- Women outnumber men in the UK higher education workforce by 54.6% to 45.4%.
- 25.2% of this workforce are women between 46 and 55.
- 60,410 women in this age range are working in the sector.
With more than 60,000 women between the ages of 46 and 55 working in higher education in the UK, institutions cannot ignore a significant proportion of staff who are likely to be experiencing menopausal symptoms that could have knock on effects for their working lives.
Advance HE has published new guidance for Athena SWAN participants this October during Menopause Awareness Month to provide information and advice to HE employers on how to break down the taboo surrounding menopause and support staff during this natural cycle of life. The guidance is written for Advance HE by Professor Jo Brewis of The Open University Business School. Throughout her career, Professor Brewis has researched the connections between gender, the body, sexuality, emotions, identity, organising and organisations and is co-author of the 2017 government report The effects of menopause transition on women's economic participation in the UK.
Menopause symptoms include difficulties with memory or concentration, important in research, teaching and academic professional service work, which may mean some women find their focus on detail declining during menopause. A work environment can also make symptoms worse as not being able to control the temperature may exacerbate hot flushes.
Raising awareness of menopause and normalising it in the workplace in the same way that pregnancy and maternity are spoken about is so important. However, this is a culture change and can take time to embed so efforts made to raise the profile of menopause must be ongoing to ensure shared norms and values adjust accordingly.
Training is extremely important for line managers, particularly around appropriate adjustments and having difficult conversations with their staff but with the right support at work women can maintain high performance standards as well as continuing to enjoy their jobs.”
Prof Jo Brewis
Higher education and research institutions should be alert to legislative risks where menopausal women are not adequately supported at work.
Thanks to the Equality Act (2010), discriminating against age, sex, disability and gender reassignment at work is illegal in the UK. Each of these protected characteristics could be the basis for unfair treatment of menopausal women. But as this new guidance shows, employers can actively and practically support women experiencing problematic menopausal symptoms which can affect the quality of their working lives for a short period.”
Ellen Pugh, Senior Adviser at Advance HE
The main interventions included in the guidance that HEIs can make to support menopausal staff are:
- occupational health and other specialist provision (eg an Employee Assistance Programme) to which women can self-refer for menopause advice
- tailored absence policies so that short but repeated absences due to menopausal symptoms are badged as an ongoing health issue, not something that could trigger performance management processes
- flexible working arrangements, which are something anyone who has worked for the same UK employer for 26 weeks has the legal right to request anyway, and can help if women need time off for medical appointments, to work from home, to move tasks around or to come in later on days when symptoms are at their worst
- access to fans (eg, USB desk fans), good ventilation, temperature control and cold drinking water
- clean, comfortable, well-equipped toilets and shower provision
- the option of lighter, layered, non-synthetic uniforms or workwear
- rest areas so women can go to decompress for short breaks at work
- being able to work in an area with natural light
- reduction of exposure to noise.
An online ‘Enhancing Practice’ event for Athena Swan participants is taking place on 19 November looking at the impact of Covid-19 on gender equality in the higher education and research sector. Speakers from Athena Swan accredited departments, universities and research institutes will share how they are supporting colleagues through the pandemic.