Is Your Workplace Menopause Aware?6 min read
Here’s a startling reminder for you – or a wake-up call, if you didn’t already know. There is no prevention for menopause in women, because every single woman will go through it at some point after puberty.
This was one of many stark messages I and a group of fellow professionals reflected on today at a fascinating and inspiring event with the author Freddy Carrick that I was honoured to host.
Freddy is the author of Menopause Unzipped and was invited by the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), of which I am UK Diversity & Inclusion Lead, to present on the impact of the menopause in the workplace.
Specifically, she guided us through what we can all do in the workplace to support our employees, male and female, going through symptoms typically associated with female menopause (but also commonly suffered by men too if undergoing treatment for prostate cancer).
The information and advice she gave us during that hour are too important to be confined to that meeting so I’d love to share what we learnt with anyone affect by these issues. Believe it or not, that’s just about all of us to some extent or other.
What is the menopause?
When the ovaries get older, they slow down the production of eggs. So there’s an incremental reduction in the supply of progesterone, testosterone and of circulating oestrogen. Oestrogen is “the oil in the finely-tuned mechanics of the female and without it more than 35 symptoms can erupt,” Freddy explained.
The normal age for a woman to go through her menopause is 51 but around 5% of women will be younger than 45 – and 1% will be even younger. The definition of ‘menopause’ is that a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a menstrual bleed.
The earliest phase of menopause we know is called the perimenopause and the average age when symptoms of perimenopause begin is 45. Those symptoms will usually last between four and 12 years.
So how does it affect women?
As Freddy put it: “When a woman’s life is going well with children growing up, she has a partner, is enjoying life, can afford to take regular holidays, is working full time, maybe her career is going gangbusters….one day things just don’t feel the same.”
The symptoms are unique to every woman. Some women will have very few symptoms in the early part of menopause and then, later on, they come back to bite her. Other women will suffer terribly from anxiety and night sweats and then feel nothing for years.
I’m going to quote Freddy directly again:
“The emotional toll of menopause should cause many of us to be concerned, because these symptoms are really subtle and incremental. A woman who was once quick witted and sharp loses her thread of conversation.
“She feels her identity is gone. She was fast and professional; now she’s forgetful and disorganised. Can you imagine the feeling of slipping deeper into insanity on a daily basis and you don’t understand why?
“If you have a senior employee who can’t remember an important client’s name or details about your relationship with them, it’s embarrassing. But menopause tends to put a wet blanket over the brain in stressful situations.”
“Many women find instructions need to be repeated because their short-term memory is impaired, and this can be frustrating. It can easily lead a manager to start using performance management measures.
“And that has catastrophic results to a woman in menopause. It mostly leads to her slowly quitting her job.”
How does this relate to the workplace?
More stats from Freddy:
- Some 75% to 80% of women globally are in work and at any time;
- 82% of older female workers will experience menopausal symptoms which could impact on their working life; and
- One in four women say they do not feel they have been supported by their line manager in a discussion on menopause.
Freddy explained how symptoms are often talked down by managers and doctors.
“Until the last three or four years, it’s been acceptable to talk about female menopause as the end of her fertility. A time when a sex hormones are no longer produced. So, for generations, women have been told by doctors to simply get on with it.
“It’s normal it will pass and after a couple of years of hot flashes and some chaotic monthly bleeding, it will all be over. What’s the problem?
“The problem is that categorising the menopause in this way diminishes it, and this has created the feelings of shame and embarrassment for every single woman who is not being able to simply get on with it.
“Without recognised channels of support for discussions, the stigma of going through menopause and potentially being seen as the messy, sweaty older woman is unbearable for many even, and this is such a popular thing everywhere I look.”
So what kind of a company are you?
Freddy told us we can differentiate our companies as a more considerate employer and one that believes in total gender equality, by becoming ‘menopause aware’.
One way might be to place posters in full view within the workplace washrooms to inform about the menopause and prostate problems. Another might be to consider the length of in-house meetings and allow for regular, half hourly comfort breaks. Employees could also be encouraged to be willing to step up and offer a conversation opener if they see a colleague or friend who’s suffering.
These are just a few ideas and, during the Q&A at the end of Freddy’s talk, she suggested companies appointing ‘menopause champions’ to pull those thoughts together and drive them forward. What a wonderful suggestion!
Surely we can all agree that no workplace can achieve anything like its full potential if the menopause is allowed to become a major cause of suffering and dissatisfaction?
As ever, Freddy had a perfect form of words to express this problem:
“In the UK, a woman needs to work until she’s 67 before she achieves a state pension. It’s a long time to live without oestrogen. So it makes no physical sense in the workplace to allow those women to fade away. When you see the women in your company transform because you have a menopause policy, your CFO is going to actually notice the profits increasing.
“If you’re not already menopause aware, your female employees, no matter their status, might not feel safe to discuss their health issues without fear of being side-lined or refused promotion.
“Until you have adequate policies and procedures, your company will struggle to be a safe place for women to flourish throughout their 50s and 60s.”
For further reading, please buy Freddy Carrick’s book, “Menopause Unzipped: how to emerge as a goddess”.