Improved support for menopause could help women stay in work

more than half (54 percent) feel it would be difficult for them to raise issues, including menopause, with their employersWomen in the UK are urging politicians and business leaders to take steps that help them remain productive in the workforce for longer, as research shows more than half (54 percent) feel it would be difficult for them to raise issues, including menopause, with their employers and three fifths would also feel uncomfortable bringing up health and wellbeing issues with a male manager.

The findings come from a new BSI report entitled Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling, which explores why some women leave the workforce early for reasons other than personal choice. The research finds that 75 percent of UK women want employers to take action to retain older women in the workforce, while 71 percent would like politicians to drive this change.

The report by BSI suggests that 29 percent of UK women expect to leave work before retirement with 42 percent expecting this to be due to health or well-being, while another fifth specifically cite menopause. Against a backdrop of high numbers of Britons retiring early post-pandemic, Lifting the Second Glass Ceiling explores the barriers to the retention of experienced women.

The report also argues that this characterises the economic and social benefits that could be realised by lifting the Second Glass Ceiling (whereby women leave the workforce early and for reasons other than for personal preference). It concludes that this earlier retirement is not only an issue for older women, as male colleagues and different generations can also contribute to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture of care.

More than two thirds of UK women say experienced female mentors can benefit the development of younger women (67 percent), yet less than half (46 percent) have had the opportunity to learn from them themselves, and a third say it remains uncommon to see women in leadership positions. Given that 72 percent of women are comfortable raising menopause with a female employer, but far fewer with a male manager, having more female leaders could be central to overcoming a key barrier to women remaining in work in the UK.

In May, BSI published the Menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace standard (BS 30416), setting out practical recommendations for workplace adjustments, such as the appointment of workplace menstruation and menopause advocates. 74 percent of UK women say they believe employers have a role in offering women support around issues such as menopause, and 76 percent would welcome greater flexibility to manage associated challenges, yet at present, only 4 percent of UK women are aware of formal policies in their organisation to do so.

Asked about barriers to remaining in work, a fifth (21 percent) specifically cited caring responsibilities – lower than the global average of 29 percent, while 18 percent cited lack of flexibility, 11 percent cited lack of progression opportunities for women and 12 percent lack of pay parity.

In a sign of optimism for the future, younger women (65 percent of 25–34-year-olds compared with 45 percent over 55) were more optimistic that the Second Glass Ceiling could be lifted, saying that they believe that their generation will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay in the workforce as long as their male colleagues. 63 percent believe the next generation will receive the flexibility and support needed to stay productive in the workforce for as long as men.

The report makes a series of recommendations, including:

  • Recognise the benefits of lifting the second glass ceiling. Rather than see this as a challenge, organisations can approach it as an opportunity to boost growth, innovation and accelerate progress towards a sustainable world.
  • Open the dialogue – ask women what they want – uncovering solutions that can reverse the trends and enable more women to thrive throughout their professional lives.
  • Ensure support is available and accessible, whether around menopause or other considerations
  • See flexibility as an asset and recognise that small adjustments where possible can help ensure an accommodating workplace
  • Institute a broader culture of care – prioritise people by promoting individual needs
  • Share best practice – collaboration across organisations, sectors and countries can drive progress