Menopause is a natural phase of life experienced by almost every woman, bringing about profound hormonal changes. While often seen as a personal journey, menopause can significantly impact women in the workplace, including those in senior leadership positions.
The physical and cognitive symptoms associated with menopause present unique challenges for these leaders. However, we can unlock these leaders’ true power and potential by understanding and addressing menopause.
We first need to explore the challenges of menopause in the workplace and provide strategies for navigating this transformative phase.
A need for better understanding
Given that menopause will impact around 50 percent of our population at some stage in their life cycle, it is critical we look at the effect this can have on organizations and the potential loss of decades worth of experience and knowledge simply because we don’t fully understand menopause.
The word menopause literally means the ‘end of monthly cycles’, from the Greek word pausis (‘pause’) and men (‘month’). An interesting part about ‘menopause’ is that it lasts for one day only. It occurs when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months.
Prior to that period, a woman is technically in perimenopause, which can start as early as in the mid-30s but generally in the 40s, lasting anywhere between five and 10 years, sometimes more. The day after the 12-month mark of no menstruation, a woman is considered to be in post-menopause.
It is one of the few conditions that is confirmed with a retrospective diagnosis. While symptoms tend to subside gradually in the postmenopausal period, if not looked after correctly, the depletion of hormone production can influence the development of several conditions in a woman’s later life such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, mood disorders, cognitive decline and other conditions that vary on a case-by-case basis.
Statistics show a surprising impact
According to a report by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, menopausal symptoms have a serious impact on the working lives of women. Of the 4,000 women aged 45–55 who were surveyed, one in 10 had left their employment due to menopausal symptoms.
Extrapolated over the entire population of the United Kingdom, this means that approximately 333,000 women gave up work due to the impact of menopause.
Additionally, the survey revealed that 14 percent of women in this age group had reduced their working hours, and eight percent had refrained from applying for promotions due to menopausal symptoms.
There is clearly a need for increased support and understanding regarding menopause in the workplace to create a more inclusive environment for women going through this life stage.
The report indicated that more than 40 percent of women stated that their ability to work had been affected by menopause, with 18 percent reporting current symptoms impacting them, and 26 percent saying they had been affected in the past.
Sadly, the study also highlighted that 41 percent of respondents had witnessed menopause or its symptoms being treated as a joke in the workplace. Loss of motivation at work was reported by 61 percent of participants, with half of them stating a loss of confidence.
In a separate report by the Online Menopause Centre, it was found that only 14 percent of women discussed their menopause or perimenopause symptoms with their employers.
Of those who spoke up, almost half said their employers did nothing to address their concerns, while 18 percent were offered flexible working arrangements. Only seven percent received specific interventions like fans or air conditioning to alleviate hot flashes.
These findings highlight that there is clearly a need for increased support and understanding regarding menopause in the workplace to create a more inclusive environment for women going through this life stage.
A persistent taboo in the workplace
One of the biggest problems is the cultural disadvantage that menopause is a taboo subject that remains largely misunderstood and shrouded in silence. One Harvard Business Review article noted that menopause is one of the strongest and most discriminatory taboos still existing in the workplace.
Women who go through menopause can feel isolated and invisible, regardless of their role or status. Encouraging wider cultural acceptance and openness on the topic can help break through the stigma.
Women who go through menopause can feel isolated and invisible, regardless of their role or status.
It is important that we begin to acknowledge that menopause has a very real, tangible impact on women’s bodies, with physical symptoms that manifest in a wide range of ways. Much of the time, these symptoms aren’t easy to just shake off, and they can drastically impact operating on a daily basis, especially in a demanding, high-level role.
The physical aspects aren’t the only ones that make an impact. In addition, there is an understated influence on cognition that menopause and its symptoms bring.
Menopause can cloud the cognitive landscape, leading to a reduction in memory and mental clarity, making it difficult to effectively concentrate and solve problems in a fast-paced environment. Everyone gets through brain fog differently, so allowing for ways to accommodate each situation is an essential tactic to help reclaim a professional edge.
Positive change is possible
The Australasian Menopause Society advises a range of policies to help improve menopause awareness in the workplace, and that includes the addition of coverage of menopause in leave policies, recognizing how work patterns could impact symptoms and allowing flexible working arrangements, and providing training for managers and supervisors to understand menopause and how to have sensitive conversations about menopause at work.
It is pivotal to create a future where menopause is no longer a barrier but a catalyst for growth and resilience in leadership.
Despite the challenges that menopause brings, it gives senior leaders wisdom and a unique perspective that can enrich their leadership style. If leaders recognize this and use it as a way to grow, it can be used to create a positive impact within their organizations. There can be enormous benefits for teams from the experience and unique perspectives that women gain during this phase in life.
Why would we want to lose the expertise, intellectual property and experience that has taken each woman decades to accumulate, rather than harness all their experience and knowledge to impact the whole company positively? It is pivotal to create a future where menopause is no longer a barrier but a catalyst for growth and resilience in leadership.
Navigating menopause in leadership requires understanding and empathy, as well as a commitment to creating a workplace that supports the wellbeing and professional growth of menopausal women. Embracing this opportunity gives organizations the ability to harness the power and potential of leaders, driving positive change and fostering a more inclusive and successful work environment for all.