The Bank’s deputy governor described the UK economy as ‘menopausal’. This type of bias has no place in modern thinking
According to the Bank of England’s deputy governor, the UK economy is entering a “menopausal” era. What could he mean, I wondered. When I discovered that he used this phrase to indicate that the economy is past its peak and “no longer potent”, I was astonished.
As a “mature” woman, I found the comments offensive and demeaning. Not only are these stereotypes dangerous, they are utterly wrong. In fact, millions of menopausal women are in, or are yet to enter, their prime.
Ben Broadbent has now apologised, and no doubt he is truly sorry, but the fact that he made these comments clearly indicates these are his views. This type of bias, whether conscious or unconscious, has no place in modern thinking. Such language signals an attitude to older women that should have been consigned to the history books by now, but clearly persists.
Indeed, as a champion for older workers, I am aware that these comments are a classic example of the gender bias that permeates the workplace all too often, and prevents many older women from achieving the status they deserve. In some industries, women are locked out of promotions, and career progression stops once they reach their late 40s or 50s.
This is not the first time the Bank of England has been in hot water for its attitudes to women. Of the nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee, only one is female. Its gender pay gap report last year showed that men at the Bank are paid 25% more than women on average. And five years ago it decided to withdraw the only female face on sterling currency notes, without planning to replace her with another woman.
Let me explain more precisely why these remarks are so worrying. They send out a signal to women in business – from younger women who are trying to build a career to older ones – that such derogatory attitudes may still permeate the business world from the very top.
To be clear, the idea that the menopause signals that a woman has passed her peak productivity must be rebutted in the strongest terms. They are not past their peak at all – they are just moving into a new phase of their life, which can often be more dynamic. They have more wisdom, maturity and life experience, which can make them more productive and energetic. Each woman experiences menopause differently, but the idea that it signals some kind of female slowdown is simply not true.
As business champion for older workers, when writing my report calling for greater support for people over 50 in employment I described the menopause as the “last taboo” of health issues in the workplace. Women don’t talk about this, and the fact that so many women do not discuss it openly means there may be an element of shame. If women talked about it, perhaps men might understand it more.
There is nothing to be ashamed of; this is just a temporary health issue, with no significance for work or performance. Mental health is discussed openly now, whereas it used to be hidden away, so come on, ladies – let’s show the men that we will not tolerate being unfairly stigmatised in this way. Menopause hot flushes are actually what I call “power surges” and the body changes can even be liberating.
It’s time to shout out about the value of women of all ages and get rid of the old-fashioned, damaging gender biases that have held sway at the top of the male-dominated business world for far too long.
• Ros Altmann is the UK government’s older workers’ business champion