Think about a typical career timeline. It likely starts with lots of coffee runs and late nights in your 20s, followed by being thrown into the trenches of middle management in your 30s. And after paying all of your dues by 40, you’re more than ready to start looking ahead at what it takes to land a top leadership position.
For men, this transition is a natural next step. One that feels like a challenge but also an incredible opportunity to shine.
But for women, this critical career stage often coincides with menopause – which typically starts between the ages of 45 and 55 and can last anywhere between 7 to 14 years.
For the vast majority of women, the menopausal transition brings about many uncomfortable symptoms such as extreme fatigue, insomnia, hot flashes, headaches, depression, anxiety, brain fog, and cognitive impairment. It’s only reasonable to assume then that these symptoms inhibit women experiencing menopause from bringing their very best selves to the office.
In fact, our menopause research at Mira suggests that many struggle to concentrate, make decisions, and deal with people. Others admit they have to take time off, with 2 out of 5 sharing that they are planning to retire earlier than originally planned. Another unfortunate finding in our research is that the majority (two-thirds) of respondents claimed their workplace did not provide any support for menopause.
So in a world where we value women in leadership, where we understand all their many positive contributions to the bottom line, why are women of menopausal age still suffering? And why are they suffering in silence without support or acknowledgment from their employers?
This International Women’s Day, it’s time to have a conversation about how we can do better. Governments may be slow to act (see the recently rejected proposal to make menopause a ‘protected characteristic’ in the UK) – but I believe corporates have the power to be proactive and ignite real change.
How? Here are just a few strategies to make your workplace more empathetic to the experience of menopause.
Implementing menopause leave policies
One way to acknowledge the sheer gravity of menopause and how it impacts an individual’s life is to implement a menopause leave policy. This could be anything from 3 to 12 days of paid leave per year, depending on how your existing benefits are structured for your organization.
Given the sensitive and oftentimes emotional nature of menopause, I would discourage companies from requiring employees to provide a medical certificate or “doctor’s note” in order to utilize these benefits. This can feel invasive and even embarrassing for employees, and as a result, may discourage some individuals from taking menopause leave when they need it most.
Even though half of our population experiences menopause, its symptoms and impact on daily life still remain a mystery for the vast majority of people.
To improve employee knowledge and appreciation of menopause, companies should consider sponsoring internal awareness campaigns. This could involve something as simple as creating a list of helpful resources and sending it out to all employees. Or, companies could take a more hands-on approach by organizing knowledge-sharing meetings hosted by specially trained menopause counselors and medical professionals.
Alongside any initiatives, it’s important to always use inclusive language to account for the fact that not only women go through menopause. This is the best way to ensure that all employees feel seen and heard through this challenging experience.
For many women, half of the battle during menopause is simply finding ways to be comfortable. To help, companies should embrace flexibility and cultivate a working environment that is friendly and accommodating to menopause symptoms.
Policies could include things like providing the opportunity to work from home, adjusting schedules and implementing a “flexi time” policy, ensuring there are plenty of quiet spaces in the office to work, offering desk fans to those struggling to regulate their body temperature, and making small adjustments to uniforms to ensure employee comfort.
A Win-Win Opportunity
At the end of the day, it’s important to recognize that menopause impacts everyone – and that includes individuals, families, and employers. While it’s easy to pretend that this reality doesn’t exist or that the symptoms aren’t really “that bad”, companies can instead be a part of the solution to create a better future for working women.
The result? Happier, healthier, and more productive employees – a win-win for companies looking to harness the full potential of their talent pool.