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Attitudes to menopause leave: What women want

Research 21 Feb 2024
Woman with a tablet in the office

The voices of everyday women in Australia are sometimes lost in the national chatter about menstrual and menopause leave. That’s a mistake, according to Sarah White, CEO of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. Here she explains why and argues that any leave must also consider those affected by other conditions, including chronic pain.

In the latest release of the findings from the 2023 National Women’s Health Survey, conducted by Jean Hailes, women in Australia revealed their attitudes to menstrual and menopause leave.

Most felt it was embarrassing to tell their employer that they were menstruating or experiencing menopausal symptoms and a high number thought that employers would use menstrual or menopause leave as an excuse to discriminate against them.

Alarmingly, more than four in five of the women surveyed felt that some employers or workmates would not be understanding if they were to ask for leave because of bothersome (heavy, irregular, or painful) periods or bothersome menopausal symptoms.

For Sarah White, CEO of Jean Hailes, the real value in the findings was in hearing the voices of diverse women across Australia.

“We’re aware that there has been a lot of discussion in the larger community around workplace leave for women who are experiencing bothersome periods or bothersome menopausal symptoms,” she explains.

“But there has been little investigation into the barriers women think they might face in the workplace if menstrual or menopause leave were to be introduced and they were to request or take this sort of leave.”

Dr White believes that in any discussion about women’s health leave or other flexible workplace arrangements, it’s important to also include those women affected by conditions like chronic pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, and pelvic pain. “Women’s health is so much more than just sexual and reproductive health,” she says.

“Women’s health is about conditions that affect women only, conditions that affect women more, and women differently. Consider conditions like migraine or fibromyalgia, which affect significantly more women than men. Don’t women suffering from those conditions also deserve flexibility in the workplace?

"Our survey suggests that women are supportive of additional paid leave needed to manage any health issue or condition and not specifically supportive of menstrual or menopause leave."

However, she believes that work needs to be done before any sort of women’s health leave is introduced to ensure women are not disadvantaged or discriminated against in the workplace. Some of that work would centre on shifting mindsets and considering whether leave – or some other workplace provisions – are better suited to individual needs.

“It’s important to change society’s attitudes to women’s health as part of normalising discussion of, amongst other things, menstruation and menopause,” she says.

“Some women are quite affected by bothersome periods and bothersome menopausal symptoms and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. We need to work towards a societal norm of employees, their managers and colleagues being able to talk about accommodations for periods and menopause in the same way as we would about accommodations for a sprained ankle.

“This normalisation has to occur at a whole population level because it’s no good if a woman feels comfortable talking about a topic but the people she’s talking to feel uncomfortable in discussing these topics.

“This sort of public education campaign would also relieve some of the concerns women have about being disadvantaged at work if they take leave.”

Dr White also noted that more work needs to be done to reflect the needs of women in rural and regional Australia, women from multicultural communities, women with a disability, people from the LGBTIQA+ community (some of these issues will be relevant to trans men and trans women), as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

The role of Jean Hailes, Dr White says, is to work diligently to hear the voices of women and gender diverse people across Australia and to ensure those voices are heard by decision-makers.

“At Jean Hailes, we feel it’s critical for all women to have their say as part of our efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of women and gender diverse people across Australia. Our job is to ask questions, and then feed that information back to government and other agencies so that women’s experiences and views are part of shaping positive changes in the workplace and elsewhere.”

Learn more about the survey.

All rea­son­able steps have been tak­en to ensure the infor­ma­tion cre­at­ed by Jean Hailes Foun­da­tion, and pub­lished on this web­site is accu­rate as at the time of its creation. 

Last updated: 
16 April 2024
Last reviewed: 
16 April 2024