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'A slap in the face’: civil engineer reacts to government’s rejection of menopause pilot

30 January 2023

Meshi Taka, member of the ICE’s Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) committee, says the move is a problem for the whole industry, not just for women. 

'A slap in the face’: civil engineer reacts to government’s rejection of menopause pilot
Meshi asks: ‘are women not worth the consideration?’ Image credit: Meshi Taka

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m immersed in back-to-back meetings when my phone flashes with a message from my best friend.

“As if things weren’t bad enough,” it reads.

Intrigued but I can’t stop, I’m up next. I have a presentation to give, but in the back of my mind, I’m questioning what could possibly have happened.

By lunchtime, there are emails circulating about the news in our workplace EDI group.

So, what’s going? Let me set the scene.

The future, it seemed, was promising

It is July 2022, and the media is buzzing about the recommendations of the women and equalities committee of the House of Commons; a cross-party committee championed as a coming together for the greater good putting party politics aside.

Their recommendations for addressing menopause were widely lauded.

Finally, we were about to see some tangible change. A plan that could help improve the work life of women going through menopause in the workplace.

We are, after all, in the middle of a massive skills shortage.

Surely retaining those skills through positive action would be a win for us all.

Our voices were finally being heard. The future, it seemed, was promising!

Recommendations: rejected

Fast forward to 24 January 2023 and our government rejects the recommendations of the women and equalities committee of the House of Commons.

A brighter future indeed!

It felt like a slap in the face, a painful one!

It’s just like my bestie said: “As if things weren’t bad enough.”

The committee’s ‘workplace menopause leave policy’ trial was only one of the committee’s recommendations made.

It also proposed a consultation on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

Not only did our leadership reject the proposed trial, but they also rejected the proposed consultation.

How they justified rejecting the recommendations

In the detail of its response, the justification provided was weighted with phrases like ‘counterproductive’, ‘unintended impact’ and ‘discrimination’ against others.

Here’s the kicker: they reasoned “discrimination risks towards men suffering from long-term medical conditions, or eroding existing protections.”

No data or evidence was provided to support this position.

The evidence supporting the recommendations

Now let’s look at some of the facts and evidence about menopause that culminated with the recommendations from the women and equalities’ cross-party committee.

  • According to the UK demographics 2021, 50.57% of the UK is female.
  • A survey of 2,000 UK women aged 45 to 67 suffering from menopause found that a lack of support was having a direct impact on their choice to leave the workplace.
  • Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 but around one in 100 women experience it before 40 years of age.
  • Doctors report that there are as many as 62 different symptoms of menopause.
  • A 2019 survey by Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women are negatively affected at work.
  • Almost 900,000 women had left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms (BUPA).

These are well-documented issues; we’ve seen the documentaries, heard the testimonies and read the statistics about the challenges faced due to this natural phenomenon.

This was a publication based on a significant evidence base.

‘Are women not worth the consideration?’

Surely the whole point of a pilot was to assess real value, but also flag up any unforeseen or unintended impacts?

So why roadblock the very thing that could (playing devil’s advocate here) validate or qualify the “unintended discrimination against men”?

How come that, in the face of an extraordinary level of evidence base for urgent action, our government’s main concern was on perceived issues?

Why turn your back on the opportunity to make a tangible impact on the lives of women for generations to come?

In the same breath, delegating to others the responsibility of leadership, compassion and going the extra mile.

The phrase “do as I say, not as I do” springs to mind.

Why block a discussion on the merits of protecting menopause under the Equality Act!

They say our actions speak louder than words.

So, I ask myself, are we not worth the consideration?

This is not just a woman’s problem

I am reassured, though, that there are some brilliant employers here in the UK already doing what they can to support their employees through menopause.

Many go further than others, others somewhat performative.

Did this decision leave you feeling deflated? Me too!

This battle may be lost (for now) but not the war!

Tomorrow, we get back to work for #teammenopause.

This is not just a woman’s problem.

It affects us all.

  • Meshi Taka, associate director at Waterman Aspen