AMANDA PLATELL: I have profound misgivings about this plan… As a proud feminist, I believe giving special treatment to menopausal women is a ticket to career oblivion
Female staff of menopausal age in the health service will be allowed to work from home, have flexible shift patterns or switch to lighter duties.
So says Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, who is offering them a ‘menopause passport’.
It is clearly a well-intentioned move and one which, predictably, has been met with glee in certain circles.
Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, who chairs Menopause Mandate, for example, is delighted, insisting ‘it isn’t a concession — it’s common sense’, and that employers should support a menopausal woman in the same way they should a woman struggling with pregnancy.
Carolyn Harris, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause, agrees, saying we should all welcome the development — and issues a stern warning to male workers who might be tempted to raise an eyebrow.
Amanda Pritchard, CEO of NHS England, takes part in a panel discussion at the CBI Annual Conference. She has offered a ‘menopause passport’ to women working in the health service who are going through it
‘Any man who thinks that [the menopause] is a walk in the park has got another thing coming,’ she thundered.
All jolly good. But even though I am a proud feminist whose fervent wish is to see women properly respected in the workplace, I have to confess to profound misgivings about this plan.
First of all, the timing of such a radical change is all wrong. How can we possibly afford to allow potentially tens of thousands of NHS workers — more than one million of its 1.3 million staff are women, one-fifth of whom are of menopausal age — to relax their working conditions during the unprecedented crisis facing the health service?
It’s not just the record 7.1 million people on the waiting list, or the 30,000 poor souls enduring 12-hour waits in A&E but the fact that, as Pritchard herself admitted in a meeting last month with NHS heads, ‘the financial situation facing the NHS is a f***ing nightmare’.
So in what kind of parallel universe could it be wise to choose this moment to reduce or change the working hours of so many staff and allow some of them to work from home?
Which intensive care nurse or cancer specialist or paramedic or hospital cleaner could do their job from home?
Surely the primary purpose of the NHS must be to meet the needs of the patients rather than NHS staff.
To put it bluntly, should a woman’s hot flushes take priority over the pain being suffered by a middle-aged woman waiting for months, or years, for a hip replacement; or another whose treatment for breast cancer has been delayed . . . again? Because the inevitable consequence of Pritchard’s menopause plan would be women working less effectively and patients served less efficiently.
Second, not content with hindering the NHS, Pritchard wants to inflict her menopausal masterplan on other businesses. At the Confederation of Business Industry annual conference this week, she urged other firms to embrace her blueprint.
Mariella Frostup attends the UK Gala screening of ‘Matilda The Musical’. She has called plans to allow women going through menopause to work from home and have more flexible patterns ‘common sense’
The CBI represents 190,000 businesses mostly in the private sector. And I would wager that bosses listening to her might have a very different view on her prescription for women workers.
Tellingly, though she has risen to the top of the state sector after joining the NHS Management Training Scheme straight from university and commands a salary over £255,000, she has never run a private business herself.
This perhaps explains the sheer naivety of putting a woke menopausal agenda before the needs of the NHS.
Having been a boss in the private sector, I have some experience of what makes a business profitable. And it is not giving a free WFH pass or special conditions to a huge chunk of your workforce.
What business can afford this kind of special dispensation for its workers? How can you plan for the future of your company when a fifth of your permanent staff’s approach to work becomes unpredictable because of these flexible arrangements.
I accept some women suffer terribly during the menopause — from anxiety, brain fog, depression, hot flushes and panic attacks. I accept some would benefit from a menopause passport. But they are, thankfully, the minority.
Many of us experience some pretty unpleasant times, as I did, but it was neither life-changing nor overly debilitating.
But there’s a third consequence of Ms Pritchard’s plan and, to my mind, a deeply pernicious one.
The assumption that all middle-aged women fall into a terrible, inconsolable heap during ‘the change’ is, in some cruel way, to write us off, to marginalise us.
Carolyn Harris, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Menopause, in parliament. She says we should all welcome the development
What’s more, it paints us as victims who are unable to hold our own in the workplace unless we are given preferential conditions.
And this, in turn, could lead to resentment, not just from men who get no free passes, but also women who are not of menopausal age.
The fact is that colleagues will have to pick up the slack and work harder when they discover at short notice their valuable co-worker is off for who knows how long.
That is not good for working relationships and it is not fair. We already have ‘period passes’ in some workplaces, where women can claim time off at that time of the month.
Of course, businesses have long had generous maternity and now paternity leave in place, but do we women really want to add yet more special dispensations simply because we were born with a womb?
More worrying is that, when it comes to promotion, no boss will put someone at the top of their list who is there part-time and can choose what hours they work.
It’s not just human nature, it’s the reality of business. The grafters are the ones who make it to the top, and successful women have always been workplace grafters, not the stay-at-homers.
‘Menopause passports’ paint women victims who are unable to hold their own in the workplace unless they are given preferential conditions, writes Amanda Platell (stock image)
Which all boils down to the fact that Pritchard’s plan, rather than improving women’s working lives — and it may do in the short term — will hinder their chances in the long run. Supporters are basically talking themselves out of the workplace.
Working women who started at the bottom of the career ladder know how hard it is to get to the top. We also know we’re still far outnumbered by men in the top jobs — only nine of the FTSE 100 company bosses are female.
What makes us ‘thrive’ at work is being given opportunities, being treated as equals with men, and not being given special allowances for our sex.
We need to have confidence that talent and hard graft will bring us respect and satisfaction in any job we choose, however big or small; we don’t want to be treated as fragile creatures.
Far from emancipating middle-aged female staff, Pritchard’s plan would sideline us for a lengthy period of our working life and only make it harder for us to succeed.
It is anti-feminist, anti-working woman and will set back the cause of women for a generation. And the menopause passport? That would simply give us a one-way ticket to career oblivion.
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