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The persistence of stigma is notable. Throughout a period during which the participation of older females in the workforce has grown by almost 50 per cent, menopause has remained a taboo subject. It is still not uncommon for employees to be the subject of jokes and banter, including unwanted speculation about hot flushes and mood swings.
An employee’s unwillingness to open up about menopausal symptoms is understandable given the fear of being greeted with ignorance, indifference, unwelcome comments or stereotypical assumptions about employees past child-bearing age, rather than understanding and support.
This means a very large number of employees are coping with a range of challenging symptoms that are affecting them and their performance, and for the most part employers are completely in the dark about it
Menopausal employees subjected to unwanted comments that are offensive or humiliating have potential claims for unlawful harassment based on protected characteristics of sex, and potentially age and disability
There are positive reasons for employers to start a respectful conversation about the menopause. How many of us know talented individuals who have struggled at work and maybe had performance issues due to the menopause? Some may have even had their employment terminated because they didn’t want to talk about the fact they had menopausal symptoms, or even realised that their performance was connected to the menopause. Even if they did, perhaps they were concerned that their employer would not be sympathetic.
Given that the menopause is part of the natural rhythm of life, isn’t it time all of us become better educated about what the menopause is, how it can affect people on a day-to-day basis, and how employees can be better supported in the workplace? It is not a subject we should shy away from as more and more people are acknowledging.