The decision to reject menopause leave is another crushing blow for women
Women are staying in work for longer than ever before and consequently, women of menopausal age are now the fastest growing group in the workforce.
But with many employers yet to recognise and act on the impact that symptoms can have on those experiencing them, the struggle to remain in full time employment is a real battle for many women.
It is why we are seeing one in 10 walk away from their careers, 14 per cent of women reducing their hours and many more decline promotion opportunities. Yet by making some simple adjustments, employers could show their support for menopausal staff, and subsequently, retain these loyal and experienced members of their workforce.
The government is too hesitant and too unwilling to make the changes that are vital
This week saw the government respond to the Women and Equalities Committee’s, Menopause and the Workplace report which was published last Summer. The report targeted a series of recommendations which called on the government to do more to educate employers and support women. These included appointing a menopause ambassador to champion good practice and a proposed pilot for specific menopause leave.
Whilst in their response, the government reaffirmed commitments that had previously been made, they largely rejected recommendations for anything new.
This included the recommendation to make menopause a protected characteristic, not to single it out for special treatment but to ensure those experiencing symptoms are treated equally. Similar to pregnancy and maternity leave being protected, it would mean that it could not be used as a potential reason to not employ someone or to terminate a contract.
I have lost count of the number of women I have heard from who have either been disciplined, dismissed, or felt pressured to resign because their symptoms have impacted their ability to do their job without support or because they have triggered their limits on their employer’s sick leave policy. Sadly, I have also received some unpleasant correspondence from business owners saying that if women are unable to just cope with the menopause, then they will make it their policy to only employ men and younger women.
These are the reasons why we need change. So menopausal women aren’t discriminated against. Yet the government rejected this recommendation and amongst their reasons was that it may have the unintended consequence of inadvertently creating new forms of discrimination, such as discrimination towards men suffering long-term medical conditions.
Whilst I wholeheartedly support moves to prevent anyone being victimised, the argument that it could potentially have an impact on men is not a reason to do nothing – and feels like another crushing blow to women.
I have been asked a lot this week how I feel about the government’s response to the report and my answer is simple. The same as it regularly is when it comes to government action – or inaction - on any women’s health issues. I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised.
The government is too hesitant and too unwilling to make the changes that are vital. They are failing in their duty, and they are failing women.
Just this week, ministers have finally confirmed that the new HRT Prepayment Certificate for women in England will definitely be implemented in April. A cue for millions to celebrate you would think, having waited eighteen months since the commitment was made. But as yet, they have not confirmed which products will be eligible to be included, so quite understandably, the excitement is overshadowed by the fear that further disappointment is yet to come.
This has to change. We need commitment and a guarantee for the 13 million menopausal women and all those to follow, that they do matter, and that better support is on its way.
Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea East.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.