By Gabriella Espinosa 4-Minute Read
“Equality is giving everyone a shoe. Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.” – Dr. Naheed Dosani
Menopause is a natural and normal life stage that will affect every woman at some point in their working life. An average of 27 million women between the ages of 45 and 64, or 20% of the American workforce, experience menopause each year. Unfortunately, due to the cultural stigma and lack of awareness around menopause, women in the workplace suffer in silence. Menopause is an unspoken and unaddressed issue in the workplace and there is little awareness on the impact it can have on a woman. Moreover, the majority of employers lack the knowledge or resources to support female team members.
If we think about it, the workplace—with its structure, deadlines, and demands— makes it more challenging for women to manage symptoms, Plus they can often feel embarrassed and unable to disclose their menopausal status, fearing they may be stigmatized. Those symptoms, however, can have a big impact on the daily lives of female employees and, in turn, have a negative impact on their performance and attendance at work. Studies show that 73% of women are not getting treatment they need for menopausal symptoms, leading to 1 in 10 women to leave the workforce due to menopausal symptoms.
For some, symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, and heavy periods are so severe that they need to take time off unexpectedly or quit their job altogether. Many women feel unable to disclose their reasons for taking time off to their managers out of fear of being discriminated against due to the negative connotations around aging that menopause has in the workplace.
"1 in 10 women will leave the workforce due to menopausal symptoms."
One of the main reasons for the stigma is the lack of knowledge and understanding among employers about what it means for a woman to move into menopause, which can start in the mid- to late 30s with perimenopause. Most employers have not been made aware of the most common symptoms of menopause and how they can affect a female employee’s performance at work. Employers can mistake symptoms such as fatigue, lack of focus, or sleepless nights due to night sweats as lack of motivation or low productivity. Physical changes that occur for women such as weight gain or hair loss can also lead to bias about a woman’s capabilities and value as an employee.
Menopausal-aged women are an asset to every workplace; their experience, talents, and skills contribute to a diverse and productive work culture. Having a better understanding and policies in place to address work leave and sick days can enable employers to provide the necessary support and time off that women need to continue to thrive in the workplace.
The workplace should treat menopause as they would any other health issue, not only to break the taboo surrounding menopause at work, but to create an inclusive environment where employees and managers feel able to discuss any reasonable adjustments that may be needed.
It is important to increase awareness and understanding of menopause in workplace. This can be done through educational workshops and training programs that provide information about the symptoms and effects of menopause and support for women experiencing menopause in the workplace.
"Policies also need to be updated to reflect menopause; it needs to be included in sickness and flexible working policies to take into account symptoms such as night sweats and insomnia."
Businesses should also be able to recognize when support is needed and facilitate open conversations with employees about what they’re experiencing. Menopause shouldn’t be a taboo, and everyone should feel confident to have a conversation with their direct manager, especially when they need guidance and advice.
Open cultures need to be created where women feel comfortable to say they’re struggling with symptoms. Internal campaigns or webinars for staff are a smart way to do this, enabling and starting a conversation for people. External speakers can also help engage people.
Policies also need to be updated to reflect menopause; it needs to be included in sickness and flexible working policies to take into account symptoms such as night sweats and insomnia. Companies must be flexible to their teams’ needs to make sure they’re performing to a high standard and getting the best productivity and engagement from them.
Removing the stigma of menopause and creating a menopause-friendly work environment should be part of creating a supportive and inclusive work culture.
In the spirit of embracing equity—the theme for the International Women’s Day we only just celebrated—the workplace needs to provide an environment that fits and can accommodate every woman’s needs so they can contribute their unique gifts and talents to a thriving work culture.
Gabriella Espinosa is a Midlife Empowerment and Menopause Coach who mentors and consults on the many layers of the menopause journey, including menopause and the workplace. Click here to learn more.