PINSENT Masons has long been known as a diversity champion, with its work on LGBT inclusion in particular earning the firm a regular slot at the top of the charity Stonewall’s annual Workplace Equality Index.

Yet when Katharine Hardie succeeded Richard Masters as chair of the firm’s Scottish and Northern Irish business last year, there was one area in particular she could see still needed to be addressed: menopause awareness.

“We’re very focused on the wellbeing of our staff,” Ms Hardie said.

“I’ve worked with a number of women who are roughly the same age as me and over the last few years a number of us have had different symptoms.

“When we talked about them we realised they were probably menopause symptoms that none of us recognised because we’ve never had the menopause.”

Those women got together to form a menopause support group in the firm’s Edinburgh office to both give themselves a place to come to discuss their concerns and to raise awareness among colleagues about the impact the menopause can have.

They called that group Fan Club because, Ms Hardie said, “the policy around the menopause is that if you have a hot flush you can ask for a fan”.

It is exactly the kind of policy that is to be expected in a business that was created by men and, at the senior level at least, continues to be dominated by men.

Even in an organisation like Pinsent Masons, which has for years been coming up with policies designed to nurture and include people from a range of diverse backgrounds, females made up just 26 per cent of the partnership following last year’s promotions round.

Though the pace of change remains slow - in Pinsent Masons and the rest of the profession - the creation of Fan Club highlights that things are moving in the right direction.

Women have long outnumbered men in junior-lawyer ranks, but the work firms like Pinsent Masons have done to encourage women to return after career breaks and, crucially, progress following career breaks, is starting to make a difference to partnership demographics.

In Scotland, while there is still a notable gender imbalance at the senior end, most major firms are now either led or co-led by women. Until now, the focus across the profession has been on helping women find ways to balance their working lives with the commitment of bringing up children, but Ms Hardie believes the fact so many women are now in such senior positions is allowing the conversation to finally turn to the needs of those more mature women. That, in turn, should help firms retain them.

“At one of the discussion groups I went to a senior woman was talking about her experience of horrible night sweats and not being able to sleep. For the other people hearing that it was really insightful,” she said.

“Being able to share your experiences with others and knowing that you’re not going mad, or that you can say to people that you’re feeling anxious and need to go home, is important.

“Menopause is the last taboo subject; it hasn’t really hit people’s radars yet because there haven’t been senior enough people able to talk up about it.”

The importance of talking up about, and so understanding, this final taboo was highlighted in 2018 when the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) lost a discrimination case brought against it by court officer Mandy Davies.

Despite an unblemished service record spanning 20 years, Ms Davies had been sacked for gross misconduct following an incident relating to medication she was taking. The tribunal ruled that the menopause had impacted on Ms Davies’s ability to carry out her day-to-day job and that the service should have taken that into account. The SCTS was ordered to pay Ms Davies £19,000 and reinstate her job.

The service subsequently lodged an appeal against that decision, but the ruling, which relied on the definition of disability given in the Equality Act 2010, prompted a number of law firms to sit up and take note. Months after the case was heard Irwin Mitchell laid on a workshop to educate staff about the menopause while last year Glasgow-based consultancy Law at Work ran a series of events for World Menopause Awareness Day to help employers understand how to support menopausal women in the workplace.

This year Pinsent Masons is making the menopause one of three topics it will focus on as part of its mental health awareness work. For Ms Hardie, though, educating colleagues will never be enough if those people experiencing the menopause are not given the space to talk about their experiences too, which is why Fan Club has already expanded into Glasgow with Birmingham and London groups in the offing too.

“People want to talk about it and the firm embraces that,” she said.