Gillian Martin said menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace, but cautioned against legislation in case it further dissuaded employers from hiring and retaining older women.
The Aberdeenshire East MSP was speaking at a conference organised by Know Your Menopause, a campaign group that aims to make sure women, GPs, and employers are aware of the symptoms of “the change” and how women can be supported.
Around one-third of the UK’s female population are either peri or post-menopausal. It is estimated one in four will suffer debilitating symptoms that can last more than a decade.
Ms Martin said: "Menopause is not taken seriously. It is considered something to joke about, but for women experiencing hot flushes, insomnia, or menstrual flooding, it is not at all funny.
"It can be painfully embarrassing for women to even raise the fact that they have these symptoms with their employer or HR department, and that they may need time off, or the flexibility to work from home to deal with them, so the impetus has to come from the top down.
"Employers need to ask their female members of staff – all of them because some women can experience very early onset of menopause – if they need support, and then put in place policies which allow that, and which ultimately will ensure they do not lose experienced staff.”
A 2019 survey by Bupa and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found 59 per cent of working women aged 45 to 55 experiencing the menopause reported its negative impact on them at work, with the most common issues a reduced ability to concentrate, stress and a lack of patience.
Nearly a third of women said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms, but only a quarter had felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.
Another survey, by the Newson Health Menopause and Wellbeing Centre, found a third of women had considered reducing their working hours or even leaving their job as a result of menopause.
In July, the House of Commons women and equalities committee launched an inquiry into menopause and the workplace. The Scottish Government has also published a women’s health plan, which it says will deliver a menopause and menstrual health workplace policy to be promoted across the public, private and third sectors.
Ms Martin said: “One of the things I’m wary about, however, is that this should not become another issue which makes employers wary of hiring women. Employment law is reserved, but we know there’s unconscious bias in the employment of women, which would make me wary of legislating in this area.
"If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that many jobs can be flexible, and this should show employers they can use this to the advantage of their female staff. In some sectors, such as nursing or caring working from home isn’t an option so there needs to be flexibility around breaks which might be needed at short notice.
"Smokers seem to get more flexibility in workplaces than women with flooding periods. It’s time that changed.”