We’ve all got our workplace horror stories, haven’t we? The ones that make us laugh out loud today but weren’t funny at the time – like the occasion when one of the HFC team was due to go and give a high pressure presentation and her front crown fell out, leaving her looking like she’d gone a few rounds with Tyson Fury. Or the time one of us did the classic ‘tucking her skirt into her underpants on leaving the toilet’ and got filmed by a less than charitable colleague walking down the office.
But there are horror stories that never get an airing because they are still things we can’t discuss easily. The menopause is one of them. Women make up 46.5% of the workforce and that workforce is ageing rapidly – the working-age population (16 and above) is expected to rise 7.8 % from 40.8 million in 2016 to 44.0 million in 2041. So why aren’t we talking about how the menopause affects women, the workplace and the wider economy?
What marginalises the menopause?
Well, we think there are lots of reasons. The first ever successful employment tribunal about menopause issues was only in 2012, which is incredibly recent in employment law terms, so there isn’t an established history of legal support for women who feel they’ve been disadvantaged in the workplace. Then there’s the difficulty that many women have in talking about any of this at work, because they worry that they may get passed over for promotion or viewed differently once they are seen as ‘one of those women’. Also, many women just can’t find a structure that allows them to start the menopause conversation anywhere other than in the staff room with other women ‘of a certain age’, so the debate never gets further than sharing with our peers. Don’t misunderstand our position – we think sharing with others is a huge part of the menopause journey and it’s a valuable contribution to our growth and understanding of the subject – but for menopause to become a mainstream subject, we need something different, something better.
Making menopause mainstream
We’re talking about creating institutional best practice – a dry as dust term for the way that organisations can help their teams open the debate about menopause (amongst other things) so that this subject becomes as natural, and openly discussed, as pregnancy or where to go on holiday. Some organisations, like the West Midlands Police, seem to be way ahead of others, and that’s because one strong woman stepped up and changed the culture.
We’re also talking about training and systems – managers need to be trained to work creatively with women have menopausal symptoms. Creative solutions can help every working woman to perform well and contribute better and these solutions can be a simple as being offered a desk fan or as creative as redesigning workplace uniforms with menopausal women in mind, so they aren’t forced into constricting, non-breathing synthetic clothing that makes every hot flush into a public spectacle.
Talking of uniforms and workplace horror stories – we have to share the story of Annika, a flight attendant. At the beginning of an 11 hour flight to San Francisco, while she was performing the in-flight safety demo, she felt a ping. It wasn’t her hot and heavy uniform giving way, nor an underwear malfunction, she’d actually had a prolapse. Like so many menopausal women, she just soldiered on, smiling and serving drinks and playing the trolley dolly until she landed and was able to get to a gynaecologist. The way she tells it is hilarious, but seriously, what kind of a world forces a woman to remain on her feet, dealing with the needs of others, when she’s in pain herself?
It’s a world in which menopause is treated as a minor inconvenience, rather than a recognised, real-world condition that half the world’s population will experience. Ready to change that world? Pop over to our forum and share your hilarious, or hellish, workplace menopause stories and then help us explore how the menopause can be made mainstream so nobody has to go through Annika’s experience again.
Here are a few links on the subject you may find interesting
Employers urged to ‘normalise’ menopause in the workplace’ interesting news feature from the BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42656070
Report from ACAS on managing older workers http://m.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/f/i/Managing-older-workers-a-report-for-acas.pdf
The effects of menopause transition on women’s economic participation in the UKResearch report July 2017Joanna Brewis, Vanessa Beck, Andrea Davies and Jesse Matheson – University of Leicester https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/632403/menopause_report.docx