Skip to main content

How my college is supporting me through the menopause - Rachel Whitton

28th September 2023

By Rachel Whitton, Curriculum Manager: Professional Studies & Education at Warrington & Vale Royal College and Research Further Scholar

So, today feels like the right time to discuss women in the further education (FE) sector working whilst experiencing the menopause, as it feels like rather a hot topic. Only a few weeks ago, fellow Research Further Scholar Sian Mantovani set out her views in her own Think Further blog. (ADD LINK)

According to the House of Commons (2023), the menopause is “a normal, natural and inevitable part of ageing”, which will affect 51 per cent of the population, so I question why has this been such a taboo subject for far too long? While the World Health Organisation (2022) discusses how “hormonal changes associated with menopause can affect physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being”, the House of Commons (2023) questions why “too many people experiencing menopause have struggled with societal stigma, inadequate diagnosis and treatment, workplace detriment and discrimination”.

So, what does this mean for myself and my colleagues working in FE colleges, who are in this phase of their career, but struggle with some of the vast array of symptoms which can include hot flushes, headaches, mood swings, anxiety, chronic fatigue and weight gain, to name but a few?

With the average menopause lasting around 4 years, FE organisations need to consider how to support their staff, implementing strategies and developing policies which can enable women to continue working effectively within their roles. It is interesting that some women sail through this life stage, while some find it debilitating and really struggle to continue working. Due to the experience of menopause being personal and unique to individuals, this could potentially make policy design challenging. However, what is apparent is that women need the opportunity to discuss the personal impact on them within FE and with their line managers, to at least feel they are being listened to and adjustments can be made where possible.

Meanwhile the World Health Organisation (2022) has suggested that experiencing the menopause has benefits, as it offers an important opportunity to reassess one’s health, lifestyle, and goals. Personally, while finding the journey so far somewhat challenging, I do believe it is at the same time quite liberating. One can start to care less about what other people think, and more about what makes you happy in life. Prioritising your own health and well-being, instead of always putting others first, can be a powerful place to be.

I imagine menopausal lecturers are some of the most relatable and empathetic educators out there. They have lived through the ups and downs of life and can bring that wisdom and perspective into the classroom, whilst understanding how to nurture students, because they appreciate the need for a little extra TLC from time to time.

The House of Commons said earlier this year that there is poor employer awareness of both health and safety and equality relating to menopause. Furthermore, employment law specialists Irwin Mitchell report that 62 per cent of the organisations in the education sector surveyed, did not currently have a menopause policy (FE News, 2022). However, my own organisation, Warrington & Vale Royal College, have embraced this issue and actively listen to their staff. They have taken steps to ensure the menopause is a normal part of health and wellbeing conversations. Their policy fully supports having those discussions where needed, training managers to be empathetic to situations and making reasonable adjustments to working practices to support wellbeing.

Its enlightening to work for an organisation that follows the very policies they design to support staff, in a meaningful manner. They have made active inroads into training managers how to have these conversations, and are now seeing through performance monitoring reviews, menopausal women discussing their personal health and wellbeing more openly. It is not taboo. There is clearly a case for more research into how other FE colleges are managing the government guidelines on supporting this agenda moving forward.

Forgetfulness can be a major challenge on this journey, walking into a room having completely forgotten the reason for being there, then gazing around to realise that students are still waiting for some inspirational teaching today can be overwhelming. As a menopausal lecturer myself, I feel one must brush aside the imposter syndrome and remember that I am a capable professional, not a goldfish brain with hot flushes. Whilst it can be hard to disguise the memory loss in the workplace on occasions, I have found a notepad and pen my new companion. The personal temptation to apologise and share facts like I have “menopause brain” is overwhelming; I recognise in doing so, I am reinforcing and raising the profile of the inappropriate stigma surrounding menopause, which ultimately will not help myself or fellow colleagues. Furthermore, why should I apologise for my current physical condition. It is not a disease, but merely a stage in life, which needs further understanding by those who will not experience this phenomenon first hand.

So, advice to the menopausal women out there in the same situation, embrace your inner “menopause goddess”, laugh at the hot flushes, shrug off the forgetfulness, and remember that this is a phase in our lives that will pass when it is ready. With the support of your employer, you can overcome and learn from the experience ready to pass on to the next generation. Women working with menopause can be on a rollercoaster of emotions and bodily sensations, but this can definitely be helped by the support of a great organisation to work for, a good sense of humour and a portable fan!

Some useful links for further reading;

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/menopause/help-and-support/

https://www.menopausematters.co.uk/

https://www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk/menopause-workplace-pledge/

References

CIPD. (2021). Menopause at work: Guide for people managers. Electronically accessed July 23.

https://www.cipd.org/uk/knowledge/guides/menopause-people-manager-guidance/

Dyke, H. (2021). Why is menopause an issue for colleges? Electronically accessed July 23. https://www.fenews.co.uk/fe-voices/why-menopause-is-an-issue-for-colleges/

House of Commons. Women and Equalities Committee. (2023). Menopause and the workplace. Electronically accessed July 23. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/report.html

FE News. (2022). Majority Of Organisations in The Education Sector Failing To Deal With Menopause In The Workplace Says Latest Study. Electronically accessed July 23. https://www.fenews.co.uk/education/pr-majority-of-organisations-in-the-education-sector-failing-to-deal-with-menopause-in-the-workplace-says-latest-study/

World Health Organisation. (2022). Menopause. Electronically accessed July 23.

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/menopause

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.