Why the block on menopause leave affects us all

A pitch for menopause leave has been blocked by ministers, leaving thousands of women struggling in jobs they once loved, with many having to leave.  

Yesterday, ministers rejected a proposal from MPs that called for a ‘menopause leave’ pilot to be trialled throughout England. They claimed that allowing menopausal women to take a break could be counterproductive and discriminate against men with health conditions.

What is a difficult period for many women can be made even more turbulent by workspaces. According to Bupa, over 900,000 women have quit their jobs in the UK as a result of menopause. And it’s not the symptoms that are necessarily forcing them out of the workforce, but a lack of support.  

There are, of course, progressive companies implementing changes to accommodate and support their female workforce, but we are a long way from this becoming the norm. The rejection has been met with deflation and disappointment, as many women continue to struggle and leave jobs they love due to changes that are out of their control.  

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Abi Adams is a female health expert and shares the frustrations of women across the country: “Women are such an integral part of the workforce, and when granted menopause leave, they come back more inspired, more creative and more productive, having been given the time they need to rest, repair and acquaint themselves with their bodies.

“It’s disappointing to see that as a country we are essentially heading backwards, with the reluctance to find out what women in the workforce need and want, to feel supported as they move through these life changes.” 

How will the ban on menopause leave affect women?

So, what does the block mean for women? It means that we’re reliant on companies choosing to be progressive and going against the standard. 

That will be troubling to many but with initiatives such as B Corp and The Kindness Economy coming into the mainstream, there is a hope that companies will choose to do the right thing by women – going beyond what the government mandates as reasonable. The issue, obviously, is that not all companies are willing to sign up to those kinds of charters or don’t have the resources to take that initiative. 

Adams offers up some suggestions for women that can hopefully act as reassurance and comfort in the future of women’s health in the workplace.  

“Opening up conversations around menopause is key. For so long women have gone without a voice in the workplace, especially in the realms of health and wellbeing,” she tells Stylist. “We need to have big conversations and remove the taboo around menstrual health and menopause when it’s something that happens to such a large part of the population, yet there is so little honest conversation around it. We need to give women the space to speak, and not speak over them.”

We’ve all been there, sneaking to the toilet with a tampon shoved up our sleeve, or twisting the truth to tell our boss we have a stomach bug rather than period cramps. We’re not strangers to trying to fit into the workplace. 

2023 is surely the year in which we have more frank and honest conversations about these issues. 

Not all companies are in a position to take the initiative when it comes to giving women leave.

Adams adds: “Another thing to consider is opening up focus groups within the workplace. If there is a health coordinator – someone in HR who organises the lunch and learns – or maybe even space to share at a company strategy day, this takes the conversation around female health further. This builds on talking to your peers and conversations with friends, and it amplifies the narrative and tells other women in your company and other companies that this is a topic to be spoken about. 

“While menopause leave may be off the table, more conversations around it will lead to better awareness and less shame, which women do not need to be carrying.”

We’re entering an age where the topics that were once shushed and put under the table are now being spoken about in the mainstream. Women such as Davina McCall have been banging the menopause drum across a host of platforms and audiences, while fertility and period health are subjects you’ll now hear about on prime-time radio and TV, let alone newspapers and magazines.

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“Just because menopause leave has been blocked by ministers, doesn’t mean it isn’t a conversation worth having in your own workplace” suggests Adams. “It may be your company hasn’t considered it before, no one has expressed a need for it before, or they aren’t sure how to navigate it. 

“There are plenty of resources out there through specialists and even employment lawyers, to make sure that women have a fair time at work that isn’t jeopardised by health changes. The symptoms of menopause are not always widely spoken about, so it can be difficult for companies, especially those led by men or women who haven’t experienced menopause yet, to understand the effects and impact that it can have on both physical and mental health.”

While it is incredibly disappointing news for many women up and down the country, this might be the moment more of us decide to take control of the narrative around menopause. Of course, it shouldn’t be up to us, but raising the volume around this subject will help to shape a better future for the women that will walk after us.  

For more information and support, check out the Menopause Charity.

Image: Getty

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