We Need To Talk About Menopause In The Workforce Because We Deserve Better

As much as being a woman is a beautiful thing, it comes with a lot of baggage. It seems that no matter what we do, we're judged simply because of our gender. We're either too much or not enough in every category out there thanks to a culture that has yet to rally around us and remind us we're just right.

One of the areas where we fall into the "too much" bracket is when it comes to age. Our society decided long ago that women aren't supposed to get old. Women are supposed to be young, flawless, and fertile forever. However, in being mortal, women can't escape the aging process and with it, lose that fertility that has been glorified to such extremes. It can make a woman feel invaluable once menopause starts tip-toeing its way into her life. It's this sexist way of thinking that has created such a stigma surrounding menopause. 

Now imagine daring to bring up the topic at work or, even worse, admitting that you're experiencing perimenopause or menopause symptoms. If you thought mentioning your menstrual cramps would make your coworkers squirm, you haven't seen anything until you say the word menopause. With menopausal-age women making up 30 percent of the workforce in the U.S. according to the Labor Bureau of Statistics, turning a blind eye to menopause is turning a blind eye to these people. Women, of all ages, deserve respect; they deserve to be seen at every stage in their life. That's why it's time to quit whispering the word menopause and bring it into the boardroom. Loudly. 

Why companies can't ignore menopause

Menopause is a fact of life for anyone with ovaries. Although the average age that women go through menopause in the U.S. is 51 according to the Mayo Clinic, it doesn't mean that women as young as mid-to-late '30s don't experience it. In addition to the stigma that's attached to it, menopause also includes a whole slew of symptoms that, for some, can not only be disruptive but debilitating.

A 2022 survey by Biote, focused on employed women between 50 to 65 years old, found that 40 percent of those surveyed had their work interrupted at least once a week because of menopause and 20 percent reported daily interferences from menopause symptoms. While hot flashes are the symptom that many people think of first (and are the most common), it's certainly not the only one. Pain, fatigue, night sweats, and sleeplessness are also on the list. The same study found that 47 percent of women experienced anxiety on a regular basis and 42 percent reported memory lapses — not exactly the best combo to deal with when you're trying to keep your work performance up to par. While this is the case, these women and their health are being disregarded because of one thing: age.

"We find [aging women] kind of disposable or marginal," associate professor of gender studies at UMass Boston Chris Bobel tells Harvard Business Review. "So it doesn't surprise me that something that impacts older women in particular would be not only a discomfort, but a non-concern."

But it should be a concern. A woman shouldn't be put out to pasture the moment the perimenopausal symptoms start to kick in. It's dismissing a lifetime of effort, energy, and passion. It's an abomination. 

How companies can be more supportive

The first thing companies can do is acknowledge that menopause exists. The second thing they can do is take steps to normalize conversations around menopause so those who are going through it don't feel alone. The third and most important step? Include menopause benefits that support their employees and make menopause training mandatory to get around any ageist comments or jokes.

"We need to know the organization recognizes, talks about, and openly and unapologetically provides support and resources without us having to disclose," diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) communications speaker and consultant Kim Clark tells Great Place to Work. "[And] have systemic and cultural accountability in the organization to ensure those who participate in the jokes or ageist behavior when someone discloses are managed and held accountable."

Ideally, paid leave for menopause-related symptoms would be federally mandated, but the U.S. is lagging when it comes to any sort of paid leave. In 2022, the Bank of Ireland Group began offering up to 10 days of paid leave for those going through menopause in a major step to keep women in the workforce. In February 2023, Spain became the first European country to offer paid menstrual leave, joining Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and a handful of other countries. While paid menstrual leave isn't mandated in the U.S., companies can choose to offer it. So, if they're willing to offer paid menstrual leave, they should be willing to offer paid menopause leave as well.

The benefits of making workplaces free of menopause stigma

According to the 2022 workplace survey by Biote, 17 percent of women either quit or considered quitting their job because of the negative impact menopause symptoms had on their careers, and over 500,000 departures from the workforce are due to menopause. What makes these statistics even more upsetting is that these women are keeping their suffering to themselves with a whopping 87 percent reporting that they never talked to their manager about what they were experiencing and just how bad their symptoms could be.

But if companies could work toward stripping the menopause stigma from the office environment by providing support and training, then women wouldn't be apt to quit. They also wouldn't run the risk of being let go due to days when their work performance suffers because of menopause symptoms. When women don't just feel supported but know they're supported, it leads to improved productivity, employee retention, and improved health of employees as well as overall morale.

Considering the average CEO is hired at 54 years of age and more women are being promoted to this level every year (although not fast enough), it's shameful to think that companies wouldn't want to do whatever they could to create a workplace where a menopausal-age woman can be successful in her career while dealing with a major hormonal change in her life. If we're going to teach women that they can have it all, then we need to provide the support necessary to make sure that what we preach is true.