Menopause is a natural phase of life experienced by every single woman, which can bring about profound hormonal changes. While often seen as a personal journey, menopause can significantly impact women in the workplace, including those in senior leadership positions. The physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms associated with menopause present unique challenges for these leaders. However, we can unlock these leaders' true power and potential by understanding and addressing menopause. We first need to explore the challenges of menopause in the workplace and provide strategies for navigating this transformative phase while embracing empowerment.
Given that this will impact 50% of our population at some stage in their life cycle, it is critical we look at the effect this can have on organisations and the potential loss of decades worth of experience and knowledge simply because we don’t fully understand menopause and it’s long term effects.
The word Menopause literally means the "end of monthly cycles", from the Greek word pausis ("pause") and mēn ("month"). The most interesting part about “menopause” is that it lasts for one day only. When I personally understood this, it made a huge difference to my way of thinking as I had been waiting for “menopause” to kick in.
Prior to this, I kept asking myself “if this s how I am feeling today, how am I going to feel when I hit Menopause, not realising I was in the thick of it. It is one of the few conditions that is confirmed with retrospective diagnoses.
It occurs when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. Prior to that period, a woman is technically in Perimenopause which can start as early as in the mid-30s but generally in the mid-40s, lasting anywhere between 5 to 10 years, sometimes more, and the day after the 12-month mark of no menstruation, a woman is considered to be in post-menopause.
While symptoms tend to subside gradually in the postmenopausal period, if not looked after correctly, the depletion of hormone production can lead to several diseases in a women's later life such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, mood disorders, vaginal and urinary changes, and cognitive decline to name a few.
According to a report titled "Menopause and the Workplace" by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4, menopausal symptoms have led one in ten women to leave their jobs. The study surveyed 4,000 women aged 45-55 and found that approximately 333,000 women in the UK had left their jobs due to menopausal symptoms. Additionally, the survey revealed that 14% of women in this age group had reduced their working hours, and 8% had refrained from applying for promotions due to menopausal symptoms.
The report indicated that over 40% of women stated that their ability to work had been affected by menopause, with 18% reporting current symptoms impacting them, and 26% saying they had been affected in the past. The study also highlighted that 41% of respondents had witnessed menopause or its symptoms being treated as a joke in the workplace. Loss of motivation at work was reported by 61% of participants, with half of them stating a loss of confidence.
In a separate report by the Online Menopause Centre, it was found that only 14% of women discussed their menopause or perimenopause symptoms with their employers. Of those who spoke up, almost half said their employers did nothing to address their concerns, while 18% were offered flexible working arrangements, and only 7% received specific interventions like fans or air conditioning to alleviate hot flushes.
These findings highlight the need for increased awareness, support, early education and understanding regarding menopause in the workplace to create a more inclusive and accommodating environment for women going through this life stage.
To effectively navigate menopause in leadership, we need to look at implementing the following:
Menopause remains largely misunderstood and shrouded in silence, creating isolation and invisibility for menopausal women, including senior leaders. It's time to break the chains of silence and foster an environment where menopause can be openly discussed and supported. This one move alone can help Senior leaders not feel alone on their journey as it is already lonely at the top and we do not need to isolate them even more.
Menopause brings physical symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, and fatigue that can disrupt a senior leader's daily routine and overall well-being. Acknowledging and addressing these challenges is crucial for women in leadership positions. We can offer a lot more flexibility and not impact effectiveness and productivity. In fact, by accommodating individual needs, we may even allow for greater productivity and effectiveness as these senior leaders work through their strongest periods of time.
Menopause can cloud the cognitive landscape of senior leaders, leading to memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, and reduced mental clarity. Just by being aware of this, being open and adopting some simple yet effective strategies, senior leaders can navigate this fog and reclaim their professional edge.
Menopause, despite its challenges, endows senior leaders with wisdom, experience, and a unique perspective that enriches their leadership style. By recognising and harnessing this power, these leaders can create a positive impact within their organisations and foster an inclusive work environment. This point alone cannot be underestimated. Organisations and our teams can benefit enormously from the experience and unique perspective women gain during this phase in life.
Encouraging open communication, seeking support, prioritising self-care, advocating for flexible work arrangements, and engaging in continuous learning and skill development are essential for successfully navigating menopause in leadership.
Menopause presents unique challenges for senior leaders in the workplace, impacting their physical well-being, emotional resilience, and cognitive abilities. By breaking the silence surrounding menopause, seeking support, prioritising self-care, and embracing empowerment, these leaders can successfully navigate this transformative phase. It is crucial for organisations to create supportive environments that acknowledge and accommodate the needs of menopausal women, ensuring they can continue to contribute their valuable expertise and experience.
To overcome the challenges of menopause, workplaces should normalise conversations about menopause, provide resources and training, and implement policies that address menopausal symptoms. By doing so, they can create a more inclusive and empowering environment for women at this stage of life.
Why would we want to lose the expertise, intellectual property and experience that has taken each woman decades to accumulate, rather than harness all their experience and knowledge to positively impact the whole company? Together, we can create a future where menopause is no longer a barrier but a catalyst for growth, resilience, and success in leadership.
Navigating menopause in leadership requires understanding, empathy, and a commitment to creating a workplace that supports the well-being and professional growth of menopausal women. Embracing this opportunity gives organisations the ability to harness the power and potential of leaders, driving positive change and fostering a more inclusive and successful work environment for all.