How Does Menopause Relate to Diversity & Inclusion?

Despite the fact that it’s long been a taboo subject, menopause is a workplace issue. And as forward-thinking leaders begin to incorporate it within their D&I agenda and health & wellness benefits considerations, its importance will continue to become more widely known and understood.   

There are many studies in the last 5 years to show how women experience this time in their working lives, the barriers they experience, and how they are affected by menopausal symptoms during their working day. 

 

Organisational Culture and its Role in Managing Menopausal Symptoms

Organisational culture has a part to play and can substantially determine how often and how bad a woman experiences her menopausal symptoms while at work. That symptoms can affect work performance is well documented, but many women don’t seek help due to embarrassment and cultural taboos still associated with menopause.  

Recent studies also show that a two-way dynamic can exist, where a woman’s symptoms affect her work, but her work can also negatively affect her symptoms. While these symptoms can result in absenteeism, only 50% of women will reveal the real reason for sickness absence during menopause, therefore It is difficult to know what percentage are taken for menopausal symptoms. 

 

Menopause and Gender Equality in the Workplace

Gender equality is an important aspect of D&I for any organisation, and therefore menopause and its impact on employees is an essential area of consideration in this area. Women have much to offer employers if supported during menopause, so that they can continue to thrive and progress at work. The range and severity of symptoms experienced during menopause can seriously impact someone’s capacity to ‘bring their whole self to work’, which, as a keystone concept for D&I, is critical when considering approaches to change. 

There is a growing body of research exploring gendered ageing at work that demonstrates the ‘double jeopardy’ of discrimination that older women experience based on the intersection of their age and gender. Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that every person has a unique experience of discrimination and marginalisation and therefore everything and anything that can affect this should be taken into consideration – this could include gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc.  A study in 2021 highlights three areas in the workplace where women experience menopause as an intersectional experience;  

  • Unidentifiable inequality – where women experience inequality but are unsure of whether it is due to their menopause, age, health, or gender. 
  • Work allocation – where women experience allocation of perceived low-value roles or roles that require difficult physical or emotional qualities for them. 
  • Work progression – where women experience loss of career prospects or flexibility in changing jobs, especially where they are physically affected by symptoms in their role.

     

 Ethnicity, Culture, and the Experience of Menopause 

Ethnicity, culture and background play a part in the experience of menopause, both in the symptoms experienced and the variation in attitudes. When considering the extent to which ethnicity can impact on the experience of menopause, there are distinct differences.   

An example of this following a study in the US shows that women of colour tend to begin menopause at earlier ages than their white peers, have longer lasting menopause transitions and experience more intense menopausal symptoms. 

 

The Socio-economic Impact of Remote Work on Menopausal Women

 Socio-economic and lifestyle factors have also been shown to be associated with the experience of menopause.  Early onset of menopause has been associated with; lower education and occupation levels; income; smoking; physical activity and body mass index.  

 

The global transition in the past two years to working from home has also had a significant socio-economic impact on women of menopausal age. The effect of this has had both positive and negative impacts where increased flexibility and control over surroundings have created physical benefits, but increased stress has created emotional issues due to work encroaching into domestic responsibilities and vice versa. Having less interaction with others may also be detrimental, as can reduced access to occupational health, counselling or coaching where these workplace provisions exist. 

Understanding how the women within an organisation experience menopause will provide valuable information to underpin the creation of strategies and plans to establish positive change.  

 

Creating Strategies for Positive Change: Understanding Menopause in the Workplace 

Developing menopause awareness and offering menopause training as part of D&I initiatives will create the foundation for levels of wellbeing and productivity which will benefit both the individual and the organisation in significant ways.