Why it's time to start talking about menopause

On top of unequal pay, a lack of part-time opportunities and inflexible hours after having children, women can add a lack of support for the years they go through menopause to the gender inequality they may face in the workplace.

In a stark reality check, new research has found a shocking number of women are forced to take time off work, cut their hours or even leave their jobs, because of debilitating symptoms and not enough support.

The results of a poll of 3800 women, carried out for menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson who runs non-profit Newson Health Research and Education, are due to be presented at Royal College of GPs’ annual conference. It found that 99 per cent of women felt their menopause or perimenopause symptoms had a negative impact on their careers, 59 per cent had taken time off work – 18 per cent for more than eight weeks.

Read: Menopause can make work a struggle. So why don’t we talk about it?

One in five (21 per cent) women passed on the chance to go for a promotion they would have otherwise considered, 19 per cent reduced their hours and 12 per cent resigned.

Dr Newson says: “For far too long menopausal women have been faced with an impossible choice: struggle on with often debilitating symptoms or leave behind careers they have worked so hard for. The average age of menopause in Australia is 51, at precisely the point where many women are at the peak of their careers, with an abundance of skills and experience to offer.”

Symptoms, which usually start years before your periods stop, include hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, headaches, mood changes, anxiety, palpitations, joint stiffness and recurrent UTIs. Many women (eight in 10) will experience symptoms for some time after their periods stop – one in 10 women suffer them for up to 12 years.

Expecting women to simply act like it’s not happening and continue working as normal isn’t fair, and companies can’t simply ‘play dumb’ to the realities if lots of their female employees are struggling around the age of menopause.

Talking about it isn’t the norm

One of the issues is that too many women are suffering in silence; either because of a stigma felt in opening up about the effects of menopause, or for fear their symptoms won’t be taken seriously (as is so often the case for women’s health). Add the workplace into the mix – particularly in male dominated industries – and it’s no wonder women don’t always feel comfortable sharing.

Deborah Garlick, director at Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, says: “For some of us it can feel difficult talking about menopause with our line manager for the first time. Remember they’re there to help you be at your best at work, whether you’re experiencing menopause symptoms or any other health condition.”

Firstly, she suggests, check whether your organisation provides support on the intranet. “Book time in with your line manager in a private room or somewhere confidential. Prepare ahead of the meeting: what are your symptoms, how are they affecting you at work, what are you doing to manage them (have you talked to your GP), and think about how your line manager could help.

“Your line manager may need time to reflect on your conversation or even talk to HR about the support they can offer, so book some time to catch up again.”

Companies need to do more
Of course, the onus can’t just be on employees to open up. If they feel like the workplace environment or company ethos is hostile towards women’s issues and health problems in general, they won’t feel like there’s a safe space to do so.

Read: Ways to treat menopause symptoms – without taking HRT

“While we’ve made an enormous amount of progress over the past few years – going back five years, we couldn’t find an employer treating menopause seriously at work – by 2018 the CIPD survey [a professional body championing better working lives] said one in 10 employers had started to take action,” says Ms Garlick.

Three years later and the new Newson Health Research and Education survey still found the majority (60 per cent) said their workplace offered no menopause support.

“It’s essential all employers open up the conversation about menopause,” says Ms Garlick, “and keep it going until they’ve created an inclusive culture where it’s easy to talk about menopause, and for those experiencing symptoms to ask for support if they need it.”

It’s a double whammy of sexism and ageism
“We’re an ageing population and menopausal women are the fastest growing part of the workforce,” says Ms Garlick, who adds that it’s common for women to curb their career ambitions, often taking work with fewer hours or less responsibility, during menopause transition. Not only are companies losing valuable talent, but these are people who’ve worked hard – for 30-odd years – to get their career to a certain point, only to feel forced out at often senior levels, due to something completely out of their control, something that only affects women, and older women at that.

Read: Why it’s important celebrities are speaking up about menopause

“Consider the impact on equality in the organisation. We know how much women appreciate it when their employer demonstrates that they understand and will support [them] if they hit a bump in the road during menopause – with that comes greater loyalty,” says Ms Garlick. Otherwise, workplaces can lose talent and experience that’s costly to replace.

“For those employers who do nothing, there’s also a significant increase in the number of menopause employment tribunals,” Ms Garlick warns.

Do you think employers could be doing more to support women going through menopause? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

– With PA

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Written by Lauren Taylor