Menopause: The silent 'taboo' for women in the workplace

I bumped into a friend of mine recently - we've known each other for 25 years - she asked me what I was up to.

I told her I was making a programme about the menopause.

Her reaction was extraordinary - she grabbed my arm and said "Oh Thank God someone's talking about it at last - mine's driving me mad".

She then opened her work bag and showed me the mini-desk fan she carries with her at all times in case of a hot flush - and the box of tablets she carries to keep the symptoms at bay.

I had absolutely no idea she'd been going through it and was sad to hear she'd been trying to cope with it on the quiet.

Yet it's probably pretty typical of how most women deal with the menopause.

A file photo of a business meeting. Credit: PA

But with more women aged 50 and over in the workplace than ever (3.5 million) - this isn't just a taboo which needs to be broken, it's an occupational health issue.

This week a set of workplace guidelines is being published by the Royal College of Physicians, in order to alert employers to consider what some of their female employees may be going through.

We've made an ITV Tonight programme about this inevitable fact of a woman's life to coincide with this - and did our own survey of menopausal women to shed some light on their experience.

Worryingly, a quarter of the women we asked said they'd considered leaving work because of their menopause: and half said the symptoms had made their work life worse.

One detective had to change her career plans Credit: ITV

Insomnia, anxiety and of course the hot flushes all contributed. Of course not everyone endures these symptoms - some sail through it and very happily come out of the other side.

But if workforces are to remain diverse and keep their women on board as they age - this appears to be an issue worth addressing.

We've spoken to dozens of women for the programme - including those whose workplace are already helping them.

One nurse we interviewed had been allowed to wear a uniform of made of a different fabric to help with her with her hot flushes: we also spoke to one senior detective who had been able to change her career plans and working hours to adapt to the fact her sleep patterns had altered so drastically: otherwise she would have had to give up work altogether.

West Midlands Police runs a monthly clinic and support group Credit: ITV

She works for West Midlands Police, a force which runs a monthly (sorry but that did make me smile) menopause clinic and support group, with a specialist GP on hand.

But the main thing we found was just how relieved women were to simply talk about it.

There's not much we don't discuss openly in society these days - but for complex reasons (including societal pressure on women to remain looking young) - the menopause is one of the last taboos.

We're hoping this programme might make it easier to break.