’Pause For Thought
In a 2021 survey of over 5,000 people in five countries, 44 per cent said they’d feel too embarrassed to ask for support at work, while 66 per cent of people who experienced menopause said it affected them on the job. In the UK, over a million women have left their jobs because of menopausal symptoms, while countless others are discriminated against, denied support and openly mocked. Globally, menopause-related productivity losses can amount to more than US$150 billion a year.
In The Height Of It
Ironically, many women will reach the height of their career and leadership capability at the same time that they enter perimenopause and menopause, often with a significant impact on their physical, cognitive and emotional well-being. It usually occurs between ages 45 and 55 – which is also the age bracket during which women are most likely to move into top leadership positions (technically 53.46 years old for a CEO).
Generally lasting between seven and 10 years, menopause has up to 48 symptoms, ranging from fatigue, mood swings, weight gain, lowered confidence, plummeting sex drive, vaginal dryness and joint pain, to sleep deprivation, cognitive impairment, anxiety and depression. Studies have even shown that during menopause, levels of estrogen fall and testosterone levels rise, which can lead to hoarseness. At the same time, the muscles and tissues surrounding the larynx often start to weaken, hampering the vocal cords. So some women experience, literally, a loss of voice.
Let’s Talk About Menopause
A Korn Ferry analysis found that women hold only around 25 per cent of C-suite positions. If we want to continue to move the needle on the number of women in leadership roles and maintain their valuable contributions to a company’s bottom line, we need to open the discussion about menopause at work…
And it starts with talking. If you are a leader going through menopause, try to normalise your challenges so that other women can feel empowered to speak in the future. Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she’s currently going through perimenopause and her website, Goop, is demanding a much-needed rebrand of menopause. And Liv Garfield, the 45-year-old CEO of British water utility Severn Trent admitted to her nightly hot flashes. She’s now calling on fellow female execs to speak up. “Be clear if you’ve had a rubbish night’s sleep, because there will be lots of other women going through exactly the same thing,” she said.
More Than Words
Leaders need to start writing menopause and perimenopause support into business plans and being prepared to commit time, money and resources towards it. Online retailer Asos announced late last year it will offer menopausal employees up to 10 days paid leave to help deal with symptoms. This is an ethical decision but it’s also one that gives return on investment: 61 per cent of workers would be more likely to change jobs for an employer who offers support around menopause.
Acknowledging menopause and perimenopause doesn’t just make business sense – it’s the right thing to do. By 2030, about a quarter of the world’s female population (which works out to about 47 million women) will enter menopause and most will suffer in silence. Menopause has always existed in the workplace, a silent tax on women’s work and well-being. By starting the conversation now, we all can and should play a role in breaking that silence for future generations.
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