There are many good reasons to make our schools ‘menopause aware’, writes Jenny Arrowsmith, and not doing so could turn out to be a costly mistake

Around 50 per cent of women going through the menopause experience symptoms that affect their working life. It can prematurely end some women’s careers and leave experience gaps in their organisations.

Menopause affects all women at some point in their life. Most women who are peri-menopausal or menopausal have symptoms including loss of confidence, disrupted sleep, anxiety, poor memory, joint and muscle pains, hair and skin changes, headaches or worsening migraines, as well as the more commonly reported hot flushes. Those symptoms impact on all aspects of life and can significantly affect their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Some large organisations have really invested in being ‘menopause aware’ and provide information, training and support to staff, but most haven’t. The fact is that 51 per cent of the population are female. Of these, 71 per cent work and 4.3 million women over 50 years of age are in the workforce.

And that figure is expected to rise. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicts that the UK workforce in 2030 will be ‘more multi-generational as well as older and female’.

In schools, the figures are even starker

In schools, the figures are even starker. Teaching is a female-dominated occupation and the most recent data for England shows that the school workforce is becoming even more female dominated in both primary and secondary schools.

Schools that sideline menopause as a ‘women’s issue’ and leave women to deal with it as best they can will find it much more difficult to retain the skills and experience they need to help their organisations thrive. But it’s a wider issue than this. There are also legal risks if you get this wrong.

There have been a number of cases where employment tribunals have found women suffering from menopausal symptoms are disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and that their employers should have made reasonable adjustments to help them continue to work.

It’s easy to see why. The legal test is that the symptoms must have a substantial and long-term effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. These day-to-day tasks aren’t limited to the workplace and can include an inability to sleep or concentrate.

So there are very good reasons to help support women through this process. But what’s the best way of doing so?

We recommend that you:

  1. Develop a strategy. It’s helpful to appoint menopause ‘champions’ who can open up discussions, develop suitable policies and support women. We have a precedent menopause policy you can adapt for your school, available free of charge. Please contact us if you’d like a copy.
  2. Signpost where your staff can find reliable information about the menopause and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
  3. Consider what changes you can make to support menopausal women. Many organisational changes are free and relatively easy to implement. For example, workplace characteristics that make symptoms worse include: high temperatures, poor ventilation, humidity, no access to quiet or restful spaces, noise, dryness in the atmosphere and a lack of natural light. Think about how you can overcome these by, for example, providing breakout areas that offer quiet places to plan and prepare lessons, cold water stations and desk fans.
  4. Support flexible working. Where you can, allowing women to make changes to their usual working pattern, including when or where they work, is particularly helpful. That’s not always easy in a school environment, but it’s not impossible either.
  5. Train your senior leaders so they understand the basics and can make appropriate decisions, and encourage women to speak up where their work is being impacted.

And in doing these things, remember that all women experience menopause differently. If you take the time to understand how the menopause is affecting individual employees rather than assuming everyone needs the same thing, you’ll stand a much better chance of retaining the experience, knowledge and support your school needs.