Research has shown time and time again that diverse leadership teams outperform those with an unbalanced cognitive approach. Over 65% of the projects we undertake at Armstrong Craven contain a significant diversity element. Our clients are committed to increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles, with minimum gender diversity targets exceeding 30%.
A 2020 McKinsey report, Diversity Wins, revealed that companies with more gender diversity amongst the leadership team experienced more significant financial gains. The same report also revealed a proportional correlation between diversity and performance, with increased representation of women improving team performance and, therefore, competitive advantage.
If this is the case, why is it still that so few women are holding leadership roles? Women in the UK are now working longer due to the increase in the retirement age to 65 and are the largest growing demographic.
A great deal has been documented around women’s career challenges, the impact of maternity and the return to work being a huge factor. But something not widely reported on or considered is the menopause.
Menopause has been considered a taboo subject for too long, and far too many women are leaving jobs due to poor understanding and lack of support. For something that affects at least half the population at some point in their life, it makes no sense that this is not a subject that is discussed openly.
As a society, we are making progress when tackling previously taboo subjects, with mental health being a good example. Many organisations now strive to support employees by having specially trained staff to support colleagues who are struggling, providing initiatives, and improving employee well-being in a variety of ways. Armstrong Craven, for example, gives our employees two well-being days per year and provides mental health first aid training for first-line managers. Menopause (including perimenopause) however, is a natural biological process affecting half of the population, but is still one of the last taboos and it is one that is proving a significant challenge to the goal of diversity in leadership.
As the retirement age extends globally, more women will inevitably transition into the menopause as they reach a critical career stage. With the menopause usually starting between the ages of 45 and 55, this is the age when women are most likely to gain the opportunity to move into a senior leadership position.
The problem is further exacerbated as the average age for new board-level appointments (regardless of gender) is heading towards the late 50's.
96% of FTSE 350 CEOs are men.
75% of FTSE 350 executive committees
Out of a total of 2,358 executives on executive committees, only 610 are women (25%).
25 companies have no women on their executive committee.
Nearly half of all FTSE 350 companies have no women in P&L roles.
Aside from the case for increasing the female demographic in leadership roles, it also makes sound economic sense to support women to be as impactful and productive as possible during this critical period in their lives.
The cost of going through the menopause is a significant factor for countries without state- funded healthcare. HRT and other medications to manage the menopause cost between $130-$240 per month in the USA. With the average menopause lasting 7-10 years, it could cost one person over $20,000 to go through the menopause. HR leaders need to ensure their company health insurance policies cover these treatments and minimise the costs for their team.
Aside from the financial implications, the physical symptoms can be debilitating and confidence-shattering if severe.
One of these symptoms alone can be challenging to manage at the best of times, but they can occur simultaneously and randomly, for example – a hot sweat or brain fog during a critical presentation, loss of concentration or anxiety when under pressure to make decisions or when a deadline is due. At the time when women are considering a move into a senior leadership position to advance their career, it can and often does lead them to question whether they are worthy or as capable as their male counterparts.
A 2021 survey by Circle Health reported that:
83% of women surveyed said work is negatively affected by their menopausal condition
58% said that managing work was challenging
48% experienced a significant drop in confidence
46% felt significantly increased stress
45% had considered finishing work completely
Aside from Employee well-being, it is estimated that the impact of the menopause on British industry is £1.8 billion per annum, with 14 million business days of reduced productivity/absenteeism every year.
Women make up nearly half the UK workforce, yet it's estimated that nearly 900,000 have quit their jobs due to the menopause.
For those FTSE 350 companies setting targets to increase the number of women in leadership roles, a call to action is required to support those transitioning through the menopause. So far, progress has been glacial in pace, with only two in five of the FTSE100 companies having a menopause policy in place.
No country in Europe currently recognises a right to Menopause Leave - or has policies addressing the need of women experiencing symptoms. However, in 2022, Spain approved plans to become the first European country to introduce paid ‘Menstrual Leave’.
A YouGov poll conducted in March 2022 revealed that 72% of respondent companies do not currently have a menopause policy in place, and only 16% of businesses train line managers on how to address the menopause at work.
In 2022 the UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report found that just 30% have provisions for menopause transition (such as policies, guidance, awareness-raising or line manager training) in place to a large or moderate extent.
With the British Menopause Society claiming that 10% of women are leaving the workforce due to symptoms of the menopause, depleting an already stretched talent pool, the stigma has to lift and menopause has to become part of the conversation.
