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7 minute read

We embarked on a study to understand workplace experiences around menopause and ended up in an echo chamber of only women’s voices. Some would call that an epic fail but it’s actually provided more validation and guidance than we ever could have hoped for.

Data shows that over 70 per cent of women are employed while transitioning through the natural process of menopause, equating to more than 1.6 million Australians. Additionally, women over the age of 40 are the fastest growing demographic in the workforce, however it appears the impact of menopause symptoms mean they are taking on roles with less responsibility, despite being at their most productive and experienced during this life stage. 

The ‘Perimenopause, menopause and its impact on working women’ study was spearheaded by Metluma in conjunction with Macquarie University, QUT and Swinburne University of Technology and funded by the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC). The intention behind the study was to gain greater understanding of the experiences of leaders with the aim of helping to inform health management protocols and upcoming menopause policies – delivering what women truly want and need. 

As more talk has turned to menopause symptoms and their impact on the workplace, we are very conscious there is a risk that we further marginalise women and undo a lot of the great work that’s been done to bring about equality. However, this study wasn’t about uncovering all of the reasons why women can’t perform in their roles after a certain age. In fact it’s the complete opposite. It’s about raising awareness across the wider community and helping build evidence-based solutions that keep women who want to remain in the workplace, specifically senior roles, for longer.

At Metluma we truly believe menopause is the next frontier of workplace equality.
And there’s good financial reason too. Having diversity in the boardroom as well as in senior leadership roles is well documented to improve business performance. Recent stats from RMIT highlighted that an increase in the representation of women by 10 percentage points or more of key management personnel leads to a 6.6% increase in the market value of ASX-listed companies (worth the equivalent of AU$104.7 million for the average company), and a 5.8% increase in the likelihood of outperforming the sector on three or more metrics. On the flip side, women leaving the workplace as a result of menopause related experiences has been estimated to be impacting Australian business to the tune of a hefty $112BN. You’d think this would get the attention of shareholders and business leaders.

Even this years’ International Women’s Day theme is on point “Count her in: Invest in women. Accelerate progress”.

So why didn’t blokes want to talk to us about it? 

The responses we got were, well, probably expected, given that even women had been given limited information about menopause throughout their lives, let alone men! The majority of men we spoke to saw didn’t feel qualified to answer so had no reason to even engage in the conversation. What did they have to do with it? Why would they possibly need to know about periods? How is it appropriate as a workplace discussion? It was as if we were going to ask them to build a spreadsheet to track our ovulation or duck out to buy an emergency pack of tampons for us (which we wouldn’t need to if they provided them in the bathrooms btw).

And therein lies the issue with gaining momentum around menopause in the workplace. Our study set out to gain an insight into the experiences of business leaders. A legitimate study that was 100% relevant to the workplace and what we unintentionally got was a clear-as-day action plan – male engagement. 

I’ve postulated before about the fact that we’re actually building a male quality of life company here at Metluma. This couldn’t have rang any truer if we tried! Keeping women at work makes CEOs – mostly men – happier and richer because their bottom line is much healthier, John also isn’t getting any sex, so we’re helping him by addressing the dry vagina issue. It’s a trojan horse strategy (and I’m well aware not the most popular opinion) but if we’re relying on men to help drive change, we need to be bold and flip things on their head. Regardless of how it conflicts with our inner feelings of “we don’t need to play into the patriarchy”.

In a similar way that we extended maternity leave to men (and rightly so) through paternity leave, it pains me to say that making menopause a men’s issue might be our only ‘long-term solution’ way forward.

This whole point makes me reminisce about my high school days when I served as the Year 12 Student Representative on the School Council of my all-girls school. During one meeting, there was a discussion about sex education, and whether enough was being done. Even at 17, it was apparent to me that there was a significant gap in education for the boys, particularly regarding menstruation and pregnancy. I was educating my boyfriend at the time about these topics. So my recommendation at the time was to get the girls school to advocate for better Sex Ed at the boys schools. And what do you know, here I am again, 30 years on, with the same passion for change and still trying to tackle the same issue in those 17 year old boys who now have menopausal partners and employees!

In the Metluma offices, we’ve been beavering away on some strategies to address this and are excited to let you know about some new offerings soon! In the meantime, we’ve got a little favour to ask of you: 

Have an awkward conversation with a man in your life about menstruation and menopause (personal or professional). Bonus points if you can get them to join our upcoming webinar “Menopause is Your Business” with Cuppa. 

Every conversation is a building block to a brighter future for women’s health and as much as we want to do this on our own, men will need to be an equal part of the change equation. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from one of our study respondents. It’s a great reminder to all organisations and leaders that change applies to everyone. Menopause is just one of those changes that women don’t get a say in so it’s up to all of us to determine how much impact that will have on their lives:

“There is an expectation that you as a woman in your job – stable and singular – are not going to change. Realistically we all do change in our roles.”

Regardless of the study challenges, we’d still love to share a couple of impactful findings with you:

  • 100% of respondents believed that menopause impacted women’s career progression
  • Awareness, flexibility and medical advice were the top three support mechanisms requested

If you’re ready to talk about menopause in your workplace or need help with how to get the conversation going, please get in touch to discuss Metluma’s program options.