EMPLOYERS must stop “ignoring” menopause and support women workers, the head of the Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) has told The National.

Agnes Tolmie spoke out on the eve of a Scottish Parliament debate on the stigma surrounding menopause on Tuesday. It is hoped this will encourage more support for women.

The subject has attracted attention amid efforts by organisations including STUC Women’s Conference and the SWC to highlight the lack of awareness surrounding women experiencing the menopause at work.

READ MORE: Scottish menopause survey to help improve workplaces for women

Agnes Tolmie, chair of the SWC, told The National: “The menopause continues to go ignored within the context of the workplace. This is down to several reasons, but all factor back to the idea of women’s inequality. It’s seen as a ‘women’s issue’, so it’s rarely discussed.

“From an employment perspective, this can be down to the likes of the ongoing taboo nature of the subject, a lack of women in decision-making positions or even just a lack of knowledge surrounding the issue.

“It really is inconceivable that in this day and age women are still being stigmatised for a routine part of life that is perfectly natural.”

A survey conducted by the SWC earlier this year, involving nearly 1000 female employees, revealed that 79% did not feel comfortable telling their employer about their menopause. Some reasons given for this included a fear of discrimination, concerns that their symptoms would not be taken seriously, a belief in there being a lack of policies to support women with the menopause, and worries that they might lose their job.

READ MORE: To make real progress menopause cannot remain a taboo

Tolmie said: “A key problem with continuing this idea of the menopause being a taboo subject is that many women will not speak out about adjustments they may need. A lot of these are simple and inexpensive – providing electric fans or adjustable seating. The fact that many women we hear from feel they cannot even approach their employers about this show how important it is to have debates and highlight this topic.

“We hear about workplace discrimination a lot, but we never really hear about it within the context of the menopause. We have heard from a number of women who will not speak out due to a fear of discrimination or bullying.”

According to a survey conducted by STUC Women’s Committee last year, half of the 3649 participants were influenced by the sex of managers when it came to deciding whether to confide about their menopause. Meanwhile, 32% felt menopause was treated negatively in the workplace and 99% did not have, or were unaware of, any policy on this matter.

Tolmie said: “Arrangements that could be taken into account would be the likes of flexible working, rest breaks and paid time off for medical appointments.

“Supporting women with menopause is not just beneficial for women, it does benefit everyone. Women do not want to be off their work, they want to come in and work to the best of their abilities.

“Highlighting the value of women going through such a natural process makes sense – the number of women that have left their jobs because they have been unable to speak up leads to losses of benefits not just in terms of women’s employment, but economic and productivity losses too.”

She went on: “Another issue we have uncovered through discussions with women is the real lack of information. This is a process which half the population will go through and yet there is so little education around menopause and even the way a woman’s body changes during the ‘before’ phase of perimenopause.

“This is really key if we plan on devaluing myths and taboo surrounding menopause and challenging stereotypes.”