Helen Normoyle, co-founder of My Menopause Centre, which provides training and menopause support services to a host of major businesses in a variety of sectors across Britain, said:
“As well as the 900,000 women who have already quit their jobs in the UK because of lack of menopause support in the workplace, another 1 million are predicted to leave their roles in the coming year. Highly skilled, experienced women – many of whom are approaching, or at, the peak of their career - are exiting the workplace, which has huge knock-on effects on the gender pay gap, pension gap and the number of women in senior leadership positions.
A recent UCL survey estimated women lose between £10,000 to £20,000 in wages and pension contributions because of the impact of menopause. Even if they stay in work, too many are reducing their hours or not putting themselves forward for promotion. This needs to change. If menopausal women are properly supported, they will remain in the workplace, progress up the career ladder and employers will retain valuable members of their teams and avoid the costs of retraining and hiring. Adopting a menopause policy is a good start, but companies must also be more proactive in creating an age-inclusive culture in their organisations. Flexible/hybrid working, menopause support groups backed by senior leaders as well as education, training and support from medically trained menopause experts for all staff is essential whatever the sector.”
Women’s health charity, Wellbeing of Women, has a campaign calling upon UK employers to sign the Menopause Workplace Pledge to help and support women going through the menopause to reduce the number of women leaving their jobs. This will increase the cohort of women able to take on leadership roles and contribute to redressing the gender imbalance.
The campaign has seen leading employers, including many FTSE 100 companies taking the pledge. As of January 2023, over 2000 employers have added their signatures including Aldi, Mastercard, McDonalds and AstraZeneca.
QBE Europe signed the Workplace Menopause Pledge, committing to acknowledging menopause as a workplace issue, open and respectful dialogue and actively supporting our people affected by menopause. We have an impressively active internal network who champion initiatives like our M Cafés, monthly informal safe space gatherings, Menopause Buddies, volunteers who help those affected by the menopause get the support they need, and our Menopause guide for Line Managers.
Businesses should be able to recognise when employees need individual support about what they’re experiencing. Open cultures must be created where women feel comfortable saying they’re struggling with symptoms. Support could include reassurance when a crisis in confidence occurs or imposter syndrome strikes, flexible hours when exhausted from sleepless nights, or simply a metaphorical arm around the shoulder of a colleague who’s feeling overwhelmed.
Software company Civica has introduced a Menopause Affinity Group to create an open, safe and respectful culture for employees, as well as a staff handbook, ‘Menohub’ intranet site and a new menopause policy.
We are focused on breaking down the stigma, embarrassment and anxiety for everyone and openly recognising that this is a natural life event for women which carries no shame and certainly doesn’t need to be kept secret.
The CIPD has identified that making just a few simple changes to the working environment to help alleviate symptoms can make a huge difference to menopausal symptoms. These changes can include proactively encouraging comfort breaks during long meetings and a quick and visible approvals process for requests for flexibility or making exemptions from hot desking to allow for more structured temperature controls. Also, ensure that medical insurance providers include menopause cover.
One study surveyed women aged 45–65 to explore what employers and managers should and should not do in relation to women going through menopause (Hardy et al. 2017). The findings outlined key considerations for developing a suitable framework:
How well-ventilated is the workplace?
Do line managers understand that the menopause should be viewed as an occupational health issue, and do they take this fact into account during the performance management process where appropriate
Does the organisation’s flexible working policy explicitly recognise that the menopause is an occupational health issue that could require adjustments for someone by highlighting the range of working options that could be offered to support staff in these circumstances?
Consider whether the constrictions of a uniform or dress code exacerbate menopausal symptoms.
Recognising cultural differences and providing forums to remove any stigma and normalise the topic can ease some women’s anxiety.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said: “Menopause is inevitable. The steady haemorrhage of talented women from our workforce, however, is not. Stigma, shame and dismissive cultures can, and must, be dismantled. It is imperative that we build workplaces- and a society- which not only supports those going through the menopause, but encourages some of the most experienced and skilled workers in our economy to thrive.
The omission of menopause as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act is no longer tenable, given that 51% of the population will experience menopause. We were shocked to hear that many women have to demonstrate their menopausal symptoms amount to a disability, to get redress. Our Committee is calling on the Government to make menopause a protected characteristic in its own right."
With over 15 years in DE&I work, Armstrong Craven provides specialist talent Insight by conducting research projects that identify root causes of underrepresentation. Our approach to understanding talent motivations, barriers, and career choices at local, regional, national or global levels results in actionable insights to improve DE&I initiatives.
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“I'm at that time in my life right now and thank goodness I felt comfortable discussing it with my male boss. He actually asked me if I was fully menopausal or perimenopausal! Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by his understanding of my situation and he couldn't have put me more at ease. It got me thinking about how many organisations would react that way, which inspired me to write this article.”
Rosanne Meek Global Client Partner at Armstrong Craven.