For too long, menopause has been taboo. And yet we wonder why women disappear from C-suite roles. Menopause disproportionately impacts the most senior and experienced women in the workplace, and to retain them, we must break down the stigma surrounding it.
A quarter of women are more likely to leave their job because of a negative menopause experience, and a fifth are more likely to retire early (Fawcett Society, 2021). That’s a lot of women leaving the workforce and leaving an even bigger skills gap to fill.
Opening up about menopause isn’t easy. And the culture of silence that surrounds it is a vicious circle – if women don’t talk about it, how can employers support them? Someone needs to take that first step, and business leaders should be first in line.
Creating an open and supportive culture in the workplace is a good place to start. Here are five ways to make it easier for senior women to stay at work during this significant milestone in their lives.
1. Create an open forum for discussion
Making space for difficult discussions is how we bring them out into the open. The more we talk about something, the less frightening or embarrassing it is to raise your hand or ask for help.
Try creating an internal panel with input from your ED&I team. Those going through menopause are the best people to advise you, but it’s also essential to have buy-in from other groups at all levels.
Set your intentions, and you will find people willing to come forward. And if you have staff willing to share their experiences, a virtual panel discussion could kick things off.
If you’re keen to start smaller, you could set up a support group. Signalling that you’re open to having the discussion is the first step.
2. Make it with a menopause policy
Once you’ve started the conversation, ask for input and create a menopause policy for your business. A menopause policy isn’t a tick-list of concessions available – it should empower women to ask for what they need and give line managers the power to make meaningful changes.
It also needs to be communicated to everyone – not just women. Everyone in the business needs to know that you take menopause seriously. This is also an excellent way to open up the conversation to others, regardless of gender, and really start to demystify menopause.
3. Make changes personal
Menopause is a normal and inevitable part of life for half the population, but symptoms can vary wildly from person to person. A one-size-fits-all approach will never work – instead, the key is flexibility.
Some women may benefit from temporarily reducing their working hours or a more flexible approach to remote working. Others might need a fan on their desk or a seat next to the window. And for some, simply turning the camera off during team meetings will reduce anxiety.
Sensitive changes that address the needs of the individual can go a long way to helping ease the symptoms, particularly the stress and anxiety that come with trying to ‘cover up’ in work.
4. Help your managers to help your staff
Educating your managers on what menopause is and how they can support female staff is a must. Awareness of the symptoms and how they affect women’s health, and wellbeing will help your senior team react sensitively.
Armed with knowledge, they can also be more proactive – setting the tone for open two-way communication and making themselves more approachable.
You could consider creating a guide specifically for managers alongside your menopause policy. And make sure menopause is included in your inclusion training and is an integral part of any learning around health and wellbeing. Raising awareness at every opportunity will help make menopause an everyday topic.
5. Support and signpost
Some women may never feel comfortable talking to a male manager about menopause, even if he is well-trained and well-versed. This is why it’s good to have an alternative – perhaps a named female colleague in your HR team or health and wellbeing champions in each department.
Many women may be looking for information in the first instance and don’t feel ready to talk. If you have an employee assistance programme, remind staff that they can use it to access information. Or point people to other helpful resources, such as Women’s Health Concern, the patient arm of the British Menopause Society, Menopause Matters and the Daisy Network, which offers help and support specifically for women experiencing premature menopause.
6. Keep on talking
Building an open and supportive work culture is key to making difficult conversations easier. Health and wellbeing issues always need to be handled sensitively, but we need to have those discussions at work to help each other.
Providing the proper support in the workplace could make all the difference. We can stop women from feeling they need to hide and reduce the stress, anxiety and depression that go along with it. And, ultimately, keep them in the workplace, contributing to your business, the economy and their sense of wellbeing.