I was staggered to hear that menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce. Not only that, most women will be menopausal for around a third of their lives, most of them working through it – or trying to.
If you started reading this and turned away because you are a young woman who is not at ‘that age’ yet – or you are male and perhaps feel it is not really for you – please think again.
Women in Property recently held a webinar on ‘Menopause in the workplace’, led by Marvellous Midlife coach Laura Shuckburgh and organised by Kam Saini, director at planning consultancy CarneySweeney, who is committed to raising awareness around menopause.
As Shuckburgh said: “Now is the time to open the conversation and feel comfortable about saying the word menopause.” Because let us be in no doubt, it has far-reaching consequences personally, professionally and, yes, in the workplace, too.
Many people will be familiar with the typical image of ‘the menopausal woman’ – stressed, neurotic, over-emotional and having hot flushes. But what about the memory loss, forgetting words and lack of focus? Some women have reported being genuinely concerned they were showing symptoms of early-onset dementia, when the real culprit is perimenopause.
Change of life
Perimenopause is another term we need to get comfortable with, neatly summarising the years before a woman actually goes through menopause. It is perimenopause that causes so many problems.
Imagine having spent a good 20 years or so building your career, and then things start to change, almost imperceptibly at first but enough for you to question your judgement, ability, professional acumen and social skills. Your colleagues are a little bemused if not wary; your employer starts to lose faith; your confidence takes a nosedive. This is what happens to thousands of women in the workforce, often over a period of years, and many do not know why.
Too often, women have been so affected by these invisible symptoms they have felt no other option than to leave their job. This is hard enough for them, but it is an unsustainable situation for business. Losing highly skilled women is costly for any organisation, and fixing the issue should be part of both its retention strategy and inclusion policy.
So, what to do? Employers are urged to break the taboo, change the language and train people to be aware. Men find this particularly helpful, finally recognising the out-of-character behaviour of their partners for what it really is. Extending that recognition across the work environment is of massive value to women going through this change.
Some businesses are implementing practical solutions, for instance having a quiet space where women can go to both cool down if they are experiencing the furnace-like effects of a hot flush or to refocus if their overworked hormones are taking their toll. Some companies have introduced virtual chat rooms where women can express how they are feeling.
So, talk about menopause, look after these women and they will be enabled and encouraged. The implications of not doing so can be far more serious.
Of the 30 or so women on our webinar, there was a palpable sense of realisation and empathy. Shuckburgh’s calm reflections were described as a ‘game changer’. I would urge you to make it a game changer in your workplace.
Rachel Bell is national chair of Women in Property