'Serious industrial matter'

Unite survey reveals more than 80 per cent of women do not receive menopause support at work

Reading time: 5 min

A shock new survey of Unite women members has revealed an overwhelming majority are failing to get menopause support at work.

The survey, which polled 11,000 members, found that more than 80 per cent who are experiencing menopause symptoms have had no access to support in their workplaces.

A number of the women polled reported that they are not even allowed simple adjustments such as fans in the office to alleviate hot flushes. Others said they were denied leaves of absence to deal with symptoms.

Many of those surveyed also noted that they felt uncomfortable talking about the menopause, especially in male-dominated working environments, with managers oblivious to the toll symptoms can take.

Individual women who took part in the survey told harrowing stories of their experiences at work, with one woman reporting that her boss had called her ‘pathetic’ for using a handheld fan in her workplace.  

Another respondent noted that she cannot carry out her work safely because of menopause symptoms such as dizziness and insomnia, but since she is not offered sick pay, she cannot afford to miss work.

 A member who works in the aerospace and shipbuilding sector reported that she had no other option but to take early retirement because she had so little support with the menopause.

Meanwhile, a member working in the civil aviation sector told Unite she was forced to wear a work uniform that exacerbated her hot flushes.

“Lots of requests have been made to provide our outside access posts with more adequate cooling options, such as tinting on the windows and fans,” the worker said. “But management’s answer was to give us sunscreen, which does absolutely nothing to relieve the symptoms of menopause.”

Unite is now redoubling its efforts in the fight for workplace menopause awareness policies by equipping reps with information and resources. The union is also fully backing specific calls made by survey respondents, including for menopause awareness and understanding to be made compulsory for employers and for menopause-related sickness to be discounted from sick absence.

Unite is further demanding that certain uniform materials such as polyesterbe scrapped and for menopause-friendly employers to be audited.

Commenting on the survey, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “It’s despicable that so many women do not have access to basic support. It’s a serious industrial matter and attitudes must shift as we work to make lasting improvements for everyone in the workplace.”

Unite national equalities officer Alison Spencer-Scragg added, “Women shouldn’t feel alone in dealing with menopause at work. We are committed to making sure employers not only comply with their legal obligations but also promote a menopause friendly workplace. This is a collective issue for our members and by working with our reps and activists, we will ensure that real change is implemented.”

Unite has a long and proud history of fighting for menopause policies in the workplace.

As UniteLive highlighted on World Toilet Day in November, Unite branch secretary and RSPCA Animal Rescue Officer Ellie Jones has been a vocal advocate of the union’s period dignity and menopause campaigns.

She highlighted how mobile working in particular can pose problems for women in the workplace.

“As a mobile worker myself, and through supporting members who frequently work in rural areas, I have seen first-hand the difficulty that can be faced finding toilets and hand washing facilities that are accessible to the public,” Ellie said.

“This challenge can often be heightened for female members who have an additional need for facilities during their monthly cycles. Furthermore, for those members facing menopausal symptoms this difficulty can be even more urgent.”

Meanwhile, earlier in March, UniteLive spoke to Unite rep Monique Mosely, who has lobbied to establish a menopause policy in her workplace, Greencore, a food manufacturer.

Monique, who told UniteLive how she set about pushing for the menopause policy, encouraged all women members in Unite to fight for changes in their workplaces.

“If you see a need for something, you’ve got to go for it,” she said.  “Don’t be discouraged and stick to your own path. When I started talking about the need for a menopause policy in our workplace, so many people said ‘We don’t need it; it’s a bit far-fetched’. Don’t let that attitude put you off. If we want to be equal, we have to be tough; we have to keep fighting.”

You can find out more about how Unite is fighting to make the menopause at work a key workplace issue on our website here.

By Hajera Blagg