Opinion: The menopause debate heats up - should women get special sick leave?

OPINION: It was a great week for getting menopause back into the national conversation and driven by two of my mates and menopause allies - Paddy Gower and Ryan Bridge - as well as the two Chrises, Hipkins and Luxon.

Paddy put the question of whether women should get menopause leave to the leaders of the two major parties during our Newshub Leaders Debate this week - they both supported the idea.

Bridge then followed up on AM asking "why should women get special menopause leave?"

I was like, what the actual, my friend!? I thought you were on my side? Cornering him off-air, we entered into animated discourse around this question. 

For some context, two years ago, Ryan publicly drove this menopause conversation when very few others were, asking me to come onto the show to talk about what the hell was going on with me. As my friend who had counselled me through the symptoms many times, he created the inclusive environment I needed to talk about something so personal. And whether you agree with what he had to say about special leave this week he's driving the conversation again - so thank you, my friend.

In our conversation, he told me a pretty surprising thing. He said the show was flooded with emails after his sick leave comments - many from women supporting him, saying they don't want special attention, others saying their employers are mostly understanding if they needed to take extra days because of unmanageable symptoms.

When I ponder the change I really want see and further ponder the cost/benefit, I'm conflicted. Is extra leave really the answer, when - whether employers would ever admit it or not - the extra costs could give pause for thought when it comes to hiring an experienced, highly qualified woman?

But then, those highly qualified valuable menopausal employees might stay in their jobs through what can be - temporarily - a really challenging time if they had the extra leave entitlement. The companies could well need them.

One thing I do know for sure is I don't feel as strongly about this as I do about other issues that we menopausal women face. There are far bigger challenges in my view, around GP training and support, not to mention access, approvals and supply of MHT (Menopause Hormone Treatment).

More than anything, I just want to see an improvement in employers' awareness and education around menopause and how it may affect their female employees. It's simple and such a win/win - your highly skilled and experienced workforce of women are far more likely to function far better and more productively and stay in their jobs and careers with support. And those companies and workforces who introduce menopause guidelines off their own bat? They're bloody legends!

But you know what I'm stoked about? This genuinely amplified very public conversation we're all now having about menopause. It's helping to normalise a time that occurs in the lives of half the population, a time that swathes of women have suffered through and continue to suffer through in silence for so long without help.

So - menopause leave - yeah/nah?

I would love your thoughts on Paddy and Ryan's question - should women get special menopause leave? Employers reading, what are your thoughts? What kind of awareness do you have in your work environment around menopause and what companies here already have their own guidelines in place?

Let's keep the conversation going.

Kate Rodger is Newshub's entertainment editor.