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Women and menopause in the workplace

 By Charlie Lycett-Smith, Operations Director, Organic

According to Professor Jo Brewis, “menopausal women are the fastest growing workforce demographic”. Research by the NHS highlights the average age for UK women to start going through menopause is 51, with perimenopause usually occurring between 45 and 55 – meaning approximately 75-80% of women of menopausal age are in work. 

Some women barely have symptoms (lucky them), whereas others are hugely impacted – experiencing anything from hot flushes where you feel like your face is on fire to anxiety, fatigue and migraines. For me, a woman going through perimenopause, ‘brain fog’ and memory issues are the worst symptoms. Complete blackouts that often happen mid-sentence are disconcerting, frustrating and bizarre.

It’s embarrassing and generally uncomfortable when symptoms occur. For example, needing to sit by a window in the middle of winter, or colleagues helping you with your sentences when you have a ‘moment’ are hard to deal with. On top of that, coping with menopause symptoms in the workplace can also affect performance. A survey by the British Menopause Society of 1,000 UK adults in the UK found that 45% of women with symptoms felt their work was negatively impacted. Meanwhile, 47% who needed a day off said they wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason. 

‘Normal’ women and menopause

Davina McCall has recently played a part in publicly opening up the conversation on menopause. Her Channel 4 programme ‘Sex, Myths and the Menopause’ and her book ‘Menopausing: The Positive Roadmap to Your Second Spring’ explain the science, debunk damaging myths, and aim to build an empowered and supportive community.

I’m so glad Davina McCall’s talking about it, and it’s important to praise her, but not all women have Davina’s means and resources. There needs to be consideration for women on normal salaries with normal lives who are going through menopause. Many of these normal women aren’t supported properly in the workplace, which is why I feel passionate about speaking out and highlighting my stance on the matter.

How businesses can support menopause

Menopause can make you low. You feel like you’re constantly forgetting to do things and overlooking tasks you should be on top of. It affects your mood and can make you feel vulnerable.

Guidance from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine suggests that regular, informal conversations between managers and staff may “enable discussion of changes in health, including menopause”. Moreover, the European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) made recommendations about working conditions for menopausal women. These include providing training to raise awareness, reviewing workplace temperature and ventilation, and normalising discussion around health-related problems.

Sadly, not all employers offer the support required currently. Indeed, according to the Menopause Experts Group, menopause tribunal cases increased by 44% in 2021. One claimant suffering from hot flushes was reprimanded for undoing her top button. Another manager disregarded a GP’s report that said an employee was experiencing health issues related to menopause.

How employers can create a supportive space

Empathy is the core way to help. That means being aware that menopause is different for every woman; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. With that in mind, businesses should provide their women with a forum to talk about their experiences, and more importantly, ensure leaders and colleagues listen.

Encourage other employees and managers to also be on hand with coping mechanisms, whether recommending a book they think may be useful, friendly reminders to help with the dreaded brain fog, or suggesting an app like Notion to organise ideas and keep on top of work.

Women in tech are still underrepresented, but for the ones who have carved out a career and are now in their 40s, perimenopause or menopause may well be rearing its head. To support the women who need it, understanding is key.

Companies should keep in mind that each case varies. What works for one woman and her symptoms won’t necessarily be the right way forward for another. Helping employees (not just women) feel comfortable talking about menopause with their peers and managers is also a big step in the right direction.

Even if this article encourages just one woman to talk to their boss and say, “I’m going through menopause and I’m having a really s**t time,” I’ll be happy.

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