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How the Finance Sector Union is leading the menopause conversation

Menopause Friendly Australia CEO, Grace Molloy, recently spoke to Julia Angrisano, National Secretary about how the Finance Sector Union is leading the way to create change in the conversation and approach to menopause as a workplace issue. 

When Finance Sector Union (FSU) leaders sat down at their 2021 National Congress, they reflected on progress towards gender equality in the industry. While there were certainly significant wins to celebrate, the industry was still producing the largest gender pay gap year on year with little improvement over 20 years. 

So, they asked, ‘what’s next?’ and landed on better supporting workers suffering the symptoms of menopause and menstruation at work. Despite workers who menstruate comprising over half the workers in the finance industry, this is a largely hidden impact that can drive experienced workers to early retirement or hold them back from promotion, further exacerbating the pay disparity and negatively impacting workplace culture and wellbeing.  

A research-driven policy framework 

Drawing on the available Australian and international research, particularly the experience of finance workers in the UK, the FSU developed their Menopause and Menstrual Leave Policy Framework. 

This framework provides guidance for employers, managers, and employees on fostering an inclusive environment where open discussions about menopause are encouraged and supported. 

By acknowledging menopause and providing appropriate support, employers can improve workforce wellbeing, retain employees, improve productivity and support gender equity. 

The framework presents a simple and cost-effective approach to help people balance their personal needs with the requirements of their job, focusing on advice, flexibility and paid leave. 

  • Advice, information and education: Raising awareness and breaking taboos around menopause through open conversations, fostering allyship and equipping managers to provide validation, understanding and effective support to employees. 
  • Workplace flexibility: Offering flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, staggered hours and part-time options to help balance health and job requirements. In the office, the difference can be as simple as providing desk fans or proximity to bathrooms. 
  • Paid leave: Providing 12 days of paid leave for symptoms related to menstruation and menopause, benchmarked to the UK experience and leading examples like the Victorian Women’s Trust. This additional leave recognises that menstruation and menopause are not illnesses, they are normal biological processes. 

The FSU have seen early success with employers such as CBUS, Police Bank and West Super agreeing to the framework in both collective agreements and at policy level. 

The CBUS experience: Positive return on investment 

CBUS is an industry superannuation fund, employing about 700 people.  

In 2021, CBUS was first in the Australian finance industry to include 12 days paid menopause and menstrual leave in their collective agreement with the FSU agreement, as well as other flexible work arrangements. 

Since then, CBUS has reported a total take up of around only 40 days of paid menopause leave, with a positive return on investment in workplace culture and engagement. 

They have seen a positive shift in the discourse around menopause and menstruation at all levels, including senior management and executive leadership, with more open and supportive conversations about menopause. This has created a safer space for employees to seek support, enhancing productivity and engagement, and with workers reporting they feel more comfortable than they did before the last agreement. 

This positive CBUS experience can give other employers confidence in their conversations about implementing the framework. 

Breaking the taboo – a growing national conversation 

Historically, menopause has been a taboo topic, often met with embarrassment or silence, but an emerging public conversation in Australia has seen state governments exploring broader issues of women’s health and the instigation of a federal government senate inquiry into issues related to menopause and perimenopause. 

The FSU are taking advantage of this growing public discourse to have very deliberate conversations with employers about adopting the framework. 

Breaking the taboo is critical. For policies and frameworks to be effective, workplaces and their leaders must provide psychologically safe spaces, and this means normalising conversations about menopause and ensuring an informed, positive and supportive response.  

When workers experiencing the symptoms of menopause feel comfortable discussing their situation, they can seek the necessary accommodations and support.  

Recognising this, the FSU’s submission to the senate inquiry recommends a public education campaign to build greater awareness and understanding of the breadth of menopause symptoms, not only for those experiencing the symptoms but also for their colleagues, managers, friends and families. 

In addition, the FSU has recommended the government amend the Fair Work Act to include a right for a worker who is suffering from menopausal symptoms to apply for a flexible work arrangement, with a right to appeal, noting that laying the foundations of awareness through public education will make conversations about flexible work much easier for everyone. 

Informing future policy with Australian data 

The FSU are relaunching their Menopause and Menstrual Leave Policy alongside updated data exploring the state of the industry and how workers are feeling captured in the FSU’s own research conducted in 2023. 

By listening directly to those affected, the FSU research provides rich data and case studies to further inform the conversation about the impact of menopause in the Australian context and what workers need, and further build the rationale for action. 

Through the research, more than 75% of people reporting that menopause was having an impact on their work chose not to disclose that status at work. The reasons for not disclosing included fears around stigma, negative perceptions and age discrimination, as well as a sense of it being a ‘private matter’.  

For the small group who reported feeling safe to disclose, this was because they had a supportive manager or because their manager was a woman. This is particularly significant in the highly gender-segregated finance industry where almost 60% of managers are men, a percentage that increases with seniority. 

Better education about menopause in the workplace, supported by appropriate policies and practices, is essential to create environments where people feel safe and comfortable discussing their symptoms and seeking support, rewarding organisations who can attract and retain wise and capable workers and their valuable contributions. 

Menopause Friendly Australia works with organisations committed to becoming menopause friendly, guiding them through approaches in key areas of the workplace. Once an organisation meets the rigorous criteria for approval, they will be accredited as Menopause Friendly. 

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