Drivers and the Menopause

16 April 2019

Deborah Reay, Northern Line Branch Secretary and Chair of ASLEF's Women's Representative Committee, writes for the May 2019 ASLEF Journal, available soon:

 

The railway industry, as it began, and developed, in the 19th century, was designed for men. Facilities, policies, uniform and ergonomics were all geared to suit the male driver. Well, why wouldn't it be? There were no female drivers, so why would you cater for them?

 

Last year we marked 40 years since the first woman drove a train in Britain – Hannah Dodds, the first female London Underground driver, passed out on 5 October 1978 and began driving tube trains on the District Line – but the industry has been slow to adapt to these 'strange creatures'.

 

'They want a uniform that fits a female body? What an outrage!' 'They want a seat which is adaptable for shorter arms and wider hips? Perish the thought!' 'They want a policy that deals with a change in life that they have no control over? They’re having a laugh!'

 

Actually, no, we’re not having a laugh; it is estimated that around one in three female drivers are approaching, or already experiencing, the menopause, but most companies are not equipped to deal with it as, previously, the driving workforce was all male.

 

Whilst the rail industry could be criticised for not having the forethought to predict this, criticism won't solve the problem. Menopause policies could.

 

The average age at which a woman reaches menopause is 51, but it ranges between about 45 and 55. Hormonal changes can last, on average, for six years.

 

Whilst some women sail through the menopause, others suffer badly and experience symptoms ranging from hot flushes and night sweats to poor psychological health and depression.

 

Passenger train operating companies (TOCs) and freight operating companies (FOCs) need to ensure that all line managers have been trained to be aware of how the menopause can affect work and what adjustments may be necessary to support women going through it.

 

Sickness policies should be flexible enough to ensure that they meet the needs of menopausal woman. Women should not be penalised because they need time off during their menopause.

 

ASLEF has been proactive on this – more than most TOCs and FOCs – and created a policy five years ago. Whilst the ASLEF policy has to be generic, ideally it would be the starting point for company councils to raise it through the machinery and get a TOC- or FOC-specific policy in the workplace.

 

The gauntlet has been thrown!

Some of ASLEF's women driver members

 

To read the rest of the May 2019 journal - a special equalities edition - and previous journals, click here.

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