Rachael Eyre gives some practical tips for law firms.
Peri/menopause may affect 50- 60% of the legal sector work force at some point in their lives.
In 2018 figures shared in the House of Commons showed that 50% of women found doing their job challenging due to menopausal symptoms, and 10% left the workplace altogether.
Not every person going through menopause will have severe symptoms. Everyone is different. Some people may have very manageable symptoms, but for many there are both physical and mental symptoms that can affect day to day life.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
“Isn’t it just night sweats, hot flushes and bad moods?”
No! They are certainly some of the symptoms experienced by some, but the symptom list is huge and varied. The smorgasbord of symptoms can include:
- brain fog
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
- dry skin
- hair loss or thinning
- joint pain
- low mood or depression
- memory problems
- muscle pain
- low energy
- and many more
Why is the SRA getting involved in this?
Mostly because menopause is an inclusivity issue. The SRA recently hosted a webinar on the subject.
If a significant number of female lawyers leave the workforce due to menopause-related health issues, it may have a direct impact upon the diversity of the profession. The SRA sees encouraging a diverse legal profession as sitting squarely within its regulatory remit (as per the Legal Services Act 2007).
It may not be the menopause symptoms themselves. It may be a loss of confidence, sense of loss of self caused by the changes in hormones that results in an inability to continue working. People may not even realise that this is due to peri/menopause and just think they have become poor at their work.
Law firms and solicitors have inclusivity obligations via Principle 6 of the SRA Standards and Regulations. This is in addition to law firm’s duties as employers under the equality and employment legislation.
The SRA’s recent guidance on Workplace Environment, while not specifically about menopause, does touch on subjects such as mental health which can be impacted by menopause.
So, what do we need to do?
In the SRA’s webinar they recommended having women’s networks, a menopause network and adopting a whole menopause policy, ensuring everyone is aware of the menopause policy and encouraging allies and awareness.
You can certainly do this, but it is likely to be relevant for only the larger practices. For most small and medium sized law firms it would be quite a significant task, and a menopause support network would be lucky to have a handful of members. Asking those members to write a whole menopause policy is a very big ask!
So here are some alternative things that you can do that may be more proportionate to your size of firm:
- Review and adjust your Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Policy – ensure that peri/menopause is covered and there can be reasonable adjustments made for people going through this. This may be under the flexible working policy, it may mean bringing in more fans, repositioning people for the air conditioning, or the like. As with any other health condition, listen to the needs of the individual.
- Raise awareness -remember that issues around menopause don’t just affect women in their 50s and 60s, as is commonly perceived. Menopause and peri menopause can happen at different times and regularly start in the 40s. Issues around menopause can affect anyone either directly or indirectly.Staff also need to be aware of it so they can help and understand. From this training, people may want to form a network to discuss menopause. If this is the case in your firm, ensure you give space and resource for that to happen – and then listen to the outcomes and suggestions for things that would help.
- Be mindful – if a colleague’s behaviour changes, if they are struggling to get out words, are having out of character mood swings, confidence drops, be aware that it could be peri/menopause symptoms. People may not want to talk about it in relation to themselves, and that is fine. But it may be that in having open training, an open dialog and showing support, you are able to foster an environment in which team members are not left to struggle alone.
- The Law Society has a host of great resources available here.
- The SRA’s recent webinar is available here.
- The Balance App, available on Android and Apple, is brilliant. I recommend this to everyone who is either going through peri/menopause or concerned they may be. It has a host of really useful articles and a symptom tracker which can really aid any conversations with medical professionals about symptoms and help the prescription of HRT.
- If someone is prescribed HRT in England (in Wales prescriptions are already free) they can get an HRT certificate, meaning they only need to pay for 2 prescriptions for the HRT for a year.