Banks need menopause policies to retain pipeline of talent through to senior ranks, Standard Chartered says

Financial services firms are losing women from their pipelines of senior leaders because of a lack of workplace support for those going through the menopause, according to a study published October 18.

The report, Menopause in the Workplace: Impact on Women in Financial Services, from Standard Chartered and the Financial Services Skills Commission (FSSC), calls for all firms to put in place a policy for supporting their menopausal women and trans male employees. Managers also need training on how to talk about the menopause, the report said.

"There's a culture of silence around the menopause in financial services, with many women taking it on themselves to absorb the impacts of their experiences. A lack of understanding and support is impacting female progression and at times leading to women opting out of the workforce altogether," said Tanuj Kapilashrami, group head of human resources at Standard Chartered.

Around one in 10, or 128,000, of all women working in financial services is going through the menopause, according to the report. The menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but around 16% of women begin symptoms before 45, and 4% of women start the menopause in their 30s. Symptoms are both physical and mental, including anxiety and "mind fog", which are experienced by 63% and 58%, respectively, of all those going through the menopause.

"For too long the menopause has been a taboo subject in the workplace. Our research indicates the financial services sector could lose tens of thousands of women due to their experience of the menopause at work," said Claire Tunley, chief executive at the FSSC.

The report found that a lack of understanding and support meant that 25% of those going through the menopause were likely to leave the workforce, while 47% said they were unlikely to seek promotion.

Missing women

According to the most recent (April 5, 2020) UK gender pay gap figures, the financial services sector pay gap is more than double that of the UK as a whole — 34% compared with 14%.

One reason for the larger divide in financial services is the relatively lower percentage of women in the upper echelons of banks, insurers and asset management firms. HSBC has just 9% of women in its top quartile of earners, NatWest has 15%, Barclays 19%, Goldman Sachs 20% and Standard Chartered 22%.

Regulatory spotlight

The UK's financial regulators have been placing increasing focus on the diversity of financial institutions in recent years. In the summer, the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority jointly published a discussion paper on diversity. A diversity data collection pilot was issued to firms on October 4. The pilot is intended to ascertain what, and to what granularity, firms track diversity across their workforce.

Gender and age are both protected characteristics under UK employment law.

The report said that it was not enough to produce a menopause policy; firms needed to publicise that such policies existed. Good practice highlighted in the report includes that at HSBC, which hosts a weekly "lunch and learn" session on the menopause, and Virgin Money, which has a dedicated MS Teams chat for employees experiencing the menopause.

As a direct result of the research, Standard Chartered said it was changing its guidance to provide dedicated support and workplace adjustments for employees managing the menopause. These include offering flexible working, and access to counselling, education and awareness resources for all employees through the launch of a menopause guide, plus a dedicated advice for line managers and peer-to-peer support groups.

"This important report shines a spotlight on an issue which for too long has been overlooked in the workplace. Openly recognising and discussing the impact the menopause can have on women and their careers, and ensuring they have proper support, is the right thing to do both ethically and commercially. It is also essential to mitigating the potential fallout of talent in the workforce. This industry is one that prides itself on securing, developing and retaining the best talent, and given the menopause is something all women will experience, it is vital that it stops being treated as a taboo subject and that firms create an environment for women to thrive," said Miles Celic, chief executive at TheCityUK, and a board member of FSSC.

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