Many people associate the menopause with hot flushes, but they’re just one of many unpleasant symptoms that it brings. Often, it’s the psychological and emotional symptoms that hit the hardest and that stop many women carrying on with business as usual. Loss of confidence, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, brain fog, and memory loss can greatly impact on quality of life, especially for working women.
Imagine being at the top of your game in your career then all of a sudden, you feel less capable, unbelievably fatigued, unmotivated, and lacking in confidence? This is the reality for many working women and this could be one of the under the radar reasons why we don’t see as many women in the boardroom.
There are around 3.5 million working women aged between 50 and 65 in the UK, and let’s not forget, there are many more who go through the menopause earlier than this for a number of reasons. 75% of these women experience menopause symptoms and 25% experience severe symptoms. Sadly, 4 out of 10 women don’t seek medical advice even though their symptoms may be worse than they expected. They’re suffering in silence.
How the menopause affects women at work
Menopause symptoms can make women feel less satisfied with their jobs and less motivated. Around 10% of women are leaving work altogether because their symptoms are so severe. Some women don’t even know their symptoms are down to the menopause at first. They might be misdiagnosed by their GP, or called in to a meeting by a manager who thinks there are performance issues going on. It can take frustratingly long to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
For the women who do feel able to stay in their jobs, their lack of confidence and belief in their capabilities can mean that they don’t put themselves forward for promotions. Hence the lack of female representation in the boardroom.
Menopausal women aren’t just statistics
There are a lot of statistics about working women and the menopause, but the impact is truly felt in the stories I hear from women who are at the pinnacle of their careers, for whom the negative effects of the menopause are very real.
One woman, a CEO, left her position after 20 years of slogging away to get the top job. She felt she couldn’t perform anymore due to unbearable exhaustion. On her many visits to her GP, the menopause was never mentioned once. She told me, “I’m not a stupid woman, how did I not know what this was?!’
Another CEO told me she managed her symptoms by taking HRT, but her doctor told her to stop taking it. Following this, she told me she had ‘the worst year of her life’ and chose to leave her role at the earliest opportunity because she just no longer felt capable.
And just last week, I was talking to someone who had been in a very senior HR role. Due to the brain fog, memory loss, and confusion she experienced because of the menopause making her feel stupid and terrified of making a mistake, she took a step down into an admin job she had been doing 20 years ago. Leaving wasn’t an option because of the changes in the pension system.
These are stories I hear almost every day. We can’t go on allowing women to suffer, or letting a biological fact cause the loss of so much talent in organisations.
So what needs to happen?
We need to change the way menopause is spoken about at work, make sure that it’s taken seriously, and that women can get the support they need.
Women themselves can seek help from their GP, and if they’re not happy with the answers they’re given, they should seek a second opinion. You know your body better than anyone, especially when something’s not right. Don’t be afraid to take things into your own hands; do your research, try herbal remedies, exercise, complementary therapies, eat well, drink less alcohol, and make time to relax.
Employers can make a real difference by offering training and information to managers and the rest of the workforce about the menopause. This will help to increase awareness and reduce the stigma around it. After all, if managers don’t really understand it, or avoid it because it’s ‘taboo,’ how are they supposed to be able to offer the right support?
Employers could also provide access to further information and support for women as well as flexible working arrangements, an adequate place to rest, cool drinking water, and reasonable adjustments to uniforms, workplace temperature, and ventilation.
Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest difference; let’s make sure menopause education becomes business as usual in business and that we never ever hear of women leaving their positions because of it again.
Raising awareness about the menopause among women, men, and employers is all about education and making it comfortable and acceptable for people to speak about it. Menopause is not a condition to be treated and cured, it’s a normal stage of life that every woman goes through. Helping people to realise this is my mission.
My training events are aimed at educating HR professionals, managers, and working women about the menopause in a fun, engaging, and informative way.
If you’d like to find out more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org