Menopause stigma must end. The civil service's workplace pledge is a meaningful step

The Cabinet Office’s menopause in the workplace policy is a great step forward in empowering women to feel unashamed
Photo: Alan Levine/Flickr/public domain

By Jo Stace

26 Jul 2022

I’m really pleased to see that the civil service has signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, recognising the impact that the menopause can have on women’s lives, a key part of which is, of course, our working lives. I think it’s a positive step in continually changing, and for the most part improving, attitudes around women’s health, though of course there’s still a long way to go. 

Just a generation ago things were very different, my mum, who comes from the school of stiff upper lip, thought HRT was something to fear: scared of the misleading stories at the time that HRT was linked to breast cancer. There have been generations of women silenced and afraid to speak out; Drs prescribing antidepressants in place of real, symptoms-addressing medication. 

The Cabinet Office’s menopause in the workplace policy is a great step forward in empowering women to feel unashamed and break the stigma associated with something that is a completely normal stage of a woman's life cycle. One, after all, that 50% of the population will go through. 

The stigma around menopause needs to change - woman are embarrassed to own this, and their own experience of it, because of the outdated views that remain around this stage of life as we start to age. It’s still not unusual, sadly, to hear flippant comments like ‘oh it, must be her time of the month’ from those who are either uneducated or not interested in how the menopause affects women and sadly Antiquated clichés still exist:

  • Your life is over
  • You’re no longer attractive
  • You’re hysterical, fuelled by emotion 
  • You’re past it

However, with the right role models, education, open conversations and positive messages this stage can be a new, positive, chapter in a woman's life!

Menopause should not be taboo or hidden. Everyone should be able to be open without embarrassment to name what is happening to them, without judgement. This issue will, and does, affect all 100% members of society: trans people, non-binary people, and men who will be indirectly affected, via their wives, mothers, sisters or friends. Unfortunately, access to the most qualified menopause doctors is only available to those that can afford it privately and for many, including me, this is out of reach.

Being diagnosed at 45 years old was a shock as I have always been fit and healthy and thought the menopause happened in your fifties! As my symptoms increased and the insomnia and lack of energy hit me hard, I pushed and pushed to get a hormone test. When my bloods came back confirming I was in the menopause, I started grieving. However, I felt so relieved to have a diagnosis and confirmation that what I was feeling was real.

Lack of sleep has been my main symptom. Being able to work on little sleep is not easy. Getting access to the right medication, especially with medication shortages meanwhile has been difficult to navigate. Having access to informed doctors is also incredibly variable; millions of women are playing a postcode lottery with the management of their health.

Having the option to apply for special leave in these difficult times is something that should be made available and line managers should be aware of to support those struggling with menopause. If I’m being honest, discussing my experience and symptoms with male colleagues has historically made me feel anxious and embarrassed, but I think having the women’s network support group at the Government Digital Service is a great way to make you feel that you are not alone. The network will soon, in fact, be hosting menopause training sessions at GDS, raising awareness for both men and women: wanting to support women who are going through the menopause, and give people who work with perimenopausal and menopausal women a chance to find out more about the condition and how they can support their colleagues. 

Small workplace adjustments and conversations can make the largest difference for women going through menopause, and the Menopause Workplace Pledge is a really meaningful step in ensuring women feel freer to talk about their experiences to their line managers, and ask for more support. 

Remember you are not alone and do reach out to colleagues and ask for support –  it is out there! When I had a particularly bad day I spoke with a member of the GDS mental health support staff, who was so kind and a really good listener and offered empathy and understanding. We’re very lucky in the civil service, and at the Government Digital Service, to have such fantastic support networks – my hope is that one day every woman, regardless of where she lives, or works, will have the same. 

Jo Stace is resource and recruitment manager at GDS


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