Why does an employer need to be menopause-friendly?

By Anita Jaynes on 18 October, 2021

World Menopause Awareness Day – Monday 18th October 2021

By Fiona Scott, MD of Scott Media who has been running her own business for more than 13 years and has been a journalist for 34 years. As a journalist Fiona writes about issues which affect businesses of all shapes and sizes. She is also in her 50s and is still experiencing the menopause. 

I suspect there will be several business owners who will see this headline and think “what the hell, another thing we have to think about?”.

Many of them will be male (not all) and I get it. I do understand that it’s a difficult balance to cater for everybody’s needs in business when you are simply trying to run a business. 

However for many companies, their greatest asset is their people. People make a business run smoothly and, especially for bigger companies, people can be the reason they move forwards, go backwards or stagnate. This is the same for any business of any size whether you employ 100s of people or just one.

An experienced professional woman in her late 40s or 50s is a valuable asset – as is a man of similar age. These days that’s often someone with good life experience, usually quite settled in their lives, usually have older children or not and who can really commit to the visions and ethics of a company. Perhaps for 20 years or more. 

You have only to look at the lessons the emergency services have learned over the last few years. They take men and women of that age from the frontline (they may be less fit perhaps) and then they take retirement and that experience is lost. So many times, I’ve seen friends who are ex police officers or fire officers being brought back as consultants because that crucial experience and knowledge is no longer in the team. Age and experience can be so important.

When you have women in your team who hit this kind of age, do you ever think about the physical changes they will be experiencing in their body? Did you ever support the women in your organisation when they had problems with their periods? Around pregnancy, miscarriage? So why not menopause? 

Imagine, for example, that a senior female member of staff who drives your business development suddenly develops an irrational fear of driving. Imagine that she suddenly starts to refuse to do face-to-face business trips which require her to travel to different parts of the UK. Imagine that she has been found twice in her office, curled up in the corner weeping for no clear reason. What would you do? What questions would you ask? 

Would you look at that woman and think ‘what’s going on here, could she be experiencing menopausal symptoms?’ or would you start disciplining her and getting ready to ‘get rid’? 

Well, I was that woman. Except as the sole employee of my business, I couldn’t get rid of myself! I had to accept there were issues and do something about it for my business to survive and then we had Covid-19. Believe me, it’s been a roller coaster you couldn’t even imagine – I’d take the Tower of Terror any time. 

I started to get early signs of menopause in my late 40s, and I remember congratulating myself that apart from a few brief hot flushes and a slightly hairier chin, I was getting off lightly. Pride definitely comes before a fall.

When I was 49, almost overnight, driving became an issue, something I wasn’t expecting. Suddenly I began to get panicky in the car, especially visiting a new place. The panic would get worse if I knew I’d have to drive in the dark. Then I got panicky about parking, even in a supermarket car park where there was loads of space. It made zero sense. I’d always loved driving. Absolutely loved it and am a secret petrol head (even if my new car is all electric!).

I also became the world’s worst back seat driver. I became edgy when my husband was driving which is not helpful when you are towing a large caravan – and I’ve never been like that. Indeed it was a standing joke that on a long journey I’d fall asleep and become the nodding dog. Now, my foot was slamming on the phantom brake routinely. My braking and flinching became a real bone of contention which built up over a couple of years. 

In 2019 things came to a head when I suffered the sudden loss of my mother in law to cancer – we were very close. She was diagnosed and we were told, due to kidney failure, she had days to live. She did cling on for six weeks but passed away in May that year aged just 73. Within a few weeks I was at the GP, pouring out everything I was feeling and experiencing physically. And after some tests, it became clear. I was not going mad. This was the menopause in full swing, aggravated by a tragic loss. 

My GP was very understanding and for the first time in my life, I was given anti-depressants because my menopausal symptoms were largely mental – not physical – yet just as real. He explained, traditional HRT treatment wouldn’t work for me. I was both devastated and relieved. I was not going mad, I was not weird, I was simply changing and that change would not be quick. It’s like the other end of puberty. 

My question is – did you notice? Maybe, if you know me well, you probably did. My point is that I ran my business throughout and I ran it well. We hit lockdown and I still kept on trying even though I could have just taken furlough and shut up shop for 18 months. 

Only this week a client said to me ‘the devil works hard, Fiona Scott works harder’. Is there a Fiona Scott or two in your team? How much is she worth to your business? How hard will you work to keep her and will you help her if she hits a menopausal bump in the road? Will you even ask? 

Now 55, I’m off the anti-depressants but I’m not so foolish to think the menopause is over for me. I know it hit me really badly aged 51 and that the average time span for menopause is four years. The last year in my business has been the best in terms of turnover – and pretty close in terms of profit – and I’ve done this while going through the menopause. I would challenge anyone to do the same. 

Based on this very personal experience here are five reasons to support the Fiona Scotts in your business:

  • To avoid risking the loss of valuable skills and expertise that you may not be able to replace quickly or at all.
  • To show loyalty to those who have shown loyalty to your business and this will be rewarded in many ways. We can’t help shouting about those who support us. 
  • To attract experienced female staff for senior roles – which employer would they choose, the one which values women of all ages or the other one? 
  • To ensure diversity within the workforce. Evidence shows that a more diverse workforce across gender and age will be more productive. 
  • To share you care about all of the people in your company. If you care about women in menopause – some will suffer badly, others not so badly – it speaks volumes about how you care for all of your employees and that makes you attractive as an employer, especially to the Millennial generation coming through which is more focussed on quality of life than ever before. (Watch the BBC programme 28 UP…) 

To mark World Menopause Day 2021, Fiona’s clients, motivational speaker Tax Thornton and her wife, content coach, Asha Clearwater- Thornton share their experiences of going through the menopause together.