In October, we held our annual AGM and conference; Uncovering Untold Stories: Busting Menopause Myths and Racism at Work.

Over the past year, Fawcett has been tackling some of the biggest issues that women, who have been historically silenced, are facing. From the pay and progression of women of colour to understanding the impact of the menopause on women in the workplace. Our research has focused on centering the voices of women, listening to their experiences and identifying what they want to change.

Our AGM brought together two panel sessions, featuring truly inspirational women who spoke honestly and frankly about their experiences.

Here's what we learnt: 

Busting Menopause Myths

Kate Muir, Karen Arthur, Liz Prinz, and Diane Danzebrink joined the panel to discuss the misunderstandings about menopause and how doctors and workplaces can be better at supporting women.

The fastest growing group of women in the workplace is menopausal women:

So often, menopausal experience is silenced and hidden, both in the workplace and in everyday life. We will all work alongside people experiencing the menopause, so it feels like a stark reality check that menopausal women make up the fastest growing group of women at work.

Kate Muir opened the discussion with firm and frank words: “As the biggest group of women in the workplace, we are important and should be listened to.”

Diane Danzebrink called for male managers to be educated on the menopause who have a responsibility and a duty of care to the women they manage. Liz Prinz also highlighted that there’s many male coaches in the sports sector but as the dynamics of the relationship are often different, conversations around menopause can be easier. Perhaps, there is opportunity for cross-sector learning on how we can make all workplaces inclusive and where people experiencing menopause feel comfortable to have conversations.

During the discussion Kate reflected on her own story going through menopause:

“I realize, for many women at work, the idea that you can always work through this, and it will disappear in a few years’ time, those are the lucky ones, but some of us are not the lucky ones.

And you do need to go get help and get help for your symptoms and for hot flashes that stop your thinking for a minute as well.

And the idea that we must struggle on I feel is the great myth to be busted.”

It is a myth that women do not become menopausal only later in life:

Perimenopause is a time when your hormone levels start to fluctuate, and whilst for many women this tends to be in the early 40s, a lot of women start experiencing the symptoms in their late 30s. There is the myth that you can be too young to be perimenopausal. In fact, doctors still try to diagnose women through blood tests, even after the age of 45, when they should be able to determine if a woman is going through the menopause without.

Karen Arthur mentioned that as a high-profile person involved in the national menopause conversation, she often gets requests from companies asking her to endorse their tests for women who think they’re going through the menopause, when in fact, these women do not need to blood tests at all.

As Diane Danzebrink pointed out, GPs historically have not been taught about menopause:

“Earlier this year, menopause support did a survey of all the medical schools, so we did a freedom of information request to all the medical schools.

And we asked them if you teach a mandatory module on menopause.

And 41% came back and said no we do not.

And where they said yes we do, they said a lot of the learning was self-directed or they expected for the students to learn about it in hospital rotation, and that will not happen, because people don't present with menopause in a hospital environment, or they expected them to learn about it in AGP placement, now, if you're going into AGP placement, where none of the GPs have up-to-date knowledge about menopause, then that is hopeless, because essentially you have the uninformed teaching poor information.”

Racism at Work

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought discussions of racism into the open, but how does it manifest for women of colour in the UK, and how can we challenge it? Kimberly McIntosh, Gloria Mills, Chair of the TUC Race Relations Committee, TUC and Shani Dhanda came together to try to answer this question and reflect on their own experiences.

Work still needs to be done to tackle the gender and ethnicity pay gap:

It isn’t shocking or surprising to hear about the pay inequalities that exist for Black women and women of colour – and that is why we need to continue to push for change.

Gloria Mills gave a stark example during the discussion that in London, a Black woman is paid 75p for every £1 a man makes and 85p for every £1 a white woman earns. In fact, Gloria went on to say, that although we have mandatory reporting of the gender pay gap for organisations over a certain size, she strongly advises the government: “to implement a comprehensive race equality strategy across the government and across the public services in order to ensure we make progress in the area of race equality.”

It is astounding that unlike the gender pay gap, there is no legal requirement for companies to publish their ethnicity pay gap.

“Just because an employee is a person of colour that does not make them an expert on equity work in the workplace.” Kimberly McIntosh

The space to discuss, reflect and listen to how organisations are striving to anti-racist was both important and necessary. Yet, many organisations that are working to address and tackle race inequality are doing so in ways that are detrimental to their staff from Black and ethnic minority communities. Organisations are turning to their employees of colour to set-up diversity working groups or to lead on anti-racist action plans. It should not be the role of people of colour in workplaces to educate and shoulder responsibility. So often, people of colour aren't in positions of power and are asked to take on additional work with very limited resources. Workplaces need better allies to ensure that tackling anti-racism in the workplace is lead from the top and in support of all staff. 

“As a disabled person, I’m twice as likely to be unemployed or if in work, I'm likely to be underpaid and as a woman I am likely turn less than my male counterparts.” Shani Dhanda

Intersectionality is not discussed enough in the workplace. Talking about the gaps, the inequalities, the biases, and discrimination can help organisations when writing inclusion strategies or developing new policies – these conversations need to be consistent, and they will often be uncomfortable. Yet, uncomfortable is good because without it, you can’t make real change.

Gloria Mills followed up to Shani’s comments with practicalities; by having policies that advance representation in the workplace, and society, we are making sure the policies are for and benefit all women regardless of race, class, or disability. Without including these intersectionality of women microaggressions and racial discrimination will continue to rise. True inclusion is intersectional.

Moving forward

Both panels were lively in conversation. Many myths were bust during the panel on the menopause and a greater insight into what women of colour face in the workplace. Both panels had calls for actions from making learning at menopause in medical school mandatory to holding the private sector accountable when they prostate with policies about diversity, inclusion and equity but do very little to action them.

This event would not have been possible without the wonderful speakers, but also the support of the staff at Fawcett Society.

As with last year, Fawcett held this AGM and conference online. Whilst we are keen to welcome our supporters in person once again, we believe that there will remain a place for online events, a convenient tool to bring people together across the nation in solidarity.