November the 20th will mark Equal Pay Day - the day in the year when women effectively stop earning relative to men, due to the persistent gender pay gap. ONS figures suggest the gap has barely shifted in the past few years dropping just 0.2% from 15.1% in 2021 to 14.9% in 2022.
Making gender pay gap reporting mandatory in the UK for companies with over 250 employees has certainly increased transparency and spurred some action from business. But progress is slow and many companies still view it as a reputational issue rather than a business imperative.
On International Women’s Day last year, a Twitter bot revealed the hollow efforts of many companies by responding to celebratory corporate posts about International Women’s Day with the company’s often significant gender pay gap.
It’s clear that many companies need to focus less on the optics and more on taking concrete actions that will tangibly improve female representation at all levels.
So what sort of action can companies take? As a healthcare company, one area stands out in particular. The reality is the gender pay gap is inextricably linked to the gender health gap: improving one will improve the other. And there’s one health issue that will inevitably impact all female workers: the menopause.
In October, we celebrated World Menopause Month and I was reassured to see discussion of the menopause moving from taboo to the mainstream. Celebrity campaigners like Davina McCall and Mariella Frostrup are demanding better advice and support for all. The all-party parliamentary group on menopause recently suggested all women should be invited for an NHS health check at the age of 45. However, it seems this groundswell of action has yet to hit the world of business despite it being fundamental to achieving the gender diversity targets set by many companies and more importantly, to boosting business performance and economic growth.
Women usually go through the menopause between the ages of 45-55 which often intersects with the most critical and economically productive years of a woman’s career. Yet the lack of menopause support for employees is negatively impacting female progression at work. A survey conducted by the British Menopause Society found that 45% of women felt that menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work while the Fawcett Society estimates 1 in 10 women have left their job altogether due to symptoms of the menopause.
With menopausal women accounting for 11% of all people in employment in the UK, the economic impact of inadequate menopause support is significant. A survey by Health & Her estimated that menopause costs the UK economy 14 million working days per year, in terms of time spent alleviating menopause symptoms. Amid current economic uncertainty, it is incumbent on businesses to urgently address this issue or face further productivity losses that could be critical to the company’s survival.
Earlier this year, MPs from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee called for amendments to the Equality Act to introduce menopause as a protected characteristic, and to include a duty for employers to provide reasonable adjustments for menopausal employees. While I am in full support of this welcomed proposal, businesses shouldn’t be waiting to act. We must take it upon ourselves now to implement support for all female employees, and create a more inclusive culture when it comes to female health.
The first step employers should take is to improve awareness via training for managers so people understand the challenges colleagues may be facing and recognise unconscious bias. Implementing formal training, guidance and information on the menopause, alongside other health topics, that all employees can access fosters a more inclusive environment and encourages women to feel more confident and comfortable when it comes to asking for support. But it mustn’t stop there. These changes aren’t just a tick box exercise. Employees need to see these changes translating into more female senior leadership roles and equal career opportunities.
As we approach International Women’s Day in March, I call on companies big and small to pause planning for supportive social media campaigns and first consider how they can improve support for female health in the workplace. As we face an economic recession, businesses cannot afford to hamper productivity or needlessly lose talent. With both practical changes and a shift in mindset, we can make a considerable difference to women’s success in the workplace and take greater strides towards closing the gender pay gap once and for all.
Juliet Bauer is Chief Growth Officer at Livi