The lack of support for women going through menopause has been an issue among the UK workforce for quite some time. Unfortunately, change is not on the cards as the proposal to make menopause a protected characteristic has been rejected. According to Government ministers, the recommendation was “unnecessary” and “counterproductive”.
This statement was in response to the proposal made in July 2022, which states the importance of supporting women going through menopause. The proposal mentioned that a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed three in five menopausal women were affected at work. Another survey by BUPA found that close to 900k women left work because of menopause. Keeping these statistics in mind, and the fact that the Health and Safety Executive or the Equality and Human Rights Commission do not offer any guidance, the proposal suggested changes.
However, as a response, the proposal was not accepted. While multiple recommendations regarding menopause were accepted (wholly or in part), the one where the proposal suggested menopause be made a protected characteristic was rejected. The response further said that adding menopause as a protected characteristic would discriminate against men going through long-term illnesses.
In addition, the Government did not accept the recommendation that suggested a pilot menopause leave policy to be set up. The reason behind this was that they want to encourage employers to come up with their own policies and support methods. In their opinion, having a set policy may be counterproductive. Moreover, the Government does not want model policies to cover issues like taking leave or asking for support as they fear the possibility of duplication of already existing policies.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, sent a letter to Health Minister Maria Caulfield in which she expressed her disappointment. The committee was the one to make the proposal in July last year. Now, Ms Nokes takes the government’s rejection of the proposal as a “missed opportunity to protect talented and experienced women”.
Ms Nokes further comments that menopause has been a taboo matter through the ages and a lot of women have faced shame and stigma regarding it. Hence, their proposal was to eliminate the shame around menopause and encourage employers and industries to address women’s needs. However, the government’s response, in Ms Nokes’ words has been “complacent”.
Weighing in on the matter, Welsh Labour MP Carolyn Harris says she has lost count of how many women she knows who have been forced to resign because their bodies didn’t allow them to work during menopause. Additionally, she has witnessed people comment that companies shouldn’t hire older women if said women aren’t able to cope with menopause. Ms Harris says it’s reasons like this that a change is needed. However, she feels the rejection by the Government is disappointing, but not surprising.