Thinking Out Loud #3

World Menopause Day – 18th October 2021

Many menopausal women suffer in silence in the workplace. How is that a normal condition? It’s time we talk more openly about the M-word.

Here’s what we think…

Do you know today is World Menopause Day? To be honest, not an annual event that I ever paid too much attention to before. However, this year, the timing is strangely on point.

I don’t think of myself as getting older. If I don’t overthink it, I actually still think I’m in my late 30’s. In the last three years, I have become fitter than I have ever been through exercise and healthier eating, and through the pandemic, I have even experimented with mindfulness. So overall, I should be in great shape.

But for some time now, I have had this strange feeling of something not being quite right health-wise. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on any one thing specifically. It was more a mix of things. But the key ones that have become increasingly frustrating over time include anxiety, which I put down to the pandemic, being unbearably hot at night, which I put down to the thickness of the duvet and worst of all, by far, my failing memory.

I have always had an exceptional memory; some would say too good. Yet many months ago I started forgetting where I had left my phone (often in the washing machine; understandable given how many loads of washing my household generates!), then forgetting what I was just doing — but I was doing multiple things so surely it was comprehensible? And more recently forgetting everyday words — perhaps my mind is just processing too much at once?

After mortifyingly forgetting a question I had just been asked on a roundtable panel where I was a speaker, I decided that enough was enough and early-onset dementia was a real possibility.

Photo by John Fowler

So last week I had my blood taken and then told that I am suffering from the menopause.

I don’t know whether that was a bigger shock or finding out that so too are nearly 50% of working women! This naturally occurring, thoroughly normal condition has impacted my self-confidence at work, socially, and at home and made me worry about my sanity, keeping me awake many a night, and not just because of the night sweats.

So here’s what I have learnt so far.

Because I have heard so few people talk about it and certainly not in relation to how it affects the way women thrive (or not) at work.

  • Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace.
  • Nearly 80% of menopausal women are working with 75% of these experiencing symptoms and 25% suffering symptoms that are severe enough to impact their everyday life.
  • 10% of working menopausal women leave work because their symptoms are too debilitating for them to continue.
  • Every individual experiences different symptoms to differing levels of severity.
  • Symptoms can last for over 5 years, and there is an endless list of them!
  • And it is not just women whom this affects but also transgender men, non-binary and intersex people can also be impacted.

At no point did I recognise the sheer scale of the potential impact of the menopause on today’s workforce. And yet, businesses are not doing anywhere near enough to recognise the menopause, educate all colleagues on its effects and understand how they can support and nurture this critical demographic at such a pivotal time in their lives.

I have not heard of the menopause being mentioned in the context of work until very recently, and I am disappointed in myself that I never recognised this as a massive opportunity for businesses to become more inclusive, supportive and diverse.

The menopause is another taboo subject both inside and outside of work leaving women to unacceptably suffer in silence. What used to be everyday tasks become more challenging, at a time when often our work becomes more intense and needs to be balanced with navigating teenagers, divorce and changing life priorities. We fear being seen as less competent than we used to be (or perceive that we should be) and so we don’t feel safe to share openly with our teams or leaders the challenges we are facing.

Not everyone will want to talk about the menopause openly, especially at work and that is fine. But some will find huge comfort in being supported, understood and valued. If we are to really walk the talk on diversity and inclusion in the working world, then this is a great opportunity for businesses to practice having human conversations in an environment where people feel safe from discrimination and judgement.

And what’s next for me on my newfound journey of discovery?

Well, I have literally just received a text from Boots to notify me that my first trial run of hormone replacement therapy medication is ready for collection. I’m not sure whether to be excited or scared about what the effects are going to be! New woman alert — watch this space.

Think out loud with us. Join the conversation on Linkedin or Medium.

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