Part 2: What can workplaces do?
In the past 40 years, workforce participation of women aged 55 to 64 years has risen from around 20% to 60%. Given this substantial increase, it only makes sense for employers to think about how they can support and retain experienced women as they transition through menopause. Menopause is a natural, inevitable stage in the lifecycle when a woman’s balance of hormones change while her fertility comes to an end. During this time, three in four women will experience symptoms, which can affect engagement at work, and one in four will be seriously affected.
What can workplaces do to support women through this time of life?
This was one of the questions I asked in my one-to-one interviews with 30 Australian working women. Most could name several specific things that would make a positive difference. These were the top three.
1. Talk about menopause, normalise it. (Even though menopause is already normal!).
‘End the silence that surrounds a stage of life that half of humanity goes through.’ ¹
Workplaces can run education seminars on the topic for all staff, men included, to help open up the conversation. I recently ran a webinar on menopause for a large organisation in NSW and afterwards received an unprecedented number of ‘thank you, thank you’ emails from the many women who were so glad to know they weren’t alone. Workplaces could also run an anonymous survey to gauge staff sentiment. Here are some free resources to help you articulate the business case for menopause education at work, and ways to help shift any stigma around the topic.
2. Provide Good Quality Information
Women said they really wanted to know what they could do to help themselves, but found it hard to find good quality information.
‘Not just cosmo articles, but clinical research please.’
Workplaces can play a really valuable role in collating quality information from reputable sources, and sharing this with staff on their intranet pages. Be aware that much of the information focusses on the challenges of menopause, and rarely shares the upside, so try to provide some good news stories as well. And don’t assume men won’t be interested, they often want to understand what’s happening with their wives, partners, friends or relatives.
3. Create opportunities for Intergenerational Exchange
‘Older women sharing with younger women, a go-to network where you can go for support.’
Informal support networks can reduce the isolation many working women feel as they go through menopause, while building confidence and coping strategies.
Comprehensive research conducted by researchers from La Trobe University and now Monash University, involving about 2,000 women, also asked women what would help. Key findings included:
Individual women did not want to be put in the spotlight, but they did want:
- Training for managers and other key personnel so that if a woman does want to raise it, her manager feels equipped to have a comfortable conversation, exploring the reasonable adjustments that could be made to help the woman remain successful in her role.
- For policies to be menopause sensitive. For example, flexible working policies can name menopause as a reason to access flexible work practices.
- The diversity of women’s experience of menopause to be recognised. Offer a menu of support options rather than think there is a one-size-fits all approach.
- That menopause support is part of a broader approach to creating an inclusive culture for both genders.
The business risk of allowing menopause to remain a taboo topic, and therefore preventing talented women from accessing support, is high. What first step could you take to open up the topic at your workplace? I’d love to hear.
- All italicised quotes come from women interviewed by Thea for her Women, work & menopause research. You can download the report at thea.com.au/menopause