Menopause is a tale as old as time — literally. And yet for centuries, women haven’t been talking about how it affects their lives nearly enough. Whether it be at home or in the workplace, well-meaning family members or colleagues might say: “You look a little pale today!” Yes, I am losing liters of blood as we sit in this meeting and my insides feel like they are coming out of me. Or: “You look tired, did you not get enough sleep last night? Actually, no. I woke up in a puddle of my own sweat and had to shower in the middle of the night.
Let’s start with the basics. The common vernacular of “menopause” encompasses three stages: perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause. This transitional stage starts between 40-44 years for most women, and lasts on average from 7-10+ years. Symptoms can range from sleep disturbances, hot flashes, weight gain, brain fog, anxiety, and depression, among others.
According to a 2023 study by Carrot Fertility of 2,000 women:
- 80 percent cited menopause as a workplace challenge;
- Less than 20 percent understood symptoms before they began;
- More than half considered making an employment change because of menopause.
Whether it is embarrassment, lack of knowledge, gendered ageism, or any other stigma, women’s health is rarely a topic of conversation in most social settings, let alone in the workplace. Globally, there will be more than a billion menopausal individuals by 2025, it’s time we start talking about the impacts of menopause on the workforce. For the first time in the history of modern work, there is an increased rate of employment among women aged 45 and over, with more women in leadership and positions of power than ever before. So while menopause is a women's health issue, for organizations, it is an issue of employee retention, diversity, inclusion, and business continuity.
So what can organizations do to better support women in midlife?
Education & Normalizing the Conversation
“You cannot talk about success for women at work without talking about menopause. Creating an equitable workplace means giving women access to the expert care and education that helps even the playing field,” says Joanna Strober, founder of Midi Health. So often, women suffer in silence without realizing they can get help. Midi Health partners with employers to host education sessions as well as provide access to expert care. Programming also exists for allies, too. “Men are super interested in educating themselves in order to support the women in their lives so that they can be effective colleagues, leaders, and partners,” said Strober.
“Nobody should be shocked by menopause symptoms.” says Deirdre O’Neill, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer at Hertility, a U.K.-based women’s health company focused on hormonal health throughout a woman's life. O’Neill and her team are pioneering a vision for a world where women have a much deeper level of understanding of their own bodies. As O’Neill put it: “Being informed is pivotal for preventive and proactive care, and by educating all employees about menopause, organizations will be able to provide their staff with the tools to advocate for not only their own health, but the health of others around them.”
Open conversations about menopause in the workplace and more public discourse on the topic can help women to feel better equipped to handle the physical and emotional changes they are going through during this time. Whether it be hearing from experts or from senior women within their own workplaces, normalizing conversations around midlife health is a critical step to empowerment.
Benefits to Support Women in Midlife
Company support for women’s health in midlife is mission critical to building a fair, equitable and comprehensive benefits offering. Menopause at its core is a medical issue, with most care and treatment covered under standard medical plans. Additionally, many companies that were focused on family forming (fertility, adoption, leave, etc,) are now leading the charge on menopause care (examples include Carrot and Maven, among others).
Icing on the cake? Medical benefits coupled with comprehensive behavioral health programs and wellness perks such as gym memberships (strength workouts can be incredibly beneficial for midlife bone health) can keep women supported and in the workforce longer, at limited extra cost to employers.
The Value of Flexibility
As the return to office debate continues, an additional demographic group that benefits from flexible work arrangements? Women during the menopause transition. There are 30+ symptoms of menopause and no two women experience these symptoms in the same way. Flexibility to navigate the medical impacts of menopause can reduce absenteeism, presenteeism (when you are physically at work but not impactful), and give women in midlife the opportunity to stay as productive as possible.
We are at the brink of what I predict will be the next big diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging debate in the workplace, and employers who are ahead of the curve in talking about, normalizing, and supporting women in midlife will be big winners of the continued war for talent.
Cara is the Chief People Officer at Lattice, where she is dedicated to fostering a workplace culture where all employees can grow, learn, and do their best work. Cara has 20+ years of experience in HR, has scaled multiple HR operations through IPO (most recently at Udemy), and co-founded PeopleTech Partners, an extensive ecosystem of People leaders and entrepreneurs that works to bring new, promising HR tech and tools to market. She has deep experience scaling HR operations, recruiting, and learning & development at fast-moving, global companies.