Why Equal Pay Day is a menopause matter
Equal Pay Day is a smart measure that looks to mark the date, annually, that we, as women, effectively work the rest of the year for ‘free’ in comparison to male peers performing the same role.
And, according to The Fawcett Society, we reached Equal Pay Day this year on Thursday 18th November in the UK.
The date has fallen earlier to reflect the fact that the full-time, hourly gender pay gap has increased from 10.6% to 11.9% in the last 12 months.
On announcing their findings, Felicia Willow, Interim CEO of the Fawcett Society, said:
“The pandemic has had a tough and disproportionate impact on women, in particular women of colour, disabled women and mothers. And now in addition to this, a widening gender pay gap paints a worrying picture.”
These results, along with our experience in recent months delivering our Meno-Work Programme to forward-thinking brands and businesses has given us real pause for thought.
Those of us transitioning through menopause today grew up in a society that was largely shaped for male success. We learned how to behave and excel - but often with what felt like a hand behind our backs.
We’re paid less. But as worryingly, we expect less too.
Research undertaken in 2019 pointed to women asking for pay rises 50% less often than men. And, even when we do ask, we’re 5% less likely to have our request agreed.
25% of us will consider leaving work during menopause. With statistics on those that actually do ranging from 10-20%.
When we undertake Menopause Workshops in the corporate space one of the most common questions we receive is not ‘How can I access the tools and support to thrive’? but ‘How do I talk to my line manager or peers about menopause without them feeling that I’m less able to perform in my job?’.
Menopause shines an unwelcome spotlight on our biology.
The unspoken feeling is, ‘I really want my colleagues to understand my lifestage, but I really don’t need another stereotype that I have to actively defy.’
Because, when we reach menopause at work, we’re already dealing with a number of societal prejudices. We live in an ageist society that ages women much more swiftly than men. We live in a world that places greater emphasis on the link between beauty and youth in women too. Where fertility implicitly communicates value...and when that goes, there can be a sense of a loss of value too.
Hormones are seen as an inconvenience rather than a superpower. We are taught to ignore our monthly cycles. Pain associated with hormones is so normalised that endometriosis diagnosis takes an average of 6.7 years today - because women are told, time and time again, that their symptoms are just ‘the time of the month’.
So, it is critical that, when we think about equal pay, we think about the trajectory of a woman’s time in work. It’s about addressing the types of roles accessible to us if we’re juggling caring for others. It’s about the gaps in our CV if we have children, if we take time away to care more actively for dependents too. It is about how we are supported at each lifestage. And it's about menopause.
Equal Pay Day matters to us in midlife because it makes the imbalance irrefutably visible. And, if it is a situation we’re in, it helps us recognise we’re not alone.
But then the work begins. Because we can all take agency for our situation - in securing support for menopause alongside recognition and appreciation for what we bring.
What is fascinating is that, in midlife, our value as employees explodes. A blend of experience alongside the hormone potion that occurs makes us:
Better able to resolve conflicts
Better able to evaluate risk
More purpose driven
What business wouldn’t want to do everything they could do to enable that dynamic mix? So, this weekend, if you’re reflecting on struggles at work and struggling with some of the symptoms that menopause can throw at you, remember what you bring.
Menopause absolutely needs dragging out of the shadows and into the workplace. But it does not define you. And it definitely does not diminish you.
Then, if you’re ready to have the conversation about how you can get the support you need to keep shining, flip the narrative to a positive:
Start by assessing where you’re struggling and why: perhaps track the impact of your symptoms over a couple of weeks so you have concrete examples that can help discussion around support feel practical.
Focus on what you need to enable you: think practically about what could be put in place to support you right now. Make it as considered as you can. Because it will make it more actionable.
Lean on what the pandemic has taught us: we can achieve so much with technology. How could some of the tools and practices your workplace has adopted help you manage symptoms?
Plan for the conversation and be clear about what you want the outcome to be: sometimes it helps to actually write down what the actions from the meeting would be. What would a successful outcome look like? And to then work back from that to ensure that you’re asking for all you feel you need. Too often we limit our ‘asks’ because we feel they’re too much. That we’re causing too much ‘trouble’. But, if we come from the position of noting what will genuinely make a difference, we may find we need to ask for more.
Prepare your line manager for the discussion too: once you’ve prepared, it is only fair that you invite your line manager to prepare too. It can help to send a note being explicit about what you want to discuss - as much as we shouldn’t feel responsible for others feeling uncomfortable about the topic of menopause, the fact remains that 75% of us feel it’s taboo. Even if that percentage doesn’t include you, it’s statistically very likely that it could include your line manager.
Then return to what makes you uniquely ‘you’. The psychological impact of menopause isn’t limited to low mood and anxiety. Imposter Syndrome can become incredibly debilitating at this lifestage too. Take time to remind yourself of the value that everyone else sees.
Here’s hoping that next year’s Equal Pay Day is pushed firmly into December. And that by having the direct conversations to enable more of us to stay in work, earning what we deserve, each of us will be playing a part in holding businesses to account and making that hope a real possibility.
With love Rebekah and the MPowder Team.