When sleeping women wake, mountains move

black smoke coming from fire

The recent Channel4 programme presented the shocking statistic that 9 out of 10 women felt menopause had a negative impact on their working life. And that’s why over 30 women met to explore how women’s career can flourish through menopause. They ranged from women who were simply curious about the “upcoming milestone” and those who were starting the journey and noticing some changes in how they felt and behaved; through to women who were swimming through the middle of menopause with or without HRT or coming out the other side and “over the worst – I hope.”

When you provide a Safe Space for women to connect, it’s amazing what is shared, digested, challenged and acknowledged. Here are a few of the highlights:

What’s worked well at helping women’s careers flourish through menopause?

It’s not on many companies’ radar

It’s no surprise that many companies are just waking up to the issue of menopause for the (generally) 50% of their employees who will experience it, and the other 50% who will work with someone impacted by it. We heard “there is not a lot going on that is specifically to help menopausal women,” with companies relying on individual relationships between the woman and her manager, rather than an organisation wide approach.

Being better informed

Just like the Safe Space event, women acknowledged that being better informed was a helpful step some organisations are already taking. Participants generously exchanged information sites and tools that were useful to better educate on the topic of menopause – we’ve captured some of these in a recent post. Simply inviting a conversation and sharing stories can be helpful and reassuring for both men and women, employer, and manager, to understand what it’s like to experience menopause.

Structured organisational approaches

Some businesses already have more proactive initiatives aimed at helping women’s careers to thrive. These include:

  • Menopause steering group with various resources educate line managers.
  • Traffic light system to allow women to self-report their emotional / mental health to their colleagues (also used in well-being initiatives).
  • Clear policies on flexibility, home-working and job crafting
  • Reasonable Adjustment Passports, with a ‘contract’ with line managers to flex start times, changes in sickness triggers etc.
  • Education for all in the workplace, not just woman to woman, so that men are educated and can react in an informed manner to an employee.
  • Menopause café where people, often strangers, gather to discuss menopause in a confidential and respectful space.
  • Policies and training e.g. ACAS menopause policy and training package.

And rather than hiding resources and training on a company intranet site, one participant shared how helpful it is when companies push communication on menopause out into the business. As she explained, “Given the unspoken expectation that women are expected to keep quiet and carry on, perhaps people might not feel comfortable asking to see a menopause policy or asking if there is one. Many people feel uncomfortable sharing this as though it’s a weakness.”

What else could we do so that women thrive through menopause at work?

Given that most companies are still in their infancy in outlining their strategy and practices, we explored what else could be done to enable women to thrive at this time.

Raise awareness further

One simple next step is to raise the bar on awareness – with the responsibility at the feet of both leaders and employees. For example, we can talk about menopause more with our friends, both male and female, recognising that it’s a very personal experience and requires responses that are flexible enough to adjust to each individual. This might include, as one woman suggested, asking partners and line-managers “what are you doing to prepare for me experiencing menopause?”

Normalise menopause

Menopause isn’t new. Nor is it a surprise. Every woman goes through menopause, however they experience it. So why not treat the menopause like any other life event or life stage – make it normal. Then it’s no big deal for the team at work pull together and support that person with what they each need.

Similarly menopause can be reframed positively, whilst being mindful that everyone’s experience is different. Is the terminology in common usage such as ‘the change’ helpful? And if not, how do we want to describe the experience of menopause? After all, it’s a time when society sees women as shifting from having reproductive value to economic value.

On the other hand, perhaps it is time to stop summing up menopause as “hot flushes” and “your periods stopping” or labelling the many and varied experiences as “women’s issues” – when it’s clearly so much more complex. There is an opportunity as women and as leaders to realign how we describe menopause to match the many facets of who we are.

Return on investment

In fact, there was challenge to the notion that this transition was somehow negative, in contradiction to other rites of passage such as puberty, life partnerships, or pregnancy. What if companies could see the opportunity menopause provides, viewing “menopause support as a return on investment – as post-menopausal women are such a treasure to have in your company.”

Acknowledge how hard menopause can be

Whilst menopause can be an opportunity for women, for some it comes at a significant cost. The symptoms can have a substantial effect on the quality of life of women and on their performance in the workplace. It needs to be acceptable and not considered a failure when women raise the physiological and mental impact of what that they are experiencing and ask for help and support.

From caterpillars to butterflies

There is so much more to menopause than the physical symptoms. The idea rose from the group that, for many women, menopause could be a time of opportunity, a transition, asking “What if we treated women in the menopause like caterpillars turning into butterflies?”

In some cultures, women who have been through menopause are celebrated as emancipated, freeing them from taboos and restrictions on the opportunities available to them. And some women feel “so much more free and vibrant” and note that “I really don’t miss the crazy hormones, so I’m much clearer in my head and able to function better without that distraction.”

Menopause provides the opportunity for women to find who they were created to be and seek a larger, richer life. It can provide the opportunity to take the journey of unpicking the identity, direction and boundaries of who we are to seek a broader, deeper perspective on ourselves and our lives.

Wake up and hold a safe space

The challenge of menopause won’t go away. Companies, colleagues, managers, partners and women themselves won’t magically solve what comes up as the transition occurs. But we can all hold a safe space for each other as we learn to do this better.

At the Safe Space Event we created a place where women walked alongside each other on a journey of exploration. No one presented any ultimate expertise, no panel of medical experts or presentations. We simply explored a challenging topic that has no easy answers.  And provided a space where we could learn from each other and reflect on what more we could all be doing to shift that shocking statistic about the impact of menopause on women’s working lives. 

The result was a space where women’s voices were heard:

 “It was nice to acknowledge my feeling about menopause with other women. I want to take this conversation to work and do a staff meeting on the topic.”

“Great to connect with other women who are experiencing and thinking about this. So important and very topical at the moment.”

“It’s just been nice to know I’m not alone, gives me more strength to deal with it!”

“Thank you to everyone – it’s been so cathartic sharing!”

“No one talks about it in the Sri Lankan community!”

“Just great to meet with likeminded women and understand a bit more about what all women want out of this.”

Safe Space Event May

We are all currently waking up to menopause, as women and as employers. This was summarised beautifully be one women who captured the groundswell within the group, “when sleeping women wake, mountains move!” Here’s to those mountains.

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