Banks and other financial service firms need to support those employees experiencing menopause or risk losing key talent, says a new UK study
Financial services firms are losing women from their pipelines of senior leaders because of a lack of workplace support for those women going through menopause, according to a study published this month.
The report, Menopause in the Workplace: Impact on Women in Financial Services, was published by U.K. bank Standard Chartered and the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC), an independent U.K. industry group that works with the U.K. financial services sector on talent and skills. The report calls for all firms to put in place a policy for supporting their menopausal women and trans-male employees. Managers also need training on how to talk about menopause, the report said.
“There’s a culture of silence around menopause in financial services, with many women taking it on themselves to absorb the impacts of their experiences,” said Tanuj Kapilashrami, group head of human resources at Standard Chartered. “A lack of understanding and support is impacting female progression and at times leading to women opt out of the workforce altogether.”
Around 1 in 10, or 128,000, of all women working in the U.K. financial services industry is going through menopause, according to the report. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but around 16% of women begin symptoms before age 45, and 4% of women start menopause in their 30s. Symptoms are both physical and mental and include anxiety and “mind fog”, which are experienced by 63% and 58%, respectively, of all those going through menopause.
“For too long menopause has been a taboo subject in the workplace,” explained Claire Tunley, chief executive at the FSSC. “Our research indicates the financial services sector could lose tens of thousands of women due to their experience of menopause at work.” The report also found that a lack of understanding and support meant that 25% of those going through menopause were likely to leave the workforce, while 47% said they were unlikely to seek promotion.
According to the most recent (April 5, 2020) U.K. gender pay gap figures, the financial services sector pay gap is more than double that of the U.K. as a whole — 34% compared to 14%. One reason for the larger divide in financial services is the relatively low percentage of women in the upper echelons of banks, insurers, and asset management firms. For example, HSBC has just 9% of women in its top quartile of earners, NatWest has 15%, Barclays 19%, Goldman Sachs 20%, and Standard Chartered 22%.
The U.K.’s financial regulators have been placing increasing focus on the diversity of financial institutions in recent years. This past summer, the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Prudential Regulation Authority jointly published a discussion paper on diversity. Further, a diversity data collection pilot was issued to firms earlier this month, and it’s intended to ascertain what, and to what granularity, firms track diversity across their workforce. (Gender and age are both protected characteristics under U.K. employment law.)
“If an employee or worker is put at a disadvantage or treated less favorably because of their menopause symptoms, this could be discriminatory if connected to a protected characteristic,” the U.K.’s Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service (ACAS) warned in updated guidance this month.
The Menopause in the Workplace report said that it was not enough to produce a menopause policy — firms needed to publicize that such policies existed. Good practices highlighted in the report noted that HSBC hosts a weekly “lunch and learn” session on menopause; and Virgin Money, the financial services are of Virgin Group, has a dedicated MS Teams chat for employees experiencing menopause.
The updated ACAS guidance offered further advice to employers interested in creating, or updating, their practice around menopause, including an extensive list of dos and don’ts for employers to consider when training managers in how to talk to direct reports about menopause. ACAS also recommends that menopause is included in more general conversations about equality, diversity, health, and well-being to “help normalize” discussion on the subject.
As a direct result of the research for the Menopause in the Workplace report, Standard Chartered said it was changing its guidance to provide dedicated support and workplace adjustments for employees managing menopause. These include offering flexible work schedules, as well as access to counselling, education, and awareness resources for all employees through the launch of a menopause guide. The bank also will offer dedicated advice for line managers and peer-to-peer support groups.
“This important report shines a spotlight on an issue which for too long has been overlooked in the workplace,” said Miles Celic, chief executive at TheCityUK, and a board member of FSSC. “Openly recognizing and discussing the impact menopause can have on women and their careers, and ensuring they have proper support, is the right thing to do both ethically and commercially.”
This is also essential to mitigating the potential fallout of talent in the workforce, Celic added. “This industry is one that prides itself on securing, developing, and retaining the best talent, and given that menopause is something all women will experience, it is vital that it stops being treated as a taboo subject and that firms create an environment for women to thrive.”