It’s not enough for organisations to have a menopause policy, we need to change the narrative and change behaviours around how we view menopause and the impact on women in the workplace.
I was pretty shocked to hear the story from a woman who was not given a promotion because she was told by her manager she was not resilient enough to deal with any more on her plate.
When the individual explained that she is going through perimenopause so occasionally (not frequently) found things a little more overwhelming than normal and suggested a myriad of issues that had not been addressed by her company around deadlines, abnormal amounts of time pressure and lack of overall support she was met with a lack of compassion and a hostile manager. She explained that she is now getting hormonal treatment and is feeling better, plus she has been able to get through this peak period of activity at work now. The (female) manager ignored this and said, yes, we are implementing a menopause policy for people like you. I really think you should take the hormones and just focus on the job you have.
It’s not just discrimination that needs to be addressed
Let’s just for now ignore the discrimination from this – that’s another issue – what’s worse is that the manager acknowledged the need for a menopause policy yet doesn’t realise that she herself needs to change her own behaviour and role model the expected behaviours for others. Furthermore, being compassionate and understanding in the circumstances would have gone a long way in this case.
It’s not about pitying women when they’re going through perimenopause and menopause, it’s about understanding and offering support. It’s raising the awareness across an organisation that the impact of perimenopause and menopause on women (especially in the workplace) is not permanent, not career ending and certainly not a moment to judge. Change the attitude towards women and please, be more compassionate!
Some of the symptoms
There are 34 formally recognised symptoms of menopause, plenty more that are not formally documented in international guidelines. These range from brain fog – where you literally forget why you walked into a room or the name of someone you talk to on a regular basis; to hot flushes – you can’t focus on anything because you are sweating profusely and feel faint, like having an out of body experience; to extremely heavy bleeding – sometimes completely randomly and your clothes are stained all the way through; to sleeplessness – ranging from night sweats to just waking in the night for hours on end.
Raise awareness of where people can seek support
According on the 2021 UK Women’s and Equalities Committee research:
- When women did have symptoms, only 1/3 of people told anyone at work, 29% told a manager, 32% told a colleague rather than HR or occupational health.
- When they did tell HR less than 30% felt supported and 30% felt VERY unsupported.
- Only 11% of respondents requested adjustments, 55% of those who did ask for adjustments found them useful (but 30% received no adjustments)
- Those who did not ask for adjustments 26% said they were worried about the reaction from others, 20% didn’t know who to speak to.
It’s up to you to socialise and communicate openly where people can go to for support and what adjustments you have available. Like any employee offering, it needs to be regularly reviewed to ensure it’s fit for purpose. Not everyone has the same symptoms and, as previously mentioned, symptoms have different frequencies and are NOT permanent.
It’s not a one size fits all
Every single woman experiences perimenopause and menopause differently. We have always been told to consider our maternal relatives (maternal grandmother, aunties, mother) as it’s often similar. On a personal note, my maternal grandmother was institutionalised for ‘hysteria’ in the 1950s and my mum and her sisters were put into an orphanage while she was treated. She was also told to take up smoking as this would calm her, she later died from lung cancer…. Need I say more?
I have 3 aunties on my maternal side, I am one of 6 girls, I have 7 female cousins on my maternal side, I am the youngest woman across us all, and most of us have had a different experience of perimenopause. Everyone is different.
Changing the narrative
It is up to us to change the narrative. Instead of the aforementioned manager judging the individual, she should have been supportive. Here’s what she could have said instead: ‘What can I do to support you to make sure you have everything you need to take on this promotion?’ Even asking, ‘is there anything I can do to support you?’ or ‘what can we put in place that would help you to be successful in this promotion?’ Being supportive rather than dismissive or judgemental is a much better way to approach women as they go through this stage.
Each of us have a role to play in changing how menopause and perimenopause is perceived both in and outside of the workplace. Approximately 50% of the population will go through perimenopause and menopause, that might be you, a colleague, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a mother, an aunty, a cousin. So, even if it’s not you, there is a chance you know someone going through it right now. Let’s not just implement another policy for the sake of it, let’s change our behaviour and mindset towards perimenopause and menopause.