Let’s talk about menopause, the ultimate taboo in the workplace
Half the planet goes through it, so what’s the big deal?
At a networking event a few weeks ago, I met a man who runs a mental health startup, teaching people how to manage their states of mind.
“Oh,” I said, “that’s wonderful. Do you have a part of the program for women entering menopause?”
He looked appalled. He raised his hands as if to fend off the word and me.
And that, my friends, is the typical attitude to menopause in the workplace. Half the people on the planet are either going through or will go through this at some time in their lives. And yet it’s more taboo than the menstrual cycle. Why?
My theory is that despite the many gains women have made in business, our perceived value remains our ability to produce children. When that stops, our fundamental worth is somehow called into question.
The primal part of us asks, “What is she still doing here? Shouldn’t she be alone in a cottage in the forest waiting for wolves or small children to wander by?”
And let me tell you, the past year has taught me a bit about why women were happily on their own in the forest. And that it’s the wolves who should be scared.
I know menopause presents differently to each of us, but for me, it’s characterised by rage. I am a hot, sweaty hulk of a woman who will burn it all to the ground — people, relationships, strategies. Essentially a hulk with an ever-shortening career lifespan.
Luckily, I am blessed with a CEO who gives second chances and doesn’t judge me just by our last conversation. Almost a year to the day ago, I lost my temper with him so badly that it took a few days for the humming anxiety in my chest to leave me.
Once I had recovered from the shame and terror, I sat down with my bestie and interrogated it thoroughly over many cups of tea. We got to the point where the only explanation was hormones. There was no reasonable explanation for my disproportionate response.
I went to my CEO with my findings and told him I would see a well-woman doctor as soon as possible to figure out how to manage it.
I know it’s controversial, but I have chosen the HRT route. I don’t have the luxury of moving to a house in the forest and waiting out the rage. I need to engage with other humans, not least my teenage children, with a modicum of calm and respect.
I am one of the oldest women in my company, and I want to model what it looks like to become an elder in the organisation. This takes grace, not rage.
The HRT has helped so much. I still get occasional hot flashes — and always at networking events, where you might find me outside fanning my hot face or standing next to the open window. But I no longer shout at my CEO or anyone else (unless you count traffic).
I speak openly about this at work because I want the people I work with, men and women, not to be blindsided by the experiences of women in peri-menopause and menopause. This is normal. It doesn’t need to be disruptive or career-limiting.
There are many gifts too. I am capable of much more directness. I am clearer about my boundaries, and what is and isn’t working for me and the organisation.
I am becoming less attached to what people think of me, allowing me to make difficult decisions and have hard conversations.
These are powerful tools in business. They should be embraced by women and their organisations. With patience from colleagues and elasticity in how business approaches women of a certain age, we can all win.