As you are all no doubt aware International Women’s Day is a time to reflect, call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by women. Now, it does officially say it’s for women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities, but I believe it is a day of celebration for all women, because some women go unrecognised for their everyday acts of courage and contributions.
So, with my thoughts about courage and recognition I believe it important we continue in our quest to gain a better understanding of the impact of the perimenopause and menopause on women in the workplace.
Over the last few months I have been a prolific networker and have been out and about attending seminars and workshops to enable me to stay at the top of my game, sense check my professional knowledge and ensure we have the best working practices for New Directions Group of Companies. Whilst out and about, I have had the privilege of talking to many professional females and, we happened to touch on the subject of the menopause and I have to say, I have been quite shocked to hear some of their stories.
Yes, it remains firmly a rather taboo subject, with very little change in attitude since the government reported on it back in 2015 (Dr Ros Altmann CBE) and the more recent University of Leicester Report for the Department of Education in 2017. These two reports draw attention to the subject again, but there is little evidence to suggest UK workplaces have made positive changes in support of it’s ever growing female workforce through their transition.
Here is a snap shot of the experiences had by colleagues, friends and family: women have been given lesser projects because their behaviour has changed and they lack concentration and their once second to none organisational skills have all but disappeared, daily struggles with deadlines, in one extreme case someone was performance managed out of their role, others voluntary left their positions because of lack of support and understanding by their managers, others continue to fear their bosses reaction should they dare to broach the subject, they remain isolated and cannot talk about the way they are feeling because it may be misunderstood, some lost their confidence and doubted their abilities which resulted in them taking on lesser roles with reduced hours and pay.
Another finding that also concerned me was the lack of knowledge of the perimenopause by GPs – basically if you didn’t know already, this is the hidden gem that can strike up to 10 years before the menopause starts! Great!! Oh, don’t you just love being a women, mother nature blesses us with periods, pregnancy, perimenopause and then full blown menopause!
UK businesses need to wake up and realise that we can expect up to 47% of the UK workforce – i.e., all female workers – will experience menopause transition during their working lives.
I am writing this to encourage UK businesses to at least recognise that the transition for women through the menopause is not straight-forward and if you want to ensure you retain these talented women, you need to put support in place.
New Directions, have a predominately female workforce, with many of our females at management level, so we really are not taking this for granted and have already started providing support to make sure we retain these talented, strong, passionate women through the early stages (perimenopause) and latter stages of the menopause. We are determined not to lose these inspiring females of the future.
We are talking Wellbeing at work, recognising the signs, having a focused Wellbeing Champion as part of a comprehensive Wellbeing Strategy, supporting these women, give advice, talk about the taboo subject and put support measures in place. It can be tough dealing with irrational thoughts, emotional outbursts, insomnia, weight gain, forgetfulness, lack of concentration, self-doubt, these are just a few symptoms through the transition stage. Therefore, it is important to provide support, guidance and open dialogue, we must not write these women off, nor performance manage them, apply extra pressure, and allow negative comments from colleagues, this must stop! Women need to be able to talk about this without bias and fear for their positions, status etc.
Of course, we do respect that some women don’t want to be treated differently to men and potentially like to deal with the transition privately. If this is the case, go for it, we admire their strength, but should they need support, at least it will be available.
So, some tips to support are relatively simple, make sure someone is available to talk about the menopause, sometimes listening is all that is required, flexibility for medical appointments, sometimes it takes a while to diagnose a hormone imbalance or the menopause, provide literature about the menopause and sign post them in the right direction for answers, allow flexibility on work dress, flexible working hours, provide well ventilated areas to work if possible, allow regular breaks in meetings if you spot a colleague becoming too warm and uncomfortable, training for managers to spot the signs of changes in behaviour and the confidence to hold discussions about the menopause.
Interestingly, women are working in greater numbers than ever before. In the UK, between January and March 2017, just over 70% of women were in paid employment (Office for National Statistics/ ONS 2017). Women make up 47% of the UK workforce (Griffiths, Cox, Griffiths and Wong 2006; Kopenhager and Guidozzi 2015). If UK businesses don’t start to recognise this and support women, then they will lose some seriously talented professionals with high emotional intelligence and excellent business acumen. The perfect ingredients required around the top table, but research on the impact on women leaving before reaching those dizzy heights is yet to be produced!
On balance then, we can expect that up to 47% of the UK workforce – i.e. all female workers – will experience menopause transition during their working lives.
It’s time for the business community to #pressforprogress on this unspoken development within the female life cycle.