The Countess of Wessex has hailed women aged 50-plus as “even more fabulous” than in their forties as she backed a campaign to highlight the “tragic” impact the menopause can have on them in the workplace.
Sophie joined the launch of the Menopause Workplace Pledge by health charity Wellbeing of Women, which is calling on all employers to sign up and support women going through the menopause.
An estimated 900,000 women in the UK have quit their jobs due to the menopause, with research showing many struggle to manage their symptoms at work.
The Queen’s daughter-in-law Sophie took part in a roundtable discussion with Wellbeing of Women chair Professor Dame Lesley Regan and TV presenter Gabby Logan among others, and warned women should not feel they have to “slope off into the shadows”.
“To think that women are having to leave the workplace because of (the menopause) is just tragic,” the countess said.
“We are fabulous in our 40s, and we are even more fabulous in our 50s, 60s and 70s, and we need to celebrate that and keep those opportunities going for women.
“Together, we can support the thousands of women out there who form the backbone of our workforce.
“We cannot let anybody leave that workforce unfulfilled and also feeling that they have got to slope off into the shadows. It’s not right and we’ve got to be able to change that.”
Sophie, who is patron of Wellbeing of Women, opened up about her own experience of the menopause earlier this year – the first member of the royal family to do so at length in public.
The 56-year-old countess described hot flushes, memory loss and brain fog – all symptoms of the menopause.
She spoke of losing her train of thought on royal engagements and feeling as if somebody had taken her brain out.
Three in four women will experience menopause symptoms and one in four will have severe symptoms, such as anxiety, brain fog, poor concentration, fatigue, hot flushes and irregular and heavy bleeding, research has shown.
The roundtable heard from Barbara Claypole, who shared how she had to leave her job as a senior manager after going through the menopause following a hysterectomy.
“I just really felt completely alone. It was as though no-one in my workplace had ever talked about menopause before,” Ms Claypole said.
“It was like they had never heard of women and menopause, and didn’t understand the impact it can have on your performance at work.”
To find out more about menopause symptoms, treatments and when to get help, visit:
— Wellbeing of Women (@WellbeingofWmen) May 13, 2021
Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Menopause, described her own experience, saying she went from “belting out Hey Big Spender on the karaoke to being in a pink anorak with the hood up for six months thinking I was having a nervous breakdown”.
She said she spent 11 years on antidepressants before starting to wean herself off after beginning HRT recently.
“The menopause is a fact of life. We have got to stop pretending it will go away if we don’t talk about it,” she added.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist Professor Dame Lesley said: “In the UK, there are nearly five million women working aged between 45-60.
“The majority of these women will go through the menopause, which frequently coincides with the peak of their careers, a time when they are at their most successful and productive.
“It is encouraging that many employers can and are taking steps to support employees struggling in the workplace.
“We hope many more will sign our pledge to ensure no woman is left behind.”
PwC, HarperCollins UK, Santander UK, Tesco, Severn Trent, Aster Group, Bupa, Hello! magazine, Standard Chartered and First Direct are among the companies which have already signed up.
Natasha Adams, chief of people at Tesco, said the supermarket firm plans to introduce a more breathable fabric into employee uniforms from next year to help women with hot flushes, and also has guidance, training and dedicated support in place.
The Menopause Workplace Pledge, in partnership with Hello! magazine and supported by Bupa, calls on all organisations to commit to recognising that the menopause is an issue in the workplace; talking openly, positively and respectfully about it; and to actively supporting employees.