Menopause And The Indian Workplace – Break The Screeching Silence On This Phase In Women’s Lives

Menopause and the woman at work - though it clearly affects the woman's mental and physical health and interaction with society, workplaces have refused to address this reality of women's lives.

Menopause and the woman at work – though it clearly affects the woman’s mental and physical health and interaction with society, workplaces have refused to address this reality of women’s lives.

#WorldMenopauseDay2021

Menopause is an inevitable phase of a woman’s life, being even more universal than motherhood. In society and the workplace, discussions on parenting and even fertility issues are now becoming common. But the same does not apply to menopause, even among friends and family. And at the workplace, a deafening silence replaces the much-needed conversation about menopause.

Menopause is experienced naturally usually in the late 40’s and the 50s or maybe induced earlier by surgery or medications. With increasing longevity, at any given time, a significant proportion of humanity is in this phase or transitioning to it.

The symptoms of menopause and perimenopause (the phase of transition, which can last from months to more than a year) become especially important in the context of the roles that women play at these ages in homes, families, societies, and of course the workplace. Sleep disturbances, fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, loss of confidence, brain fog, irritability, mood swings, and difficulty in concentrating and/or making decisions are experienced by many women.

‘Hormonal’ hag?!

Women’s experiences have always been silenced. When it comes to puberty, menstruation, and of course, menopause, their voices are also suppressed. While pregnancy, the pressures of mothering, and fertility treatments sometimes manage to break through this curtain of silence, menopause remains hidden behind it.

This can be attributed to the combination of ageism and sexism. Aging women have never been shown in a positive or even neutral light.

There is a double standard for the aging process in men and women. While the narrative for men shows aging like a fine, sophisticated process, women find advertisements for anti-aging products targeted at them as early as 30.

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During menopausal years especially, they are projected as emotionally unstable, ‘hormonal’, and irritable. These are labels that women do not want to bear the burden of, especially in workplaces where they already battle other forms of discrimination.

A need for sensitivity about why women might not speak up about menopause

Understanding menopause and the challenges that it can pose at the workplace is especially important given the increasing percentage of women in the workforce. It would not be surprising that many of these women would be trailblazers and role models, and mentors for other employees.

For many women, menopause comes at a phase when they have consolidated their career after many efforts, and have amassed a wealth of experience that is of immense value to them and the organizations they work in.

The European Menopause and Andropause Society (EMAS) recognizes menopause as a gender and age equity issue. It notes that, if not approached correctly, menopausal symptoms can affect employee engagement, performance, and motivation.

There are recommendations for the inclusion of menopausal health in occupational health and workplace policies. But the ground reality is that though more and more women are working now, equal promotional avenues and pay parity remain elusive. In such scenarios, the fact that women are reluctant to discuss the 3M’s (menstruation, maternity, and menopause) due to a fear of otherization is understandable. Yet, the pin needs to drop; and the taboo needs to be broken.

Why is it important to take menopause seriously at the workplace?

In many studies, women report that menopause was treated negatively in the workplace or as a joke.  Not surprising then, that the silence around menopause is partly self-imposed, is it?

There are many studies to show that the experience of menopause in the workplace depends both on menopausal symptoms, and the workplace environment, both physical and psychosocial.

Symptoms can cause difficulty at work, sickness absence, or impaired relationships with clients and colleagues.

Conversely, the workplace can exacerbate symptoms.

  • Lack of ventilation, overly warm offices, and uncomfortable uniforms can impair performance.
  • Over-scheduling of routines and lack of clean washrooms are often responsible for impaired job performance for some women.
  • Others may find that managing symptoms mean they miss out on promotions and training, reduce their hours, lose confidence in the workplace and see their pay levels drop, all contributing to a widening gender pay gap.
  • The impact on employee engagement, productivity, confidence, and even retention is felt at many levels, even if not attributed directly to menopausal changes.

Introduce actionable steps at workplaces

Small, but consistent, actionable steps are the route to breaking the silence.

Educating the management and providing flexible work hours is a good place to start. Many firms have days and sessions dedicated to ‘wellness’. Can some of them be structured around menopause?

Reassuring women with menopausal symptoms that they will not be discriminated against and providing confidential counseling and support systems can make women feel more comfortable and give them a safe space to share their concerns. Women HR managers, mentors, or those in senior positions taking the first steps to normalize menopause can start a cycle of change. Working together with human resources and health care professionals can be another step towards the formulation of leave management policies that are sensitive to menopausal changes.

The number of working women whose lives can be positively affected by creating menopause-friendly workplaces is significant. Fostering an age and gender-inclusive workplace is both a responsibility and mandate of most organizations and focus on menopausal health is an integral part of this.

Image source: a still from the film Listen, Amaya!

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About the Author

shalini mullick

Shalini is an author and a practicing doctor specializing in respiratory pathology. Her book Stars from the Borderless Sea (2022) was longlisted for the AutHer Awards 2023 (Debut category). Shalini was awarded a Jury Appreciation read more...

40 Posts | 84,909 Views

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