One powerful way employers can embrace International Women’s Day

Tuesday March 7, 2023

International Women’s Day is on 8th March, and the theme this year is: embrace equity. Sadly, despite protections enshrined in equality law, the workplace is one area where equity is not fully embraced, despite steps in the right direction.

The gender pay gap is a measure of such persistent inequity. It is closing, but at the current rate of progress it will take until 2044 until women are paid the same as their male counterparts – even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970.

One way of looking at the effect of the gender pay gap is that on average women effectively work two months of the year for free when compared to men.

While awareness around the gender pay gap has been rising for some years, one factor in gender inequality that is only just starting to be addressed is the issue of the menopause.

This International Women’s Day, we are going to shine a spotlight on this, and look at how developing policies in your business can help you and your staff to thrive.

A not-very-quiet revolution

In case this hasn’t been on your radar, the last year or so has seen a nationwide effort to raise awareness around the perimenopause, that is the menopause transition. Many have got involved, from celebrities and MPs to doctors and journalists. To get an idea of what’s been going on, perhaps google ‘the Davina effect’.

Despite this, the Equalities Minister has refused to name it as a distinct protected characteristic, believing the Equality Act already covers this.

Education is key

Symptoms can start with the perimenopause, but can and usually do continue after periods stop.

As a brief explainer: there are around 34 possible symptoms of the perimenopause and these  can start in a woman’s mid-40s. They can range from what might seem like isolated health tics (blocked ears; dry eyes; dizziness) through to far more distressing symptoms including memory loss, depression, and extreme hot flushes.

The impact on both you and your employees

When you think about it, there’s a certain irony that the perimenopause typically hits when women are in leadership roles. Some find it so debilitating that they simply end up leaving. From your perspective as an employer, consider the investment you’ve made in these women, and the skills they’ve accrued. If they go, so does that knowledge and experience.

How to make a start

So, what could you do? Here are some ideas to consider:

First, let’s smash the taboo – Because the menopause is a remarkably persistent taboo. As with all health matters, build confidence that the menopause can be discussed confidentially.

Better training for managers – To raise awareness, be able to hold constructive conversations and control “banter” that may arise.

Making adjustments – Access to mini desktop fans will help women who experience hot flushes. Allow time off to attend menopause clinics. Ensure any uniforms are loose fitting with natural fabrics. Insomnia is a particularly draining symptom. Can you offer flexible hours or shift changes to help women manage this, if needed.

Keep conversations open

Bear in mind that there’s certainly no one-size-fits all. Many women, for example, may prefer not to discuss menopausal symptoms.

And, of course, any changes you make need to be fully inclusive. The last thing you want is the aircon to be on full-blast for one employee, while the others sit freezing cold and unable to concentrate or feel comfortable.

All of this is designed to start a conversation and create a few ideas. Happy International Women’s Day to you all – and in keeping with this year’s theme, when it comes to equality, don’t just say it. Be it. Do it. Embrace it.

Further help if you need it

If you’d like support in how you can create new policies, support or training, please do get in touch. This is a topic close to our heart at The HR Dept and we would love to help you drive it forwards.

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