Breaking the taboo: why menopause needs to be discussed in the workplace

While menopause is a natural and inevitable biological process, it’s unfortunately still a rarely considered topic within workplaces. This comes at the expense of both individuals and companies. As it often is, it’s the most difficult topics to address that are the most important to talk about:

Written by: Saskia, Director of People, Culture & Organization at Ladenzeile

Cisgender women and AFAB individuals undergo a variety of biologically natural processes during their lives, such as fertility, menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, as well as menopause. Although some of these phases, such as pregnancy and childbearing, are already receiving attention in companies, others, such as menopause, are often not addressed. Now, why is this topic in my opinion so crucial to talk about? Let’s have a look at the bigger picture and the consequences:

Approximately 11 million cisgender women in Germany are aged between 40 and 59, which makes up a quarter of the entire cisfemale population. The majority of them are employed, and often ready for career advancement but experiencing menopause symptoms that keep them from taking the next step due to a mismatch between their work requirements and their needs at this time. 

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To support people in all stages of their lives, I am dedicating this article to sharing my top five recommendations for employers to make their workplaces more inclusive for people experiencing menopause.

But first, let’s get a mutual understanding of the process itself:

Menopause: A biological process lasting 7-14 years

As a natural biological process, menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing hormones and the menstrual periods cease. The whole process is also called the climacteric or the climacteric period, and is divided into three phases: perimenopause, menopause (when menstruation has been abscent for 12 months in a row), and post-menopause. Menopause typically starts between the age of 45 to 55, however, the process can already initiate much earlier and usually lasts from 7 to 14 years.

The silent struggles – understanding the symptoms

Menopause brings with it a wide range of physical and mental symptoms. On the physical side, people may typically experience hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, joint pain, and headaches, among others. While hot flashes may be the most visually noticeable sign (and for many the most embarrassing), it’s the mental symptoms that can have an even stronger negative impact on an individual’s daily life: mood swings, anxiety, and depression can leave people feeling less confident and feeling disconnected from themselves. Some describe it as a sense of “not knowing themselves anymore”. Another symptom is the so-called “brain fog”, which can make it hard to focus and concentrate, which can turn a previous self-perception upside-down.

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What can menopause cost individuals (and their workplaces)?

Apart from already being a both physically and mentally challenging phase in life, menopause can have severe consequences for a person’s career. Here are some of the main issues that both people undergoing menopause and their workplaces might face:

  • Career disadvantages at an important time in life: The average CEO is hired at 53, which is considered the peak of one’s career. For cisgender women and AFAB individuals, this is at the same time also the phase of menopause, and thus, experiencing huge changes in life. Research shows that menopause symptoms can result in stepping down to part-time hours – or even resigning from their contracts – since they often don’t feel able to perform as expected in the working environments to which they are exposed. That doesn’t alone lead to the individuals potentially missing important career steps – but also to less diverse representation in leadership and C-level roles, reinforcing the lack of gender equality in leadership.

  • Gender pay gap increases: The fact that people undergoing menopause are often more likely not to take the next career step, and instead reduce working time, leads to an even more acute problem: the gender pay gap. Since a lower career level and reduced working time also means that this group earn less (while already in general earning less than men), the gender pay gap increases, and females are more likely to be affected by old-age poverty.

    Want to read more about women and the gender pay gap? Read my article: “Women, let’s talk numbers: 6 tips for your next salary negotiation” here.

  • Skilled work shortage: Menopause isn’t just a challenge in the workforce. The shortage of skilled workers is a reality, and as fewer people are available on the job market, companies struggle to find the personnel they need to thrive. This shortage of skilled labor can have a significant impact on a company’s productivity and profitability.

  • Lack of diversity: The over-representation of men in leadership positions and teams is a significant problem, as it can lead to less varied discussions, unilateral decision-making, and poorer performance in innovation. This means that diverse perspectives and ideas are not being considered, which feeds the initial problem itself.

5 tips for employers to create a more inclusive environment for people in menopause:

1. Raise awareness

As it’s so far still a topic of silent struggles, many people don’t have any knowledge about menopause and its symptoms. Especially leads should be aware of the symptoms and challenges that come with it, and inform themselves about what they can do to support and retain their employees.

2. Ensure psychological safety

Fostering a culture and space where individuals can talk about their symptoms without being marginalized and discriminated against is fundamentally key. The safer people feel talking about their issues, the more this phase of life will be normalized by others, which will also ease the pressure.

3. Provide access to information

The more we understand, the better we’re able to support. At the same time, it’s also helpful for individuals experiencing menopause to have space to exchange with others in the same phase of life; this helps them access information and support from external providers such as doctors, coaches, or support groups.

4. Create a comfortable office environment

Since many are experiencing hot flashes in times of menopause, it’s helpful to provide office spaces that have flexible climate regulations, as well as accommodations to refresh or take a shower

5. Offer flexibility

The psychological and physical symptoms can differ greatly and not everyone is experiencing the same issues. To help cope with the different symptoms from sleep deprivation to pain or difficulty concentrating, it’s important to allow for flexibility. Remote work opportunities and flexible working times can already help a lot. However, there are already companies like the Bank of Ireland that go one step further, providing 10 extra days off per year for people in menopause.

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Let’s keep walking the talk

As a society, we’re taking the first steps toward more transparency and openness regarding the topic of menopause. That’s a great beginning, but it’s also essential that every company contributes to creating a workplace that values the experience and knowledge of people in this phase of life. 

Therefore, it’s important to keep the conversation going: I hope that my experience and recommendations in this article can serve to help you and your organization to take mindful and meaningful steps to a more equitable environment – and a more inclusive future.

Looking to advance in your career? Join our team of experts from all over the world in shaping the future of online product comparison. Check our current job openings here!

Saskia Weigand, Director of People, Culture & Organization at Ladenzeile

Meet Saskia

Saskia is our Director of People, Culture and Organization, where she’s responsible for the entire spectrum of HR work and supports the agile transformation of the company:

Helping people find their own professional path and meaning in their daily work gives me satisfaction and motivates me to start my own working day every day.

– Saskia Weigand

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