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Workplace, women and menopause: is it a good deal?

Menopause in workplace When I first started work, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 wasn’t on the statue book and my workplace was unusual in that it offered equal pay.

(This right is of course,  now enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act)

Until then, I was NOT permitted to wear trousers to my workplace (in the British Civil Service).

I made sure that I did on the day that the S.D.A. became law ( and I remember them vividly: powder blue, with a very high waist,  silver buckled fabric belt and super wide bottom hems). I trotted about the workplace with a defiant look on my very young face and dared anyone to challenge me.

It’s been a long haul. From 1975 until 2018  – 43 years – is huge chunk of my life. I have unconsciously and consciously had to hide or ignore the ways my female body works, from periods to pregnancies. Worse, it didn’t occur to me not to.

 

Post, post feminism, at last, the way a woman’s body works is beginning to be recognised as more than a nuisance that can be overridden by Just Getting On With It. (Fact is, what our bodies do is utterly, utterly magical but what room is there for magic in the workplace and its race to the bank?)

Workplaces are just beginning to look at the needs of their female tribe, as our gender’s contribution is now clearly recognised, valued and measured (OK – in some places!) and some have created policy to highlight and support the “passage to power” of their women colleagues.

 

The Union, UNISON state that:.

  • “Roughly half of UK workers are women, all of whom will experience the menopause. There are currently 3.5 million women workers over the age of 50 in the UK, which is almost half (45%) of the over-50 workforce.”
  • 50% of these women were experiencing difficult to severe menopausal symptoms. 10% had given up employment.
  • And by 2018, nearly 31 million women in the menopausal age range will be employed in the US.80% of those 31 million employed women will experience menopausal symptoms. So, nearly 25 million women.And while I’m still stunned by the numbers (even having worked in this area for some time)  I am also conscious of the further impact on co-workers, family members, work/life balance, professional performance, financial security and more.
  • We are still in an era where women have taken their place in environments designed (largely) by men. The term ‘workplace’ is in and of itself, archaic and limiting in a creatively driven world.
  • Take the built environment as an example. A friend recalled her early days in what was then called the ‘typing pool’. (Ask your Gran to explain – it was like a Victorian classroom with typewriters and women seated and tapping away all day).
  • Out of the blue, her supervisor became like an evil overlord, her face regularly flushed bright red and sweat dripped onto her key board. She huffed, and sighed and spoke to no-one except to bark orders or criticize. My friend remarked that it is only now she realises that her long-ago boss was in the grip of serial hot flushes. How she must have dreaded having to sit tight, typing all day with only momentary escapes to the loo – and with the full glare of the giggling and unsympathetic ‘juniors’ full on her as she headed up the ‘pool’ in the same way that a teacher sat in front of a class.
  • SMART working environments (I’ll write more about that) help but above and beyond this, it is the emotional support that is so badly needed. I don’t mean a pat on the back and a ‘pity party’,  I mean the kind of support that stems from an acceptance of  this passage of perimenopause as being normal, necessary and expected – and seeks to ensure the culture responds to this with the same intelligence as it might do a pregnancy, or a paternal leave request.
  • Once upon a time, when I was that girl in powder blue baggies, I wanted to buy a house. Getting a mortgage meant getting married, and promising to stay on the Pill. Pregnancy was bad for business and you had to let the man know you wouldn’t mess up his financial plans by daring to conceive. How very dare we?
  • menopause change
  • Thank Goddess for change: however slow, it is happening.