Hands up if you’ve ever heard a discussion about menopause while at work? Chances are you haven’t. The majority of businesses vastly underestimate the impact that menopause can have on workers. Why is it still considered taboo to discuss menopause?
Gender bias and underfunding
Menopause is an under researched, underfunded and generally neglected area of healthcare. There is a longstanding gender bias in medicine which is only starting to be addressed. Women typically have not been the subject of medical trials and this omission has been costly. As this excerpt from the book Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn explains,“women’s pain is much more likely to be seen as having an emotional or a psychological cause, rather than a bodily or biological one. Women are the predominant sufferers of chronic diseases that begin with pain. But before our pain is taken seriously as a symptom of a possible disease, it first has to be validated—and believed—by a medical professional. And this pervasive aura of distrust around women’s accounts of their pain has been enfolded into medical attitudes over centuries.”
With a healthcare system that has tended to downplay symptoms of menopause and women’s health generally, it’s hardly surprising that workplaces are not set up to support women.
The first step to redressing the issue is for employers to understand what their employees may be experiencing. Menopause typically begins between the ages of 45 and 55, well below the average retirement age and coinciding with the time women are most likely to move into top leadership positions. Women going through menopause may experience a range of symptoms such as:
- Hot flushes
- Brain fog and many more!
The lack of support and the unspoken rule that women experiencing symptoms of menopause should just push through and get on with it are outdated. Such attitudes are not only detrimental to individuals but also not benefiting businesses.
Research in the U.S. by the Dept. of Labor found that up to 20% of the US workforce were affected by menopause symptoms. However, because of the taboo around menopause, many affected employees are suffering in silence or quitting. Nearly one in five employees quit or considered quitting because of their symptoms, according to a survey from Biote. Consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan reported that worldwide, menopause-related productivity losses can exceed $150 billion a year.
Businesses who want to do the right thing by their employees and also help to mitigate financial losses should be working to support staff who are affected by menopause. Some actions that can be taken include:
1.) Education and Training
Companies need to invest in training programs to remove the taboo and educate managers on how to support women going through menopause. Organisations can also provide education and empowerment across the workforce through initiatives such as: encouraging open discussions and guest speakers e.g. C-suite female employers who are happy to discuss their experiences and provide support.
2.) Policies and resources
Companies should also have policies and resources in place that provide support to women adversely affected by menopause. These might include access to services, time off and/or flexible work arrangements. Menopause support is a trending workplace benefit that innovative and progressive businesses are getting behind.
3.) Individual approach
Once the resources, structures and policies are in place, trained managers can have regular and informal one-to-ones with members to check in on any changes to their health situation. Regularly checking in to ask how people are doing will help to create an open and inclusive culture with a forum for staff to access the resources they may need.