“I’m now like the woman I was when I was 25,” says 51-year-old mother of four Katie Taylor. “I’ve got the energy of someone half my age. I’m raring to go.”
Taylor has come a long way from the anxiety, depression and fatigue she was plunged into at age 43, which four years of medical consultations and exams finally diagnosed as symptoms of menopause. The toll it took on her mental and physical well being forced her to resign from her job as a charity marketing manager. “If I’d had the right diagnosis, treatment and support from day one, I would probably have had another 20 years of my career where I could have really gone for it,” she says.
Taylor is exactly the type of person that London Mayor Sadiq Khan was hoping to reach last week when he announced his city’s “world-leading” policy on menopause. The policy, now being negotiated with the city’s unions, could offer training for managers, awareness raising and even paid time off to thousands of working women across all municipal agencies, from transport to parks to policing.
While groundbreaking, the announcement didn’t come out of thin air. In recent years, the U.K. has become a pioneer in public policies and corporate cultures that support working women with menopause. “Women of all ages deserve to feel welcomed and accepted at work,” said Mayor Khan, “and I want to lead by example in encouraging businesses, public sector organizations and our government — which too often fails them — to do all they can to ensure this.”
A condition that scuttles careers
Katie Taylor is far from alone. According to surveys, 59 percent of working women in the U.K. between 45 and 55 with menopause symptoms say it negatively impacts them at work. Menopause causes 25 percent of U.K. women to consider leaving their jobs and 11 percent not to pursue promotion opportunities. There’s a cruel irony to this: women over 50 are Britain’s fastest growing workforce demographic. And the average age for menopause transition is 51.
This problem impacts employees and companies alike, which is why the growing movement to do something about it is being pushed, in part, by employers. Big companies such as Vodafone, British broadcaster Channel 4, bank HSBC and car sales website Auto Trader have adopted policies that include paid leave and menopause training. Women affected can apply for the leave to cover time off for medical support or to deal with symptoms. At Channel 4, the menopause policy is administered and overseen by 4Women, its gender equality staff network group, which runs awareness-driving panel events for all staff, while HSBC has trained “menopause advocates” to improve understanding and offer support to other staff. Auto Trader is among a growing number of companies offering sessions for affected staff — both women and men — to help them recognize the symptoms and direct them to the right resources.
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The policies appear to be popular. Channel 4, which launched its policy in 2019, recently published data from a company survey showing that 10 percent of female employees have used or plan to use the menopause support on offer, and 78 percent of staff feel better about the company as a place to work.
While such corporate-reported results are encouraging, only independent evaluation can ensure that these companies are living up to their promises and obligations. To that end, last month saw the launch of a nationwide Menopause Friendly Accreditation initiative to train and certify menopause-supportive U.K. companies. The scheme, which has 50 companies on board so far, awards a badge to those who meet the criteria, which include policies, training, engagement and impact. Companies that join are encouraged to run regular all-staff surveys to measure awareness, understanding and uptake of their menopause policies, as well as understand their effects on factors like well being and inclusivity.
“Evaluation is absolutely key. Some organizations say they’re menopause-friendly, but they haven’t changed their culture,” says Deborah Garlick, director of Menopause in the Workplace, a corporate training provider. Garlick says this is what makes the accreditation process vital. “Then if you can say a policy has reduced sickness, or increased inclusivity by a certain percent, that makes it so much more tangible.”
Despite this, data and accountability across the business landscape is generally lacking, says Garlick. And 90 percent of U.K. businesses still don’t offer any specific support for employees with menopause.
Taylor believes that needs to change to keep women in the workforce for as long as they want to be. Once she was correctly diagnosed, she embarked on “life transforming” hormone replacement therapy that eased her symptoms. Her recovery inspired her to launch The Latte Lounge, an online lifestyle network for women over 40, which now offers businesses advice on how to support its employees with menopause.
Today, her services are in demand across the U.K. She hosts talks, runs company-based clinics with specialists, and drafts corporate guidelines and policies. She also shares tips for business leaders: offer symptom checklists, access to medical experts, remote and flexible working policies, cool and quiet office workspaces, and easy access to desk fans and drinking water.
“I’m doing this to help women stay in their jobs. Eventually, I hope it’ll just become a matter of course, like parental leave. If you’re being helped at work and understood, then you’ll get on top of the problem a lot quicker,” she says. “If you feel supported and not made to feel embarrassed, you’re going to stay with that company.”