The average age that women experience the menopause is 52, and it often intersects with a critical career stage. If business wants to retain the best talent and increase the number of women in leadership roles, we need to be more open about what menopause is and how it affects individuals and organisations.

Despite the fact that half the world’s population have or will experiences menopause, many women still experience stigma in the workplace around menopause. Two-thirds of women say this has impacted them at work, and a third say they hid their symptoms, according to new research by Opinium. These are sobering statistics.

  • 33% of those who had symptoms said they hid this at work
  • 50% felt there is a stigma around talking about the menopause
  • 44% of women who experienced menopause symptoms said they have felt too embarrassed to ask for support in the workplace
  • 66% think there should be more workplace support for women going through menopause

How the menopause impacts work

Three out of four women have symptoms but all women experience the menopause differently. Symptoms can be physical, such as hot flushes, headaches, poor sleep and erratic periods, or psychological, such as anxiety, low mood, lack of confidence and poor concentration. Hot flushes and night sweats; the words don’t sound very dramatic, but the lack of sleep when you wake up drenched, mixed with insomnia, can mean trying to function on little sleep.

Not everyone gets all the symptoms, or even realises that what they are experiencing is connected to the menopause. Almost half of women don’t seek medical advice and most don’t feel comfortable talking about it with their colleagues or manager. That could be because it’s still a taboo and they are embarrassed to talk about it, or it could be a lack of accurate information and not being aware that what they are experiencing is due to fluctuating hormones during the menopause.

When women do understand the symptoms, find ways to manage them and have a supportive workplace, their lives and work can get back to normal quickly. But a poor workplace environment or lack of support can make symptoms worse, and alarmingly, one in four women consider leaving their jobs because of their symptoms. That’s not good for them or their employer.

How the menopause impacts business

Many of the territories where Westcon-Comstor operates have an ageing population. According to the ONS, one in three of the entire workforce will soon be over 50, with menopausal women becoming the fastest growing demographic. The usual age of onset is between 45 and 55 years old, but perimenopause can start well before then, and according to the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, nearly eight out of ten menopausal women are currently in work. One in five women who work at Westcon-Comstor are in the age range typically impacted by menopause.

Menopause and work is a two-way street. Work is good for menopausal women. It contributes far more than just a salary; it can provide fulfilment, self-esteem, identity and social needs. And with fewer entrants from education joining the workforce, organisations need to look after their ‘older’ workers to retain the talent they need.

What this means for organisations

For organisations, this means doing what you’d expect of any employer who wants to attract and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce. This starts with creating an environment where people can talk openly and without embarrassment. It is a natural phase in every woman’s life that needs to be normalised. Further steps could include introducing a menopause policy or written guidance, training for line managers, assessing cases on their own merits and adjustments to the workplace – from something as simple as installing a desk fan to allowing more flexible working and providing private rest areas.

How we support women at Westcon-Comstor

“As a company, we have a duty to ensure the health, safety and mental wellbeing of all of our employees,” says Donna Bain, SVP People and Development. “We are committed to treating all employees equally, and individuals will not be discriminated against due to any form of disability or health condition. We are committed to ensuring appropriate support is provided to any employee who is going through the menopause. We want women to see Westcon-Comstor as the place to be for their career through all stages of their life. With menopause impacting women for a significant period of their working life, it’s important to us that our working environment supports and normalises these life stages by openly talking about and supporting menopause in the workplace.”

How you can manage your symptoms

When it comes to helping themselves ease the symptoms, Donna says: “Diet and lifestyle are important. Exercise is very good for you and can help physically and mentally. Being open and honest with people around you, and talking to other women and/or joining a support group. And talk to your doctor – there are hormone replacement treatments available and also treatments for hot flushes. Education is key – there is a lot of information out there and available on the internet, but like all things, make sure you are looking at trusted sites as there are also a lot of urban myths.”

Why support is good for everyone

There are clear and compelling reasons for supporting menopausal women in the workplace. It promotes an inclusive culture and is good for colleagues. Women should be able to work through their menopause and for many years beyond. Colleagues will thank the employer for it, so it’s good for retention, motivation and loyalty. It helps with recruitment too, as it enhances the employer brand and help to future-proof the organisation. It’s a win-win for everyone.

It is important that you prioritise your personal health and wellbeing. If you are struggling with any aspect of your role as a result of symptoms associated with the menopause, you should talk about any concerns you may have with your manager or HR representative, who will treat the matter with sensitivity and complete confidence.

See what International Women’s Day means to people across our business and how we are challenging gender inequality

If you want to make a positive impact and work with like-minded people who care about their customers and colleagues, there are opportunities for you at Westcon-Comstor