“Menopause Power is going to require a massive cultural and medical shift. The silence around the menopause needs to become a cacophony and, one day, a symphony.” Kate Muir, Journalist and TV Producer
Half of the world’s population have or will experience the menopause and yet there remains a strong taboo surrounding it, especially in the workplace. Gender bias and a lack of understanding are undoubtedly at play and the result is that the women suffer unnecessarily with mental and physical symptoms alongside ageism and sexism.
According to a recent survey, one third of women hide symptoms and there is little wonder why. Fear of being stereotyped, ridiculed or harassed coupled with the worry that managers will assume they are not performing as well as expected or deny them upcoming opportunities all contribute to women not talking about the menopause.
The culture of shame around this normal life stage means that women don’t get the help they need or feel able to talk about their experiences. Many women experience symptoms which impact their quality of life, including anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, hot flashes, and forgetfulness. Symptoms will vary in severity and duration but can last up to 12 years. When women do seek medical help, General Practitioners (GPs) are frequently not trained in treating menopausal symptoms, often declining to treat them altogether.
Workplaces are often not accommodating to the natural life experience and needs of women during this time. This should be of particular concern to employers because the general age range for experiencing menopausal symptoms- 40s and 50s - coincides with women stepping into leadership roles. Results from a UK survey suggest 1 in 4 women consider dropping out of the workforce because of menopausal symptoms. With their departure is an immense loss of talent and experience at a time when female representation and leadership is sorely needed – on company boards, as CEOs, on executive committees, and overall workforce participation.
However, there is a change afoot. A new, louder conversation about the menopause is starting to take place. More women are educating themselves and their employers, speaking out instead of suffering in silence. One example is the #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign, which is gaining support in the UK for menopause training for all GPs and workplace menopause policies.
But much more needs to be done – quickly. How do we shift a taboo? By making it visible, sharing our experiences and taking action.
Employers can take steps to ease this transition for female employees, by challenging the stigma associated with the menopause. Resources are available for managers to support employees and make small changes that help organisations navigate this issue and retain female talent. Individuals can refer to resources listed here and here.
As a society, we need to encourage women to be open with sharing stories of experiencing the menopause and we all can do more to listen to friends, family and colleagues going through this life stage. At TWF, we are sharing our own experiences with the menopause, incorporating discussions on this topic with our Mentoring Programme participants and Alumni and exploring further avenues to raise awareness to our communities.
Let’s openly talk about the menopause, let’s educate ourselves and raise awareness with our friends, partners, colleagues and employers. Let’s shift the shame and stigma and break this long held taboo that discriminates against mid age women, enabling and empowering this undervalued group to fully thrive in our workplaces and contribute to our society.
Get in touch at Fiona.Nott@twfhk.org.