How the menopause affects different people¹
The menopause affects women in different ways. This section gives some examples of how certain groups of people (including some with different protected characteristics) may experience the menopause.
Older women bring experience, competence and creative strategies to the classroom. But they are at greater risk of capability procedures. Older women can be seen as an easy target because they tend to be more expensive. A previous survey of teachers revealed that women teachers over the age of 50 are most likely to face capability procedures.
Older women are more likely to have caring responsibilities for elderly or sick parents or partners and are more likely to experience other age-related ill health themselves. These experiences can be exacerbated by significant menopause symptoms. It is important that workplaces are flexible enough to support older women teachers so they are not disproportionately targeted on capability grounds. Such treatment could amount to sex, age and/or disability discrimination.
Pre-existing conditions, disabled women and the menopause
Many women report that the menopause seems to make existing health conditions worse, triggering or coinciding with a flare up of symptoms. An existing health condition may also worsen symptoms of the menopause.
Women report a wide range of conditions that can be affected by the menopause including: arthritis, multiple sclerosis, mental health conditions, skin conditions, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome and many others. If a woman has an existing condition that is worsened by the menopause, she may need more time off for medical appointments or treatment for that condition.
It is important that the multiple levels of discrimination and barriers often faced by disabled women are recognised and addressed sensitively on an individual basis. Employers should ensure that workplace policies, practices and environments are flexible and inclusive enough to accommodate additional needs that disabled women experiencing the menopause may have and that reasonable adjustments are reviewed to ensure they remain effective.
Black women and the menopause
Research² has found a variation in the average age at which the menopause takes place between women of different ethnic backgrounds. Reporting of the most common and significant symptoms of menopause has also been found to vary among different ethnic groups. It is unclear to what extent these differences are caused by social, economic, language and cultural factors rather than a woman’s ethnic origin.
Racism at work can increase work-related stress, which may worsen some menopausal symptoms. Research by the TUC has also shown that Black workers are more likely than white workers to be in insecure work, such as zero hours or casual contracts.
The NEU survey of Black members³ found that many experienced a hostile environment in the workplace, which affected pay progression and their access to continuous professional development. Black women workers in schools may, therefore, feel uncomfortable telling line managers about menopause symptoms in an already hostile environment, even when they are in a secure working environment.
The Wales TUC menopause research with Black women found that a number of those on insecure contracts were reluctant to raise the issue of their menopausal symptoms or ask for adjustments at work, because of concerns that doing so may negatively affect their job security.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual women and the menopause
Many women report that stress can impact on menopausal symptoms. If women are experiencing homophobia at the same time as symptoms of menopause this can also increase stress, which may exacerbate some symptoms. A TUC survey of LGBT+ workers found that 39 per cent of all respondents have been harassed or discriminated against by a colleague, more than a quarter (29 per cent) by a manager and around 14 per cent by a client or patient.
Women in same sex relationships may have a partner who is going through the menopause at the same time. In some circumstances, this may be positive in terms of increased mutual understanding and support at home.
Sometimes, if both partners are experiencing symptoms such as sleep disturbance or night sweats, this may increase tiredness and fatigue for both partners. It may also be more difficult if both partners experience symptoms such as depression or mood swings at the same time.
Trans workers and the menopause
Transgender, non-binary and intersex workers may also experience the menopause. Employers and senior leaders should be aware of and sensitive to this. A TUC survey of LGBT+ workers (2019) found that 48 per cent have experienced bullying or harassment at work. Such negative attitudes in the workplace can make it difficult for workers to disclose menopause status and/or ask for adjustments.
Transgender workers may be affected by menopause symptoms due to the natural menopause or treatments and surgeries. Some trans people may not wish to disclose their trans status to their employer and as such may not wish to disclose their menopausal symptoms if it would disclose their trans status.
This is why whole workplace arrangements that do not single out individual workers provide a more effective solution to ensuring support for all workers experiencing the menopause.
Trans women (those who identify as female but were assigned male at birth) undertaking hormone therapy will usually remain on this for life, and should generally experience limited ‘pseudo’ menopausal symptoms unless hormone therapy is interrupted or hormone levels are unstable.
Trans men (those who identify as male but were assigned female at birth) will experience a natural menopause if their ovaries remain in place and no hormone therapy has been undertaken. Trans men will also experience menopausal symptoms if the ovaries and uterus are surgically removed (this may lead to premature menopause). Symptoms may be reduced or complicated if hormone therapy (such as the male hormone testosterone) is in place.
How a trans person experiences symptoms later in life may vary depending on the age at which they transitioned and when in time that was (treatments have changed and developed over time).