Women must feel able to discuss how the menopause is affecting their performance and behaviour at work without judgement, according to menopause coach Kate Usher.
Speaking at the Conscious Leadership conference, she said: “Someone from the outside might think ‘why are you behaving like this? This is not the way I expected you to be'. If there isn’t a narrative, or a way of saying within an organisation ‘this is what it is, and this is what I need', then it can leave someone feeling very isolated.”
Usher said that the menopause is a particularly challenging condition to manage in the workplace because of how long and how severely it can affect someone. So it's crucial employers overcome social stigma to offer more support, she said.
“The workplace is just a mirror of how we behave in everyday life. For the menopause, women don’t want to think that it could be them. But this is something they will have to live with on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t go away. And that’s why it’s so difficult to manage, it’s attritional."
She explained that many people don't realise how long the symptoms can persist for, and spoke candidly about her own experience of going through the menopause. "You wake up in the night and you sweat to the point where you're drenched, and then you wake up again and you're cold," she said.
"This can make you wake up about 10 times a night. Anyone who has had a puppy or a child might experience this, but only for a couple of years. This will happen night after night and for much longer. As well as that you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, memory loss... the list is endless.”
She added: “Menopause causes your entire identity and your relationship with yourself to completely shift. If you're struggling with yourself it can be so hard to deal with your personal relationships or your work relationships. One in 10 women are forced out of the workforce because they feel unable to cope."
Usher stressed that it's an issue that affects everyone. “Women who have not been through the menopause yet probably won’t know about it in detail, and won’t want to think about it. If more men knew about it I’d be so pleased. But if you know a woman, you love a woman, and you interact with a woman at any level you will experience the menopause with her,” she said.
“I knew almost nothing about the menopause. I thought that getting the menopause at 43 was quite young, but it turned out to be very normal. It was a horrific experience."
Her talk follows an announcement at the recent Labour party conference, by shadow women and equalities secretary Dawn Butler, that if in power Labour would ensure firms with more than 250 employees have measures in place to protect women going through the menopause. These include flexible working hours, training for managers, frequent breaks and reasonable adjustments.