Equality and menopause
Do you think talking about menopause in the workplace helps or hinders equality?
It’s a big question. Going back nearly 4 years, when we started working with organisations to open up the topic, it divided opinion. It was unheard of then – what’s menopause got to do with work anyway?
We had feedback from women who’d been through menopause and didn’t see the need. Others said that after years of fighting hard for their place in senior roles, highlighting something that could make them look like the ‘weaker’ sex makes it harder to progress or even be taken seriously. We were even asked to shut up about it.
But no, we won’t. We believe enabling menopause to be talked about openly, empowering people to understand what it is and what they can do will help equality.
The bigger risk is doing nothing. Pretending it doesn’t happen, letting people struggle unnecessarily and letting myths dominate facts.
From years of experience and thorough research, we know that menopause was already getting in the way of equality. Symptoms can be a problem for many women progressing, no longer feeling able to put themselves forward for the promotion they’d have given their right arm for before menopause. On top of that, there are those who consider or actually leave work as a result of their menopause experience.
It’s a silent problem that will continue to grow unless we do something about it. We have the solution now but need to accelerate. Granted, it needs a balanced approach, not over sensationalising. Menopause has always been around, as long as there have been women and they’ve lived long enough.
A different time, a new generation
The fact is, we’re living and working in a different time. Menopausal women have been the fastest growing demographic at work for decades in the UK and, for that matter, the global north. One in three workers are over 50, and nearly half of these women.
We’re the first generation with this workforce gender and age mix. We do have different needs and it pays employers to help those who hit a bump in the road during the menopause transition.
It can be done, and more easily than many realise. Through all the programmes we’ve implemented, so many truly thank their employers for taking menopause seriously. Employers have experienced the benefits with no ‘side effects’. We’ve never seen queues of women asking for help or reasonable adjustments employers can’t easily meet. For many women, knowing their employer understands and cares is enough. For those who do need support, small changes can make a massive difference.
It’s biology, not weakness
Some still consider menopause a sensitive, private, maybe even taboo subject, particularly in the workplace, yet we don’t leave our biology by the door at work.
We all experience hormonal changes in our lives. From the day we’re born to the day we die, our hormones affect us. Whether it’s pregnancy, fertility treatment, andropause, transgender, hormonal treatment for medical conditions – knowing the signs and symptoms of hormonal change and what can be done is genuinely helpful, both at work and home.
Women’s biology includes menopause, we’ll all experience it and in different ways. Some will sail through it, barely noticing, others will not. Support, if needed, is usually only for a short period of time. On average women will work for 10, 20 or even 30 years afterwards, and will be grateful for their employer’s understanding and support.
Men are affected by menopause, too
Menopause affects men, partners and families, too. A train driver told me that some shifts he can’t sleep with his wife because her insomnia and hot flushes kept him awake. Lack of sleep would be a health and safety issue at work for him and his passengers. Opening up the conversation has a broader reach than you might think.
Regardless of age or gender, menopause is something we all need to know about.
Benefits for generations to come
If we do this now – just as those of my generation did for pregnancy and maternity cover at work – menopause will not be an issue for women and men in the future. The conversation will be normalised, it won’t be something we’re embarrassed about or hide. We’ll all know what to look out for and what to do if we experience symptoms.
So, what do you think – does talking about menopause at work help or hinder equality?
The most forward-thinking organisations are getting everyone talking about it, providing support and normalising the conversation because it’s the right thing to do.