Next month I am going to be launching a special online learning program for professional women, called The Change – empowering working women through menopause. I’d like to share with you here, how The Change came to be.
Earlier this year, I started to experience some changes that indicate I’m entering peri-menopause. The symptoms have been fairly mild, including slightly irregular cycles, mild increase in body temperature at night and sometimes, surges of irritability. One change, while only intermittent, that I’ve found very disturbing – has been brain fog. I remember one fortnight when it descended heavily, and I found myself making repeated, small, mistakes with clients and not being able to generate a sense of urgency about anything – even when things really were urgent! I freaked out, fearing for my employability and my livelihood which depended on a clear sharp, brain – something I have enjoyed all my life. Then I started wondering – how are other professional women, who are transitioning through menopause at work, faring? It’s not something we hear much about.
Over the next fortnight I had conversation after conversation with other women in a similar life stage, who readily confided in me how difficult they were finding it to manage some of their menopausal symptoms at work. Many felt they could not talk about it with their managers, lest their workplace capabilities be called into question, and they were discriminated against.
When I realised I had stumbled across a massive workplace taboo, that’s potentially affecting the lives of up to 2 million women around Australia right now, that was directly relevant to me personally and professionally as a workplace wellbeing advisor, I wanted to know more.
17% of the Australian workforce is made up of women aged 45+.
Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
Twenty two interviews later (and still counting), very consistent themes have emerged from the stories of professional women’s experience of transitioning through menopause in the workplace: Secrecy, Isolation, Stigma and Concern about the impact on perceived workplace performance.
When I asked women what would make a positive difference to them, almost every single woman said: the number one need is to Normalise Menopause (even though it is already normal!) and Talk about it. Women also wanted menopause to be reframed as a rite of passage that is the gateway into eldership. Give us some flexibility at work to manage ourselves, women said, and some good quality information (hard to find) and wellbeing tools so we can better support ourselves during this life stage, especially at work.
But, I thought, aren’t women already talking about menopause on social media groups? I got on Facebook and of course women are talking about it, sharing lots of information about what symptoms they experience and treatments tried. All good stuff, however, I couldn’t see much, if anything, about dealing with workplace expectations and demands. When I left these pages, I didn’t feel any better about menopause, in fact I clicked out of the discussion pages with a sense of dread about the terrible future that awaited me! The dialogue was laced with negativity and self put-downs.
I wanted something different – I wanted a respectful dialogue that lifts our sense of self-worth and honours our bodies, while challenging us to take responsibility for making the changes that this life stage calls us to make – whether that’s a new level of self-care, more sustainable ways of working, or relationship overhauls.
In the following week I experienced exactly that, through a couple more interviews with women, who, while feeling very challenged by the menopausal symptoms, had adopted an empowering view of this life stage – that it didn’t signal ‘the end’, but was a gateway into a new life stage that was calling them to examine how they had been living up until that point. “Menopause challenged me to change,” said one woman. Just one of these conversations stopped me from freaking out and called me to a new level of commitment to my wellbeing practices, and deeper self-inquiry. How can women have more of these types of conversations, and peer-peer learning, I wondered, so we can feel less anxious and more confident in how we navigate menopause?
All these experiences left me thinking and feeling that it’s TIME, now, for CHANGE (like menopause itself!) That’s how this pilot ‘THE CHANGE’ came to be.
There is much work to be done, breaking down the social stigma associated with menopause, and changing workplace cultures so that making ‘reasonable adjustments’ for menopause is as normal as talking about maternity leave. I hope and plan to be part of that change.
To start with I am putting my energy into supporting individual women, so they can feel more empowered to have workplace conversations after participating in The Change should they choose to. You can read more about the program here. Or if you are happy to be part of my research and take part in a 20 minute interview, I’d love to hear from you, email me on 0412 190 860 or call 0412 190 860.