Menopause study to uncover impact on senior women in the City

Standard Chartered says menopause should be discussed as a workplace issue

Major UK banks, insurers and asset managers are taking part in a landmark survey on menopause, amid fears that a lack of support may be hindering gender equality and blocking women from taking senior roles across the City.

Standard Chartered, which has commissioned the women’s rights charity the Fawcett Society to survey more than 300,000 workers in the financial sector, said the menopause must be considered a “workplace issue”.

Women are the fastest-growing demographic in the jobs market, making up 45% of the 1m-strong workforce in UK financial services. However, despite high profile exceptions such as the NatWest chief executive Alison Rose, and the former Virgin Money boss Jayne-Anne Gadhia, women make up less than a third of senior leadership roles across the industry.

“We do know that for most women, the point at which they have the opportunity to look for senior management roles coincides with menopause transition, usually between 45 and 55 [years old],” Standard Chartered’s HR boss Tanuj Kapilashrami said. “This is a topic we don’t know a lot about.”

The symptoms can last anywhere from 12 months to eight years and tend to be severe for 25% of women. They can include hot flushes, migraines, brain fog, depression and irritability and a loss of self-confidence – potentially exacerbated by a persistent lack of sleep. The toll taken by the menopause may deter women from pursuing more senior roles – pushing them out of demanding jobs more often than men.

“Unless we tackle some of the challenges that impact women’s participation in the workforce, we are not going to be able to make progress,” Kapilashrami said.

The Fawcett Society will survey City workers via the Financial Services Skills Commission, which counts Barclays, EY, HSBC, Legal & General and PwC among its members.

It will explore how symptoms of the menopause transition and the attitudes of employers affect women’s career prospects, and whether there is a resulting cost to the economy. Researchers will also consider how employers can best support affected staff – potentially involving manager training, dedicated sick days, flexible working and cool, private workspaces – and whether those support systems should be adopted across the industry.

The survey will not only target women affected by the menopause but men and younger women who may work with, or manage, them. It will also run focus groups with women of colour and trans employees.

Little work has been done to investigate the impact on menopause on the long-term careers of women in the UK. However, a 2017 government review of former studies found that menopausal women were one of the fastest growing groups in work.

According to the Office for National Statistics, women over 50 make up roughly 13% of UK workers, meaning that approximately 130,000 staff across financial services may be dealing with the menopausal transition at any one time.

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Rebecca Park, a financial services consultant at Global Counsel who previously worked at the banking lobby group UK Finance, is only 38 but has been dealing with menopause symptoms for almost two years. She says she was afraid to raise concerns about how the transition was affecting her memory and cognitive ability at a key point in her career.

While colleagues were ultimately sympathetic, it took courage to speak up. “I didn’t dare risk admitting that maybe I wasn’t functioning as I always had because [I worried] that would be seen as a weakness and detrimental to my career,” Park said.

It is hoped that the research, due to be released in October, could eventually spark new UK laws to support menopausal women in the workforce.

“We must take this woefully underdiscussed topic out of the shadows, remove the stigma and identify the steps we all need to take to ensure menopause is not a barrier to success,” Susan Revell, the deputy chair for BNY Mellon’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said.

“The insights from this research will be key to raising awareness and helping companies identify and deliver more targeted solutions.”

Contributor

Kalyeena Makortoff Banking correspondent

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