We’re breaking the menopause taboo, but the legal sector has a long way to go
Amandeep Khasriya discusses how the menopause affects women in the legal sector and celebrates the progress made at law firm Moore Barlow
It’s no secret that the legal sector has its work cut out to ensure that women can thrive through all of their life stages in the workplace. When it comes to the menopause, we’re certainly almost past the ‘taboo’ stage, and it’s positive to see that conversations are happening, but we have a long way to go.
Just over 100 years since women first entered the legal sector, 101 to be exact, women now make up more than 60 per cent of entrants to the profession, yet we haven’t reached a place where these women are fully supported through the difficulties that the menopause can bring. With menopausal-age women, the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, something more needs to be done to support them; otherwise, we risk losing talented women in senior roles.
With more senior women in leadership roles, unfortunately, the menopause comes at a time in their life, on average age 51, when their careers are thriving. And for many, it’s common for symptoms to start even earlier; in fact, around one in 100 women will experience perimenopause before the age of 40.
In a 2023 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which looked at 2,000 women aged 40 to 60 currently employed in the UK, slightly more than two in three (67 per cent) menopausal women were negatively affected at work. Almost one in six women aged 40 to 60 in the UK have considered leaving their jobs because of a lack of support with menopausal symptoms.
Women considering leaving their jobs is far from the answer. What’s needed is more support and understanding of the menopause and education on how to manage its symptoms, so that those who are affected can feel comfortable and supported in the workplace.
How can the menopause affect women at work?
Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and from person to person. The NHS lists a range of common symptoms, which include anxiety, changes in mood, changes in skin conditions, difficulty sleeping, headaches, loss of self-confidence and brain fog. It’s thought that around three-quarters of women will experience flushes and sweating; for some women, these can be highly intense and can be paired with heart palpitations.
These symptoms can drastically affect a woman’s physical and mental health; if you pair that with the high expectations, billable hours and demands of a career in the legal sector, it’s no wonder so many women feel that work becomes challenging.
Some women feel that they can no longer do their jobs and, often, women in the legal profession feel hesitant to come forward and share their experiences because of the stigma that can be attached to the menopause. According to figures shared in the House of Commons in 2018, 50 per cent of working women found doing their job challenging due to menopausal symptoms, and 10 per cent left the workplace altogether.
What can the legal sector do to support women experiencing the menopause?
Menopause training, education and resources are key to supporting women. We are currently living in a time where misleading information around the menopause is rife. The British Menopause Society's (BMS) focus during this year’s World Menopause Day, which took place in October, was around ‘Menopause: Misinformation and Management’. In their own words, they highlighted how conversations around the menopause are getting louder, but there is still a lot of false knowledge out there.
As part of this activity, the BMS released a series of videos from experts to dispel the misinformation after recognising that the digital world enables instant access to information about the menopause, but with so much available, it’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed, even about whether such information is correct.
This is something that concerns me; for example, I see women suffering because of myths around hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but what I notice frequently is the lack of education that is common in workplaces and broader society. Women are suffering, and they don’t have to.
It’s vital that women are consuming accurate information that’s in line with UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance, that it’s from a credible source, isn’t biased, and is recent. Menopause research has developed dramatically over the last five years, so we must have access to the most up-to-date, accurate information.
Luckily, I’m proud to work at the law firm Moore Barlow, which invites experts to host educational talks around the menopause and provides training for managers. Some organisations are leading the way by putting menopause guidance and policies in place. Some firms have offered support, which can be reached through an app from 'Peppy Health' that provides online, inclusive menopause support and an enhanced scheme to cover specialist consultations for conditions relating to the menopause.
Training needs to be aimed at everyone
For things to improve, we need more law firms where women who find their menopausal symptoms are affecting their well-being and their capacity to work can speak to someone in the business, such as a line manager, about their concerns and can get the proper support they need.
But the only way this can happen is if there is a willingness from the top to encourage senior management to help support women who are experiencing it, and this comes from everyone. Training must be aimed at managers, the business and individuals. It is not just an issue for 50 per cent of us, but all 100 per cent.
Education and training are one place for the legal sector to start. It’s essential that organisations and their leaders understand the impact of the menopause on their employees and can offer support and adapt their environments to be more accommodating to women experiencing symptoms.
Menopause training can help to normalise the menopause, and it can aid the understanding of others who don’t understand just how much the symptoms can impact a person. If line managers are appropriately prepared, they can be confident in offering the proper support to women, so that they don’t have to suffer in silence. With the help of their human resources or an occupational health specialist, the line manager and the employee can discuss changes which will help them manage their symptoms when doing their job.
Unfortunately, women’s health and topics surrounding women have always suffered from an unspoken status, even among women. There are some old-school gatekeepers in the legal sector, some of them women themselves, who don’t see why the menopause should be talked about in the workplace because they have excelled in a workplace that isn’t supportive. But that’s not the world we live in today, and it shouldn’t be how we want to continue if the legal sector is to retain its top-tier talent of senior women and remain an attractive and sustainable profession.
By proactively managing an age-diverse workforce, not only can women in the legal sector feel supported, but the law firm itself can retain talented female staff instead of leaving them for a more supportive firm. It’s a win-win for everyone.
For real change in a law firm, fostering support for women navigating the menopause must become ingrained in the organisational culture. It signifies a substantial failure if women feel compelled to leave the legal industry or the workforce because of the menopause, especially as, at this stage of their lives, they bring unparalleled experience and skills.
While line managers don't need to become menopause experts, proper training can empower them to create a supportive environment, understanding the unique needs of each individual. Each person's journey through the menopause is distinct, but initiating the conversation and knowing where to seek support can be transformative.
I’m proud to celebrate the success of Moore Barlow’s menopause support, which is spearheaded by eight Menopause Champions who lead the activity that our law firm hosts. Part of the offering to our people is the always-on toolkit with symptom checkers and guidance on approaching a GP.
We also offer menopause training and frequently have educational events. What I've noticed at Moore Barlow is a cultural shift towards everyone being open to talking about the menopause and knowing that there is the proper support there should it be needed. We introduced menopause cafes, which act as a network support group to help people feel less isolated.
I know from the legal sector grapevine that not all law firms are here yet, and there’s a long way to go. But the main thing is that we pick up some momentum, and as a sector, we move forward.
What does the future look like for women in the legal sector?
Law firms don’t have to have all the answers; they just have to be willing to understand how the menopause might affect some women and have a conversation; this is one of the recommendations in the Law Society’s Menopause in the Legal Profession report. As well as training and shared resources, the report also suggests that law firms create an open culture with internal networking groups.
My fear, which I know is echoed by many, is that women in society won’t access the right information and that they will fall victim to misinformation and myths around the menopause. I’m encouraged by the recent and positive media coverage on this issue helping to demystify some of the myths that have held women back, impacted their choices and experiences during the menopause.
When it comes to the legal sector, unless law firms embrace training, education and awareness to cultivate a more supportive environment, they risk losing talented senior women at the peak of their careers.
If, instead, the legal sector can embrace helping women with the menopause, law firms can help their female employees through what is undoubtedly a challenging time and help them to thrive, not just survive. Why wouldn’t a law firm want to do that?
Amandeep Khasriya is a partner at Moore Barlow and chair of the Law Society Women Solicitors Network