Who’s afraid of menopause leave?

Written by:

Future Group

Who’s afraid of menopause leave?  

Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes recently told a Senate committee that employers could be reluctant to hire or promote women if menopause leave is legislated.  

“People aren’t going to employ women, if this is all the mandated stuff that’s going to come in, and this is a reality for those of us that live in the real world,” Hughes said. 

“Women will, whether it’s intentional or not, (have) bias against (them) when it comes to promotion, when it comes to employment.”  

The stance from Hughes contrasts with a movement which has sought to show how menopause impacts women's careers, pushing back against the stigma around the issue.  

Australian research into the impact of menopause on women’s careers found 17% of women aged 45 to 64 reported taking an extended break from work in the last five years. 

Menopause was also found to be a significant factor in women retiring 7.4 years earlier, on average, than men. That means a loss of earnings of more than $577,512 per woman – and along with that less superannuation and less comfort in retirement. 

Future Group’s General Manager of Advocacy Christina Hobbs says Hughes couldn’t be more wrong about the impact of workplace policies designed to support those experiencing menopause.  

“As somebody who’s founded a business and is now general manager of a financial services company in Australia, one that is performing very well as well as bringing these policies ... our concern is in attracting and retaining women,” Hobbs told the Senate committee.  

“It’s ensuring that everyone can come up to work and perform their best.” 

What are we doing in our workplace?  

At Future Group we want to normalise and destigmatise menopause. That means removing the shame and silence associated with menstruation and menopause to support our employees to do their best work.  

Future Group, in partnership with The Victorian Women’s Trust, was one of the first businesses in Australia to introduce a policy.   

Having a clear policy around menstrual and menopause leave goes a long way towards removing the stigma associated with women’s health issues. Sick leave is not enough to combat the taboo.  

Our policy entitles employees to an additional 6 days off a year to manage any symptoms they may be experiencing, with no medical certificate required. It sits alongside our flexible working arrangements, and the efforts we have made as an organisation to speak openly about menopause and menstruation to remove stigma.  

We’ve only seen positive impacts from this policy. In fact, the women in our organisation have reported higher levels of engagement since it was introduced. 

Why this matters  

With no policy around menopause leave, private companies like Future Group have stepped up to the challenge. But a proposed change to the Fair Work Act would give employees who have menstrual or menopause symptoms 12 days of paid leave a year. 

This would be a significant step in fighting inequality and gender discrimination in the workplace.  

Menopause isn’t an illness, it’s something half the population will experience in their lifetime. And women shouldn’t have to suffer in silence. 

Research from Circle In published in 2021 surveyed 700 women and found that 58% found managing work during their menopause was challenging. The taboo around menopause was a big part of that challenge.  

One respondent to the Circle In survey said: “I have a male manager and they are awkward conversations. It’s also not something that tends to get discussed openly more generally. A little like mental health a few years ago.” 

Hughes’ comments at the Senate committee miss that point about removing taboo and stigma, as she suggested that other forms of leave are sufficient for those dealing with menopause symptoms.  

It also misses the point that employers are already required not to discriminate based on gender, including discriminating in hiring against any woman who they suspect might take parental leave soon.

Women currently retire with an average of 25% less super than men. That’s unacceptable, and the existing prejudices around menopause are cutting the careers of women short and exacerbating that gap.