Male-dominated BAE Systems says menopause support vital for staff and business

A company has been given specialist menopause friendly status - despite being predominantly male-dominated.

BAE Systems has rolled out menopause awareness training to more than 10,000 staff across its bases.

As a result it has became an accredited Menopause Friendly Employer in 2022, and says this illustrates its ongoing commitment to support staff.

It comes as menopausal women are the fastest-growing workplace demographic.

But with 1 in 4 women considering leaving work whilst experiencing menopause symptoms, employers risk losing highly skilled staff.

Vicky Bawa says making even small changes to support menopausal women has made a big difference Credit: ITV Granada

Vicky Bawa, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at BAE Systems said: "It's not about the big changes, it is the small things that are making the difference."

The company offers a range of workplace adjustments, from providing desktop fans to those experiencing hot flushes to flexible working and training for team leaders and senior staff.

She said: "It is important to BAE Systems, and imperative as a business.

"It is better to make an adjustment, changing someone's start or finish time, then losing that employee due to sickness or losing them altogether if they feel they have no choice but to leave."

Vicky says open conversations about the menopause are now taking place throughout the company, and are being embraced at all levels.

In the largest ever survey of menopausal and peri-menopausal women in the UK, The Fawcett Society found 44% of menopausal women in employment say their ability to work has been affected by their symptoms.

  • 8 in 10 menopausal women say their workplace has no basic support in place for them

  • 81% had no absence policies

  • 71% had no information sharing with staff

  • 79% had no support networks

  • 41% said menopause symptoms treated as a joke by people at work

Fiona Hitchcock says the company's menopause support groups help them to keep staff Credit: ITV Granada

It was only when Fiona Hitchcock, who works in BAE's HR Business Support got involved in the company's support group, Pause for Thought, she realised she was experiencing menopause symptoms.

"I wasn't aware at the time, but it gave me a reason for everything I had been going through in the last year."

She said: "Lots of people have left in previous years because of their lack of control over how they were feeling, but now the peer support has given people more confidence and it is making a difference in retaining staff."

BAE Systems is working with other employers to share their menopause guidance and some of their adjustments they have made.

This comes at a time when MPs have warned of a "haemorrhaging of talent from the workforce" as a result of the menopause.

Research reveals a million women in the UK have left jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms, with many more reducing their hours or passing up on promotion.

With menopause mainly affecting those in their late 40s and early 50s, this leads to women leaving work at the peak of their career, with knock-on effects on workplace productivity, the gender pay-gap and the gender pension gap.

Bootle MP Peter Dowd say the cost to the women and the economy by not providing menopause support runs in the billons Credit: ITV Granada

Peter Dowd, MP for Bootle, who is on the MPs All party Menopause Group, said: "We are losing qualified, highly trained fantastic female employees at a time when we need them most."

"There are figures suggesting ten billion pounds being the cost of lost productivity as a result of women coming out of the workforce or feeling they can't carry on any further."

He added: "77% of the 1.3m people working in the NHS are women. If even some of them leave because of the menopause and the impact is significant."

Jordan Hunter says the menopause awareness training has given him confidence to help support colleagues Credit: ITV Granada

Jordan Hunter, Head of Supply at BAE Systems Maritime division said the menopause awareness training has given him more understanding of his team.

"The real point for me, is that someone opened up to me about struggling with menopause in the workplace and none of our team had any idea what they were going through."

"I think that shows they were comfortable enough to raise it, that that says a lot for a big manufacturing company, it is a positive step."

Those who have taken up menopause friendly accreditation say the benefits include employee retention which reduces recruitment's costs, lower absence levels, and less risk of being taken to an employment tribunal.

But with just 30% of employers who have menopause policies, many women still may not be getting the support they need in their workplace.

Menopause fact file

What is the menopause?

  • The menopause is defined as 12 months since a woman last had a period.

  • The average age at which women start the menopause transition is 46 years. Periods usually stop by the age of 51.

  • The menopause itself is reached when the ovaries stop producing oestrogen.

  • Some women will experience menopause for reasons other than natural ageing. These include premature ovarian insufficiency or a chronic health condition that causes early menopause, or removal of their ovaries to reduce their risk of certain cancers or to alleviate pain associated with endometriosis.

The perimenopause

  • The perimenopause is classed as the time leading up to the menopause, this can occur for up to 10 years.

  • During this time a woman is likely to be experiencing symptoms due to changing hormone levels.

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What are the signs and symptoms of the menopause?

  • The most common symptoms are heavy bleeding, hot flushes, night sweats, emotional instability, vaginal dryness and bladder problems.

  • A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI, on behalf of the British Menopause Society, revealed 79% of women experience hot flushes and 70% experience night sweats.

  • Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating.

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What treatment is available?

Much can be done to help with symptoms during the menopause transition, including lifestyle changes, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and treatments for individual symptoms.

Lifestyle changes

  • Get plenty of rest, including a regular sleeping pattern.

  • Have a healthy diet and exercise regularly - weight-bearing activities (such as running and walking) are important to protect your bones.

  • Do relaxing things like yoga, tai chi or meditation which are good for general strength and flexibility and improve the pelvic floor.

  • Eat calcium-rich food like milk, yoghurt and kale to keep bones healthy.

  • Speak to other people going through the menopause.

  • The NHS advise people going through the menopause not to smoke or drink more than the recommended alcohol limit.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

  • The main medicine treatment for menopause and perimenopause symptoms is HRT.

  • HRT replaces the oestrogen that you lose during the menopause transition, either aloneor in combination with a progestogen.

  • It helps to alleviate menopausal symptoms and also reduces the long-term consequences of the menopause.

  • HRT can be delivered in many ways including tablets, patches, gels, a spray and implants.

  • From 1 April women prescribed HRT, can get access to a year’s worth of treatment for just under £20, The Department of Health says.

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Where can I get help and support?

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