Menopause matters to business strategy. It sits across talent, business continuity, culture, risk and retention, it’s a central pillar in ESG strategies and businesses are speeding head-long into a real crisis that will affect growth and exit returns it they don’t act now, as menopausal women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.
That’s the view of Fiona McKay, Head of Value Creation at Lightbulb Leadership Solutions. She is also the founder of The Menopause Maze™️, a workplace development programme and online career coaching community for portfolio companies and their high-performing professional women, which was born out of her own experience of early, surgically-induced menopause whilst working as a fund advisor and value creation strategist.
In this article, Fiona explains why boards should be making menopause a central board priority and offers her top insights on how to support women, along with the tools needed to equip businesses to manage menopause.
Managing the myths and misconceptions
There are many myths and misconceptions about the menopause, which can make it a maze and a taboo subject. The menopause is a natural biological process that all women will go through at some point in their lives, the average age being 45 years entering into perimenopause, and 51 years entering full menopause. There are over 30 known symptoms of the menopause recorded by NICE, with common symptoms being hot flushes, brain fog, anxiety, lack of confidence and insomnia.
For many women, the menopause can be a very challenging time and can have a significant impact on their work life. But this is also the time of high stakes in high performing women’s careers, many of whom are in key positions in management teams and are central to business success.
Women feel they have to choose between their career and their health
For some women, menopause can be a time when they feel that they have to choose between their career and their health. This is often due to the lack of understanding and support from employers. In hyper-growth and male dominated cultures, being seen as anything ‘less than’ is often felt to be a fast track to professional penalty, which renders many women to manage their symptoms in silence.
After childbirth the menopause is the second most career limiting issue for working women. A recent study by The Women’s Business Council found that 62% of women said menopause had a negative impact on their career, with one in four saying they had to leave their job as a result.
Do boards really understand what happens to women as they transition through menopause?
It depends. It’s often easier if there are ‘elder stateswomen’ or external trusted advisors who historically have provided advice ‘quietly’ around this time of transition. But there is limited gender and generational diversity in the UK’s non-executive and executive board community, which in turn often leads to a lack of understanding about menopause and its impact on women.
Shocking figures and findings
Back in 2018, I published the results of research that I undertook on gender biased feedback, the primary question being do men and women get different types of performance feedback in the workplace, and if so, what impact is does it have?
The findings showed that men on average receive criticism 60% of the time but that figure skyrockets to 91% if you are a woman and the disadvantage doubles if you are in menopause. It feeds directly into gender pay gaps, discretionary bonus opportunities, equal access to leadership and potential poverty in retirement for women.
In addition, separate research shows that out of 500 menopausal women, only 22% said their employer understood menopause and its impact. What’s more, nearly half (48%) of those surveyed said they had experienced negative comments or jokes about menopause from colleagues, with a quarter (26%) saying this had come from a senior colleague. Let’s not forget that all the above findings are contributory indicators and key aspects of your inclusive ESG performance that cannot be discounted.
What do women want and what does the workplace need to provide?
My research also showed that menopausal women want two key things from their employer – conversation and community – but they want personal choice in how they engage in both. Recent studies show that 52% of women want their workplaces to provide advice, support and development to help them manage menopause. The remaining 48% said that although they expect workplaces to provide a level of this, they would prefer to source external bespoke support. These are often high-performing women at the top of their career games and want specific coaching and expertise that understands the challenges of leading companies and growing businesses through menopause rather than the ‘one size fits all’ solution.
So, what can businesses do to support women?
- Firstly, it’s important to provide training on how to have non-biased feedback conversations for managers so that they and their peers are equipped to support team members.
- Secondly, businesses should consider how they can adapt their working environment to support menopausal women. This could include things like flexible working, temperature-controlled environments and access to menopause support services, which includes internal and external menopause mentors.
- Thirdly, it’s important to create a menopause policy that is fit for purpose and meets the needs of your business. This should be led by HR with input from external menopause specialists.
- Fourthly, provide expert menopause transition career coaching, particularly for high-performing women leaders.
Finally, businesses should be educating themselves, making sure they are communicating openly about menopause and creating a supportive culture where women feel comfortable talking about their experiences whilst also being equipped to maintain their career momentum.
About the author
Fiona McKay is the founder of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions & Head of Value Creation. Find out more about The Menopause Maze ™️, which trains menopause mentors, develops managers and provides expert career coaching and community for high performing menopausal women. Read more about Fiona here.
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