Almost one million women driven out of work due to menopausal symptoms: things must change

sad woman looking out of the window, grief, bereavement, lockdown

Article by Melissa Robertson, CEO of Dark Horses

“What is the point of putting all this work into getting more young women into business and promoting them to positions of seniority, if we ignore this issue that will affect every single one of them. And drive almost a million of them out of work.”

Two years ago I found myself in the midst of two huge life developments at pretty much the same time. I became CEO of Dark Horses and I realised I was full throttle perimenopausal. I was supposed to be the person responsible for running an agency and looking after a whole new team and suddenly I was losing basic words and names in meetings, experiencing regular panic-related chest constrictions, and being reminded by my kids of conversations I’d had with them just hours before that I had totally forgotten.

Menopause feels like a mindstorm. I’ve unknowingly sent random texts that mean nothing, that I don’t remember sending. I’ve thought that I’ve seen messages from people that have never happened, but I’ve responded to them. It’s a wholescale brain and body rebellion. I am so so so very tired from sweating throughout the night, clearly in the process of purging the very essence of womanhood from my body.

Half of us that will go through menopause and the other half will live with, work with or generally be around someone affected by it. So it’s not a case of ‘not my issue’, it’s everyone’s issue. So unsurprising, we all need to be part of the solution.

In the past few years in advertising, but also in many other sectors, we have been encouraging younger women to join the industry. Of course we have, and of course we want them. They’re young and brilliant, and to date, there have been some great initiatives, driving fantastic results.

But, part of me wonders just what is the point of getting these amazing women in, if we don’t support them when they get to perimenopause and menopause stages? Because, without support, tactics, education and understanding, we’re as good as giving up on them before they even get going. And this isn’t being overly dramatic, it’s based on hard evidence.

Research by the Fawcett Society shows that  63% of women said their working life had been negatively affected by their symptoms and 29% of women  had lost self-confidence at work. And if we don’t do something about it, they’ll throw their arms up and take themselves off elsewhere.

Research by Bloomberg shows that 900,000 women have left jobs because of menopausal symptoms

And that is why women of my age in the advertising industry have been described recently as ‘rare as unicorn tears’.

We need these women in our industry. Without them, we lose a vast swathe of experienced, talented, brilliant practitioners, at the peak of their careers. Without them, the gender pay gap soars, and boards, exec teams and management teams battle against gender imbalance. And companies are the worse off for it, because there is plenty of data to prove that gender balance at exec levels not only make workplaces better, they make them more commercially successful.

Simply put, experienced women at a senior level are good for business.

When I found myself struggling I started opening up and telling my colleagues, suggesting ways that they could support me – for example it wouldn’t be ‘mansplaining’ if they jumped in to rescue me with a lost word. The response was amazing and so supportive, unembarrassed and non-judgmental. It became very clear that more open discussion was part of the solution. So I wrote an open source menopause policy, so any business can use it and apdat and apply it as they see fit. You’re welcome.

But as great as putting a policy in place is, it isn’t ‘the solution.’ What’s required is a major shift in mindset, behaviours and education. Because a lot of women in my position may not have the freedom, support or autonomy to take matters into their own hands.

Organisations need to start acknowledging the challenges that menopausal women face, swiftly followed up by different ways they can be supported. It’s important for women to feel that they don’t need to hide their symptoms, and any discussions will be met with empathy and action.

We need to ensure that line managers understand their role in delivering good working practices. They need to be prepared to make accommodations and aware of the easy adjustments and small tweaks that can make a significant difference; such as a safe environment to bring up any challenges their staff are facing – how long they can concentrate and what impact physical symptoms might have on them; temperature management; emotional reassurance and support.

Acknowledgment of the issue is the first step. But it’s the first step of many. And the sooner businesses address it, the better their workplaces will be.


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