Khasriya added that there were also clear business reasons for “proactively managing an age-diverse workforce”.
She explained: “It is very much in the interests of an organisation to support workers with perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms in the workplace.
“As well as being an important health and wellbeing matter, managing menopause in the workplace sensitively and effectively will help an employer retain this talented and experienced pool of women.”
During the launch, Jacqui Timmins, a partner and head of the Leeds office at Pinsent Masons, recounted her experience of her GP not linking the anxiety and mild depression she was suffering to the menopause. It was only medics in her family who connected the symptoms to hormonal changes.
This led her to hormone replacement therapy, which she described as “almost like flicking a switch”, leaving her feeling 20 years younger.
Kathy Abernethy, a co-author of the guide and former chair of British Menopause Society, said that around a quarter of women – generally between the ages of 45 and 55 – have symptoms that are “sufficiently bothersome” that they have to make some kind of adjustment to their lives.
Symptoms that could be particularly difficult for lawyers included memory problems, “brain fog”, and lack of concentration.
Ms Khasriya noted that many of the symptoms were similar to those seen in pregnancy, but there was no aversion to discussing them openly, unlike with the menopause.
Deborah Garlick, founder of the website Henpicked and a trainer on its menopause in the workplace course, said “the pressure cooker environment is something we see a lot in law firms”, and that some of the psychological symptoms women can face – such as anxiety, lower confidence and lower concentration – could have a real impact of women’s careers.
She highlighted the work of Scottish firm Burness Paull, which has been championing the importance of understanding the impact of the menopause of staff both internally and externally.
Burness Paull was “breaking new ground in best practice”, she said, and recalled online training she did for it earlier this month where two-thirds of the participants were there so they could support female colleagues.
Ms Garlick stressed the importance of training line managers. “They need to understand why we’re talking about this, what it is, and some of the triggers to ask to make sure the woman is getting right support. It’s also about how to have the conversation.”
Theresa Winters, ‘culture lead’ at Santander, highlighted the importance of awareness and discussion – the bank makes the menopause “part and parcel” of its wellbeing strategy – training and education, and having a network of women and men who want to “part of the discussion”.
“Not every woman will share their experience but we need to create more opportunities for women to engage and seek advice,” she said.
She added Santander was looking to include menopause as a reason for employee absence and considering how it fed into performance management.
Ms Khasriya said the Law Society’s focus on the menopause came from former president Christina Blacklaws’ women in leadership project, in which women’s health came out as a top priority – if more women were to capture senior roles, the impact of the menopause needed to be addressed, she said.