Happy International Women's Day
As we celebrate this day let's ask the question:
When can we expect it to be the norm to have a workplace that is menopause-friendly?
In 2022, only 25% of UK companies had a menopause policy in place and according to the Office of National Statistics, in December 2022, there were 15.66 million women aged 16 to 64 employed in the UK. Therefore millions of women with menopause symptoms were not supported by a menopause policy at work.
Menopause is a normal biological process that happens to every woman when their hormone levels start to fluctuate and drop. Peri-menopause symptoms can start in the late 30’s and menopause symptoms can start anywhere from ages 40 to 50. The symptoms can initially be difficult for women to identify and understand because menopause is unique to every woman and hormone levels fluctuate. Therefore the symptoms will come and go gradually get stronger and more frequent over time. 90% of women experience symptoms, which can go on for months or even years. Women have oestrogen receptors in every cell in their body and when oestrogen levels fluctuate it is felt everywhere.
Symptoms can include: forgetting names, becoming terrified of making a mistake at work, feeling tense and nervous, feeling irritable and unhappy, aching joints and muscles, crying for no reason, breathing difficulties, numbness, migraines and headaches, loss of energy and loss of interest in most things, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, hair loss, dry skin, feeling hot, feeling faint or dizzy, brain fog and more.
These symptoms affect many millions of women every single day and in a recent study
10% of women in the UK said they left their jobs due to menopause.
Additionally, only 14% of women in the UK are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), possibly due to the perceived risk of breast cancer. A 2002 study by the Women’s Health Initiative claimed HRT was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. Fortunately this study has since been re-examined, and new research shows that, for most women, the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks. It’s also important to remember that the type of HRT used in this study is not usually prescribed today in the UK. Transdermal HRT can be much safer to use and not only helps to alleviate many of the symptoms of menopause it can also help to protect against heart disease, loss of bone density and even dementia. A diet rich in phyto oestrogens and regular exercise such as yoga and swimming can also help alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause. Alas many Doctors and healthcare professionals in the UK have still not yet received menopause training therefore when women present with symptoms they are frequently misdiagnosed and not given the correct treatment.
Employers can take steps to create a menopause friendly work environment by implementing a menopause policy to protect and support their staff. Simple steps such as staff training to raise awareness of the symptoms, flexible working, fans, air conditioning, adjustable lighting, leave policy, a private rest space, access to a fridge and cold water, appointing a menopause mentor and or support group for women to share experiences and best practice, proactively asking staff what else may be needed, communication with all staff to normalise menopause, zero tolerance of any harassment, correct use of language avoid words like 'the curse' or 'the change'. These steps will help to contribute to a menopause friendly environment and in turn will maintain productivity, reduce absenteeism and support women to flourish in their careers.
Wishing you a very Happy International Women's Day.