Navigating the silent revolution: Menopause in the UK Retail Sector
[Commentary] In the busy world of retail, a silent revolution is unfolding, impacting both employees and consumers alike.
This revolution is menopause, a natural biological process affecting all women, irrespective of their background or identity.
The numbers game: How many women (in retail) are affected?
The menopausal transition, which includes perimenopause, usually begins in a woman’s mid-forties. However, some may experience it at a much younger age, leading to early menopause or Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI). This transition doesn’t discriminate; it encompasses all individuals born female, including trans men and non-binary people who haven’t altered their hormone profiles.
Today, approximately 13 million women in the UK are either going through menopause or its precursor, perimenopause. To put that in perspective, this accounts for roughly one in every three women in the country. These numbers are not just notable; they are staggering.
If you consider women aged 50 to 64, that constitutes a workforce of around 4.5 million women. And, of these women, 24% are employed in the retail industry. Th retail sector is a major employer of women in the UK – around a substantial 59.5% of the workforce! Not forgetting that the retail industry itself is a significant contributor to the UK economy, offering a noteworthy £122.4 billion in 2021.
The silent struggles: Impact on working lives
Menopause is not just a biological process; it’s a life-altering experience. The symptoms of menopause, which can include hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and mood swings, often make it challenging for women to concentrate and perform optimally at work. Approximately one million women in the UK are currently on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to alleviate these symptoms.
Meeting the demand: Products for menopause
The demand for products and support related to menopause is significant. A study by GenM reveals that 48% of menopausal women search for menopause products online before purchasing them in retail stores. This underscores the need for retailers to provide relevant products and services to address this demand effectively. (We will look at the products in more detail later in the week).
The price of silence: Women leaving the workforce
Sadly, the impact of menopause isn’t limited to personal discomfort; it can drive women out of the workforce. A 2021 study by the Fawcett Society discovered that one in four women who experience menopausal symptoms have contemplated leaving their jobs because of these challenges.
Research by BUPA Health Clinics in 2019 found that approximately 900,000 women in the UK had left their jobs due to menopause, often at the peak of their careers, resulting in a significant loss to the workforce.
These women often resort to taking sick leave, working reduced hours, or altering their working arrangements. The reasons for leaving vary, from the inability to concentrate on their job duties, difficulties commuting, to feeling unsupported by their employers during this transitional period.
It’s crucial to understand that menopause is a natural part of life, and with the right support, menopausal women can continue to make valuable contributions to the workplace.
Supporting the menopause: The role of employers
Recognising the challenges posed by menopause, employers are gradually stepping up to the plate. A 2019 poll by the CIPD revealed that only 9% of organizations provided dedicated menopause support. However, in 2021, this figure has risen to 24%, indicating a growing awareness of the issue. To effectively support menopausal women, education is key.
Norma Goldman, Founder and Director of The Menopause Exchange, emphasises the importance of proactive help and support within workplaces.
“Workplaces should not only proactively help those impacted with troublesome menopausal symptoms but positively support them. To do this effectively, managers, health and safety officers and anyone else responsible for the wellbeing of employees need to know about the health implications and therefore need access to formal training, so they can take the menopause seriously and make changes to the work environment.
“Making changes at work may lead to fewer days off work, maximise productivity, reduce stigma and embarrassment when women are in the company of colleagues, managers and clients, improve job satisfaction and wellbeing, and make the workplace environment as comfortable as possible for menopausal women”.
The Menopause Exchange provides free independent and practical advice about the perimenopause, menopause, midlife and post-menopausal health, based on expertise and evidence.
Having qualified as a pharmacist and a health promotion specialist, Norma established The Menopause Exchange in 1999 to help women who are going through perimenopause and menopause challenges. The Menopause Exchange is completely independent – not sponsored by any companies or organisations and provides well researched, impartial and practical information.
In recognition of the need to support menopausal women, several resources and organisations offer tools and guidance:
- The British Retail Consortium (BRC) provides top tips for retailers on handling menopause in the workplace here.
- The Retail Trust offers a wealth of resources for retailers to assist their employees in coping with menopause here.
- Henpicked offers CPD menopause training and support, collaborating with major retailers like Next, Sainsbury’s, and DFS. For organisations looking to create a menopause policy, there is guidance available from Menopause in the Workplace here.
- The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also offers numerous resources and support guides for managers looking to navigate the complexities of menopause in the workplace here.
Navigating the menopause revolution
The silent revolution of menopause is undeniable, with profound implications for the UK retail sector. As millions of women transition through this phase in their lives, the need for understanding, support, and tailored products is more critical than ever. With the right knowledge, resources, and a collaborative effort from employers and retailers, we can navigate this revolution together, ensuring that menopausal women continue to thrive in both their personal and professional lives. Menopause is not the end; it’s a new beginning, one that we should celebrate and embrace.
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