It was #worldmenopauseday yesterday– oops I missed it! Forgive me…actually I think you should be applauding me because this 53 year old woman is firmly in the clutches of the menopause and so missing a date by only 1 day is almost a miracle!
Yes I can laugh (at times) along with the hoards of people who take the proverbial p**s out of “women of a certain age” as we leave our car keys in the fridge (yup I did that), or who spent an hour of a recent 90 minute client meeting taking her cardigan off, then on and then off again at least 15 times (the poor client kept jumping up and down to change the air con…) and even the mild (well that’s how I’d describe it …) bout of irritability with one team member over something that shouldn’t even have resulted in a raised eyebrow (I did say sorry to said team member about 10 times…). These are all mildly amusing anecdotes. But what is not so amusing is the severe debilitating headaches and migraines, or the insomnia resulting in a feeling like you are walking through quick sand, or the night sweats and definitely not the lack of concentration and memory loss. All of these symptoms of the menopause are my symptoms of the menopause. And there are a whole host of others from fatigue to weight gain, from dry eyes to hair loss, and from joint pain to panic and anxiety attacks that other women will have to deal with.
The thing is that by next year, 1 in every 5 British workers will be a woman aged 50 or over. The Trades Union Congress reckons that over 80% of women of a menopausal age experience symptoms and one third of those women find it difficult to deal with on a daily basis. Just to remind you that part of the definition of the disability discrimination legislation is about symptoms that negatively affect someone’s ability to deal with day to day stuff. The impact on staff sickness attendance rates is huge – research estimates that over 14 million working days are lost each year.
So come on… really…is this still taboo? What’s so scary about talking about a completely natural process that affects most women at some point in their lives? And even if you do find it mildly scary or awkward to discuss, can you afford not to talk about it or to learn more about it? The kinds of symptoms I mention above are going to impact someone’s behaviour and their performance. Women like me are going to behave a bit differently sometimes. Women like me are going to lose focus in a meeting sometimes; and women like me are sitting right next to you, leading you, being led by you and just working with you. Of course, if you still don’t feel you can walk towards these conversations, then do remember that negative treatment can lead to sex or age discrimination claims and / or harassment claims when your relentless hilarious jokes about the fans on our desks are discussed in an Employment Tribunal.
But let’s not go there…let’s stay in the zone of trying to build a more inclusive working environment where we try to understand each other a little more and the stuff that’s going on in our lives. So, here’s 5 top tips:
1. Be proactive – find out more about the perimenopause and the menopause. Perimenopause is the stage when the women’s body is starting to adapt and prepare for the menopause and typically starts 5 years or so before the menopause. With symptoms lasting often around 5 years after a woman’s menstrual cycle ends, that means that there can be as much as a 10 year period for some women dealing with daily symptoms. I also want to emphasise that many women have to deal with severe symptoms of early menopause which is emotionally and physically traumatic at a young age;
2. Consciously build a psychologically safe working environment where we can talk about the stuff in our lives that we bring with us to work. You don’t stop being a human when you walk through the revolving office doors or press join on a Zoom call. Ask how someone is doing, give them space, listen to understand and check in with them again;
3. Consider more formal ways to support menopausal women. Why not have a policy which seeks to educate as well as support; encouraging staff to talk about any symptoms which might inevitably affect their behaviour or performance;
4. Look to setting up a network with the purpose again of sharing the learnings with events and talks, and advocating women at this stage of their lives. These networks always get more traction when there is senior sponsorship and the membership is made up of non-menopausal women too; and
5. Probably the most important (and I guess I would say this wouldn’t I?), train your staff and most importantly your managers on how to have these conversations and how to handle issues which might negatively impact the workplace. Don’t let that decision to introduce a PIP result in trust breaking down between a manager and a team member, leading to positions becoming entrenched, destructive treatment and behaviour and ultimately talent lost.
Menopause should not be a taboo. It’s natural and unavoidable. Come on…It’s time we talked about this openly and kindly.
Right…I need to get outside for some air to cool down!