The theme of International Women’s Day 2021 is #choosetochallenge.
Today, I #choosetochallenge the taboo subject of menopause in the workplace.
There are nearly 300,000 women employed in Ireland between the ages of 45-64. The average age of a woman’s menopause is 51 years. Menopause is not an illness - it is a stage of life. As a woman, we cannot sidestep this stage of life. Three out of four women experience menopause symptoms, whilst one in four experience serious symptoms.
In my Executive Coaching practice, I am privileged to meet successful females who have worked hard to achieve leadership roles and or take their place in the boardroom.
For some, as they progress up the leadership pipeline, they experience a lack of confidence, discomfort, or downright feeling unwell, for no obvious reason. Seeking support from their GPs, they may find themselves going down a rabbit hole of medical investigations, as some GPs are just not equipped to deal with the subject of menopause. Some of my clients even feared early onset Alzheimer’s, MS or heart problems.
For many, they find it increasingly difficult to continue to work at the level or pace that they have been previously used to. They may become forgetful, missing meetings or struggling to remember facts. They experience symptoms at the most random times and for no apparent reason. Equally, many women find themselves working harder to disguise these symptoms, resulting in stress and ultimately burnout.
Menopause can knock a woman's confidence, increase anxiety, create stigma and undermine their sense of purpose and self-esteem. Unfortunately, many women find it easier to step out of a workplace not designed, nor which provides, the environment to discuss and deal with their symptoms. As a result, the workplace, already suffering a gender imbalance, is losing amazing talent, knowledge and wealth of experience.
As an Executive Coach I work with some female clients to rebuild confidence and self-esteem and very often help them work out where they want to go with their executive career.
However, imagine how much better it would be if women didn’t find themselves in this situation in the first place. In a world where we are becoming more open about diversity and inclusion, discussing race, generational differences, misogyny and gender, we still lack the courage to openly discuss the impact that this stage of life has on many successful women.
What can you do as an Employer and Colleague?
I #choosetochallenge employers and employees who may, through lack of understanding, knowledge or just sheer embarrassment, find it difficult to recognise the symptoms or address this topic.
If this taboo subject of menopause is to be addressed then we all need to speak openly:
Provide an empathetic environment which acknowledges Menopause without embarrassment, judgement or fear of ridicule.
Review your corporate wellbeing programmes to educate the whole workforce.
Allow and encourage women to say things such as “I am in the middle of menopause, I keep forgetting things”.
Make small changes to the working environment which makes it more comfortable for women.
Allow time out for women to deal with the necessary adjustment that they may have to make.
In a world where women in senior positions still only take up 15% of the leadership roles, we need to change mindsets and face the taboos.
In a post-covid world when most hope to return to the workplace, consider making your workplace an environment that some of your most valuable, talented and successful women, will feel comfortable stepping back into.
Patricia Byron is an Executive & Corporate Wellbeing Coach. As an EMCC accredited Senior Practitioner, she is experienced and recognised for the support she provides to her clients especially championing women of all ages in the workplace.