Lack of awareness of the impact of the menopause at work is part of a wider problem of making a workplace that is more inclusive of women.
When you are going through the menopause there are various symptoms that are clear indicators. The ones we all know about, with hot flushes being top of the list. But are we prepared even for these? Hot flushes can come very close together, they can be absolutely exhausting and debilitating and then some days you can have none or periods when nothing happens and then they return.
But there are so many other symptoms that we don’t tend to know about. Difficult sleeping may seem trivial, but nights of little sleep stack up. Headaches seem an everyday thing that you can cure with a couple of paracetamol, but what if they last for 48 hours and leave you wrung out? I was talking the other day to someone who is perimenopausal. She mentioned brain fog. It’s not just the feeling of getting to the middle of a sentence and not knowing where you came from or where you are going, but the way that undermines your self confidence because you never know when it is going to strike. In the middle of an important meeting? During a presentation in front of 100s of people? You can, of course, try and plan for these things – try and ensure everything is written down on a powerpoint, for instance – but the feeling pervades that your body is somehow trying to show you up.
Many women, of course, suffer much worse effects. So what can we do? Well, it seems quite a bit. The main thing is to talk about it all. More and more employers are creating spaces to talk about the menopause and some are creating guidelines and policies around things like ventilation, uniforms, rest areas, flexible working… – that’s something we track on our sister site workingwise.co.uk.
In fact, most of the changes that need to be made are minor. It is more about mindset. More than anything the important thing is greater awareness. With more older women in the workplace, there have been a plethora of books, tv programmes and the like around so that is growing, from a very low base to be sure. There is also more attention being paid to issues around retention, with research showing significant numbers of women dropping out of the workplace or having to reduce their hours as a result of the menopause. The Women and Equalities Committee is conducting an investigation currently about whether specific legislation is needed to protect menopausal women.
Menopause is, however, part of a wider issue around building a workplace that is for women as well as men, where things that are part of women’s everyday lives are normalised rather than problematised. That means more engagement with the workforce and greater visibility generally of women, particularly older women who have long been made to feel less visible.
*WM People has recently published a free e-book about gendered ageism which addresses the cumulative issues over a working woman’s lifetime that contribute to the gender pension gap.