Menopausal and disabled. Is this a comfortable fit?
Last week, Mandy Davies was reinstated in her job and awarded nearly £20,000 for hurt feelings and loss of income. Why? Because the judge, Lucy Wiseman, defined her very disruptive menopause as a disability.
See article. I suspect the gender of the judge led to a more enlightened perspective on the facts of the matter.
It appears Mandy Davies was having a very difficult menopause – heavy bleeding, anaemia, fuzzy thinking, anxiety, memory loss. No doubt she also joined us menopausettes suffering hot flushes, night sweats, itching and, with all of that, I would predict the odd mood swing or two. But her real issue was the intolerance of two men who, she informed may have sipped the cystitis medicine she was keeping in a jug. Their reaction? Did they show any decency and ask if she was alright? No. They went into a rant and accused her of trying to poison them and make them ‘grow boobs’. And who was accused of gross misconduct? You’ve guessed it – Mandy Davies.
Add to this the perfect irony – it all happened within the Scottish Court and Tribunal Service. There is no reporting of the two men being disciplined for bullying, harassment or gross misconduct.
But how do I feel about being deemed ‘disabled’?
A quick look at the government website tells us that:
‘You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’
And this means that ‘Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.’
I am not sure that any adjustment at work will make my menopause any easier. There are steps I can take to reduce the symptoms of hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, lower libido and anxiety which I do every day. But all my efforts cannot take away the prejudice so often meted out to women of my age. Being seen as ‘past her prime’, a ‘woman of a certain age’ or ‘going through the change’ is more disabling than a night sweat. Business needs to change attitudes and recognise menopause as a physical transition with transitory symptoms. They need to stop men (and yes it is only men) squirming and looking away when a woman has a hot flush; they need to become intolerant of intolerance to womens’ physical challenges; they need to accept that a bit of fuzzy thinking is manageable and not a business-risk; they need to ensure that women are able to accept their symptoms, speak about them and not feel they need to cover up their biology – because the stress of doing so just sets off the symptoms. Employers need to recognise that they are employing human beings and female human beings have hormonal shifts. It is not an embarrassing disaster to be taken to HR – it is just life.
Personally, I am belligerent in owning my symptoms. I refuse to describe myself as disabled. I am menopausal and proud of managing it. When I colour up like a belisha beacon and perspire I simply say ‘I am having a flush. It will pass. Carry on,’ in my best horsey accent. After three years it is still great fun to see the women give an encouraging smile and the men get a sudden and intense interest in their shoes. Ah – they just can’t take the heat!
So while I rejoice that Mandy Davies was given justice against an employer who should be the very embodiment of justice, I think business has a long way to go in understanding and accepting menopause as a normal phase for their female workforce. Women like Liv Garfield, Business Woman of the Year, are incorporating menopause awareness into their corporate culture. The rest are lagging behind. If only they would recognise that a little understanding goes a long, long way. Take away the psychological discomfort and the physical symptoms become something to just manage. The men would be less interested in their shoes too!
Rant over (though hopefully more constructive than the two old sots who bullied Mandy Davies!)