· Features

Breaking the menopause stigma

As International Women's Day approaches it's time to tackle various 'taboos' including the menopause

Five years into the menopause and there was no sign of the symptoms abating. I couldn’t believe it was affecting so many areas of my life.

Some of the more challenging aspects can be very debilitating, especially around not sleeping and the impact it can have on your concentration. Since half the population will experience the menopause I felt I could help others by at least sharing my own experience.

With people living much longer some women may have menopausal symptoms until they are in their seventies. If the average woman starts the menopause at 51, and continues working until the age of 70, menopausal symptoms could affect her for around a third of her working life.

The menopause was, and I think to a certain degree still is, a topic people don’t talk enough about. It can be viewed as a ‘female-only’ or sensitive subject, which can make it very challenging to have an inclusive and wider discussion about the effects on someone’s working life.

Some women often try to disguise their experiences, potentially because they are uneasy about discussing them with their line managers or male colleagues, perhaps assuming others won’t be understanding.

Communication and education can help to challenge perceptions and misunderstandings of the menopause and prompt more open discussion about it. In recent years we have seen some progress, but there is more that businesses can do to support their employees.

This can include taking steps to provide an open environment for women to feel they can discuss their experience of the menopause and the impact their symptoms are having on their day-to-day working lives.

For example, the issue can be woven into other health topics such as sleep, nutrition, and exercise to help encourage people to view it with the same importance as a number of other health considerations.

Being able to work flexibly has been key for me. If the symptoms affect your sleep it’s helpful to have the option to work from home and avoid the commute or flex your hours to help avoid busy periods on the train or bus for example.

At EY I set up the 40+ network about two years ago, which covers topics such as health, menopause, and being a carer. It’s not a formal network but structured to provide support and importantly a community.

People can share experiences and knowledge about the menopause and work through their symptoms. It can help to remove the isolation that some people may feel and can help build confidence in talking about the subject.

There isn’t always a need for businesses to implement a specific policy for supporting women experiencing the menopause. Open conversation and the right adjustments can be just as powerful. Half the population will go through menopause and it’s important to remember the impact can be felt by men too as partners, husbands, sons, and fathers.

With more acceptance, understanding, and better support for those going through it the menopause will become less of a ‘women’s-only issue’ and instead a societal issue that needs to be better addressed.

Alison Martin-Campbell is an executive assistant at EY

Further reading

Is flexible working for menopausal women a step too far?

Employers urged to discuss the menopause more openly

MPs say employers should support menopausal women

Five steps to improve menopause support