University pioneers revised attitudes at first Menopause Lets Talk About It workshop

Over 90 staff from across the University, including staff based at Leicester’s hospitals, joined colleagues in the Charles Wilson Building’s Belvoir City Lounge for an open and frank discussion about the menopause.

A natural stage in the life of all women, recent research conducted by our own School of Business, on behalf of the Government’s Equalities Office, found that the vast majority of women are embarrassed to discuss menopause openly in the workplace. Three quarters of women will experience symptoms of menopause, which can include hot flushes, headaches, sleeplessness and joint pains, all of which can have an effect on their ability to work. It is therefore essential that women are able to discuss their situation with line-managers and colleagues so that adequate support can be provided.

It is the University’s aim to end the taboo surrounding menopause and become the first menopause-friendly university in the UK. The inaugural Menopause: Let's Talk About It Workshop is just the first stage of our campaign to challenge existing attitudes towards menopause. Within the next couple of months, we will have ratified and implemented a full menopause policy which will help staff who are suffering from symptoms of menopause to continue to play an active role in the workplace. We are the first British university to implement such a policy and we are inspiring organisations throughout Leicestershire, including Severn Trent and E.ON, to do the same and ensure all women can reach their full potential.

At Thursday’s workshop attendees learnt how to spot the symptoms of menopause, how to counteract them and what reasonable adjustments the University could offer. Attendees also heard from a range of speakers including Professor Jo Brewis, from our School of Business, who lead a government-funded recent research project into menopause’s effects on women’s ability to work.

Professor Brewis said: “We published our report in July this year, and it consists of a review of 104 English language publications dating back to January 1990. The focus is the ways in which menopause transition affects women’s economic participation – i.e. paid employment – and the other way around. On the back of our report, the team is very excited indeed to have been able to work on the new University policy with Henpicked and colleagues from Health and Well-being, Occupational Health and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The launch event was especially exciting as it was very well attended and the energy in the room felt extremely positive. Now feels like absolutely the right time to be working on this initiative given the fact that more UK-based women than ever before are now working to  - or returning to work – later in life, and that more than half of staff at the University are women. We are also delighted to see that other major employers are taking up the baton.”

Another speaker at Thursday’s event was Susannah Fish, a Leicester School of Business Alumna. “I was the Chief Constable for Nottinghamshire police and we were the first police force in the country to implement a menopause policy” said Susannah. “One of the messages today has been about saying ‘it’s doable’, very few organisations have done it successfully, and how great it is that the University of Leicester are going to be pioneering menopause awareness in the Higher Education sector. It’s fabulous that I, as an alumna, can be a part of that journey. When I rolled out the policy at Nottinghamshire police, it really helped the inclusion, equality and diversity agenda, but in very real and human terms. It helped women who were suffering with challenging symptoms. It helped lots of men understand what was happening to their partners, either in or outside of policing, helping them to be better partners. The younger employees started to understand what their mums were going through, becoming better sons and daughters. The difference was both internally and outside of the workplace. I previously saw some women leave the organisation due to reasonable adjustments that were requested, but not made. This all changed, women weren’t leaving the organisation anymore because managers understood the changes that needed to be made through understanding of the policy. Those were the practical differences and changes in business terms but actually, as a human, the difference that it has made in men and women’s lives, young and older is fantastic.”

"Being part of the team working on Menopause Awareness and the policy has been a joy" commented Leyla Okhai, the University's Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. "Not only does the policy feed into the work we do across the institution for Athena SWAN, but it supports the commitments as a HeforShe Impact Champion. As well as being a first for a higher education institution, the campaign and policy will reduce stigma and taboo as well as increase awareness amongst all staff."

Deborah Garlick, founder of who have supported and advised the University throughout the new policy’s development, also spoke at the event. “Menopause is a natural part of women’s lives and it’s brilliant to see the University of Leicester leading the way and encouraging a better understanding of and support for this as a health and wellbeing issue” said Deborah.

“Women are now working for longer so the number of women experiencing menopausal symptoms whilst working is increasing. We now have around 3.5 million women in the workplace of a menopausal age and the policy that the University of Leicester is developing will increase understanding and encourage employees to become more engaged with the issues surrounding menopause.”

“All organisations should follow the University of Leicester’s example and encourage everyone to talk openly about menopause.”

  • World Menopause Day takes place on Wednesday 18 October and we are encouraging all staff to share their stories, speak openly about menopause and its effects and join the #HotFlashMob on social media.