2023 was the year of sorting persistent health issues for me and it also happened to be the year perimenopause commenced. Right on schedule in fact as the average age bracket for the commencement of perimenopause is 40-44 years of age.
For me this looked like significant blood loss resulting in very low iron levels, muscle pain and tension unlike I had experienced before and insomnia that tracked along with my cycle. From a medical perspective it looked like trying multiple hormone therapies, trips to the big city to have my uterus photographed, a procedure to remove a polyp and an immeasurable amount of misgendering.
There is nowhere near enough research on ovaries and uteruses. This means that not only do people with ovaries and uteruses have to deal with the physical effects of perimenopause and menopause – they also need to deal with feeling like a guinea pig. “We don’t know if this will work, its just a bit of trial and error” “Yes its best not to read the side effects as there are so many” “Most people find this works really well”. For a scientist by training like myself this is incredibly frustrating and disappointing – as many of my peers have commented “If men had a uterus this would all be so different”.
My experimentation has not ended but I have something at the moment that is minimising the worst of the symptoms and the side effects are so far manageable.
But why am I sharing this story and what connection does this have to inclusion in the workplace? This story (and many way more challenging than mine) is in the background for many people with uteruses and ovaries in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s but it is very rarely talked about in the workplace let alone the subject of support measures. We need that to change if we seriously want to increase diversity in leadership roles.
People experiencing symptoms of menopause or perimenopause are unlikely to raise this at work and seek support.
The Australian Menopause Societies website states:
“A 2021 study found 83% of women experiencing menopause were affected at work, but only 70% would feel comfortable speaking with their manager about it.
People have often quit their jobs, work through unmanageable symptoms and take demotions before they will speak openly about these issues in the workplace. This is a significant impact on gender equality efforts and combined with the existing age and gender biases in leadership roles is having an immeasurable impact on creating diverse leadership teams.
In my training sessions I have had people reveal that they are frightened to hire a women in their late forties and fifties. I have heard from people experiencing menopause that they totally hid the fact that they hadn’t slept properly for a year at work and saw their performance drop without seeking any form of support or help for fear that their co-workers would mark them as on the out -”not leadership material”. It really is very unfortunate timing for many people who experience menopause, as they seek to reach the pinnacle of their careers they keep finding themselves drenched in sweat, with significant brain fog or persistent insomnia. The stigma prevents these people from seeking the flexibility they need, asking for appropriate adjustments and having open conversations with their peers and managers about how they can be best supported.
What can workplaces do to support employees experiencing menopause or perimenopause?
The following are some ideas for supporting employees experiencing menopause (for more ideas visit Australian Menopause Society)
These initiatives could empower employees to get the support they need and therefore be able to participate more fully in the workplace. For workplaces it can allow them to retain valuable talent in their leadership pipelines, grow a more loyal employee base and increase the health and wellbeing of employees – a win-win scenario.
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