“I want to be able to shake the shame and start a conversation.”
In this episode, Paul Toms and Sally discuss menopause: the symptoms, the challenges, and advice for those it affects directly and indirectly.
To start the episode, we learn about Sally’s experience with menopause and entering this new stage of life. Many people assume menopause happens to people who are “old” and greying. For Sally, her symptoms began at the age of 46. The average age at which menopause arises is commonly between the ages 45 and 55 for women worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, 2022.
While living in Singapore, Sally went for an annual medical exam and was offered a bone density scan. Her results showed that she had osteopenia – a diagnosis that suggests a loss of bone mineral density, resulting in weaker bones. When someone goes through menopause, their levels of oestrogen and other hormones drop sharply, leading to the loss of bone density over time. Nevertheless, Sally’s doctor did not mention the menopause at this time.
Some of the other symptoms that Sally had – and is still experiencing to some extent – are mood swings, fatigue, and achiness of the body. Some doctors unfortunately misdiagnose patients and prescribe the wrong medication to combat symptoms, she explains.
Now living in Basel, Switzerland, Sally changed her medical support. The gynaecologists in Basel generally prescribe non-medical treatment to start with to see how the body reacts. Sally also had a conversation with her mother to hear about her experience with menopause and non-medical treatments; Sally tried evening primrose oil and black cohosh to help with her mood swings, which had a positive effect for a while.
Sally is now taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has been its own journey. HRT doesn’t eliminate all of Sally’s symptoms, but certainly helps. She doesn’t suffer from the night sweats or hot flushes that are typically associated with the menopause. Like a lot of females, Sally has had to piece her treatment together herself.
The spark that encouraged Sally to talk openly about her experience was trying to understand what was happening to her and be able to provide advice to others, including those in the workplace. Bringing the subject up with managers can be tough. However, in Sally’s case, she has been lucky to have managers who listened – both of whom were male and younger than herself.
It is important to reiterate that menopause is not an illness; it is a natural life event. Talking about it is the first step to breaking the taboo and changing the narrative in the workplace. It is a sensitive topic, and there can be a cultural layer to it, as well.
Sally’s advice to others is not to be embarrassed by it and to talk about it – by doing so, you will inspire others to do the same.
Sally discusses the fact that we are living in an ageing population. In the Victorian era, for example, the average woman died at the age of 59. Now, in the UK, one in four females will live to 100 years old – meaning that they will be hormone deficient for half of their lifetime, as the average age for menopause is currently 51.
By 2030, it is estimated that over one billion people will be menopausal or post-menopausal (National Library of Medicine, 2019) across the globe. It is clear that workplaces will need to offer support for this.
Sally was open and honest about how she was feeling and shared her story during a leadership call. For other females, they do not recognise that menopause is happening to them. Workplaces, organisations, and employers can support managers and employees in a range of different ways. As a suggestion, lunch and learns could be implemented, which can often lead to lightbulb moments for attending individuals.
As an Executive Menopause Coach, Sally obtained her qualification from the Kathryn Colas Academy. The organisation uses a menopause traffic light system to provide structure on how businesses can approach the subject and work with communications/wellbeing teams to put a communications plan in place.
The key for any organisation is to first share awareness, so that people can identify their symptoms and seek medical advice if they wish to. The best thing managers or employers can do is create awareness, acknowledge the knowledge gap, and create a psychological and safe environment to talk about it, Sally believes.
Next, talk to leaders at varying levels, educate, and identify the workplace adjustments and policies that can be brought into the workplace.
However, be aware that managers will not have all the answers for those affected; even as an Executive Menopause Coach, Sally is open about not knowing all the answers.
Paul then shares his personal story regarding his wife, Kelly. He mentions reading Menopausing by Davina McCall, which helped expand his knowledge on the subject and gave him a lot of respect for his wife. Try your best not to judge situations and things that are said and done when people are experiencing menopause, he says.
The menopause can have an impact on people’s careers. The perimenopause is the phase before menopause that can take place four to 12 years earlier, combining into a lengthy period that can impact both work and home life. She explains that this usually collides with females reaching a certain point in their careers, with ageing parents, and teenagers at home. Sometimes, women question their confidence and capabilities.
Sally references a survey the Guardian did in 2022 with 2,000 women. Out of the 2,000 women, 62% said menopause impacts their work, 33% said they do not talk about their symptoms, and 43% were too embarrassed to ask for support.
Again, Sally reiterated her advice of seeking medical support, as everyone is different. Try to assess your lifestyle habits, diet, and general health – this should also help regain your confidence.
Furthermore, try not to make any rash decisions, like turning down a promotion or leaving your career. For example, decision makers and managers may not know the origin of your decision to leave a company and take that at face value. Whereas, if they are made aware that you are going through menopause, the decision can be questioned further, and support can be provided.
Priding herself on being a tough individual, Sally admits to struggling and adapting in the workplace. She shares a story of sitting in the office car park and crying as she physically couldn’t bring herself to attend a meeting, resulting in two days out of work. There is then a debate about how organisations note this absence, as the menopause itself is not an illness. Therefore, the need for organisations to host sessions and talk about experiences and symptoms can help others out there, both internally and externally.
If you do have a negative reaction from a manager, Sally recommends going to HR or finding the individuals in the organisation who you can have a more fruitful conversation with. You can also reach out to Sally on LinkedIn for further help and advice.
In the long-term, Sally’s overarching goal is to shake the shame and start a conversation. This includes raising awareness, helping support and change the narrative in the workplace, and ultimately helping those who may be struggling.
The more the conversation is approached, the more people can open up and talk about it. This will then create a spiral effect and have an impact on others.
Organisations should support women going through perimenopause or menopause and that transition of life, she says. Hopefully, organisations will also see this as a positive initiative to help retain their workforce.
We’re pleased to share a range of resources recommended by Sally, which you may find useful:
To help you find the most relevant part of the episode for you, please use these timestamps:
03:35 – Sally’s experience with menopause 08:35 – The spark that made Sally want to talk about menopause 11:50 – Planning for conversations with managers 20:25 – Advice for managers, employers, or organisations 29:10 – Having the conversation with men vs. women 35:00 – How to deal with a manager who downplays your situation 39:35 – Sally’s long-term goal
The EMEA Recruitment podcast is produced in partnership with international medical charity Operation Smile. If you’d like to learn more about the work Operation Smile’s volunteers do around the world, please visit https://www.operationsmile.org.uk/donate-to-operation-smile/donate-to-operation-smile-emea-recruitment/
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