Let's Pause To Talk About Menopause and Ageism In The Workplace

September 7, 2022

Chantal Hansen

As more workplaces consider providing menstrual-related support to team members, few consider menopause in their policy, program, or process.

Unfortunately, menopause is often left out of the conversation, excluding many team members and reinforcing age-related stigma in the workplace. The push to design more equitable workplaces must include support for people who experience menstruation to menopause and beyond. 

Menopause 101

According to the National Institute on Aging, menopause is “the ceasing of menstruation” and typically happens between the ages of 45 and 50. The menopausal transition can last seven or more years.

People experience menopause for various reasons. Sometimes, it happens as a natural part of aging. Others may experience early menopause due to a genetic predisposition or surgeries, such as a hysterectomy.

Irrespective of the reason behind menopause, the result is the loss of estrogen

People may experience symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, headaches, mood changes, anxiety, depression, and short-term memory loss during their menopausal transition.

While some people are impacted daily and have a negative experience, others may have fewer symptoms and feel happy and relieved to be in this next stage of life; everyone’s journey is unique!

Unpacking Social Stigmas Around Menopause and Aging

Women are no strangers to the cross of ageism and sexism in the workplace today. Indeed, the shame of aging is highly gendered.

For those new to ageism, ageism is prejudice against a person or group of people due to their chronological age, just as sexism is prejudice against someone based on their gender. Some call ageism “the last socially sanctioned prejudice.”

We may unintentionally promote anti-aging sentiments and not even realize it! For example, we do this when we describe momentary lapses as “having a senior moment,” compliment people on how young and vibrant they are (“Doesn’t she look amazing for her age?”), make generalizing statements about “Boomers,” and give team members ageist birthday cards. These practices result in the othering and marginalization of people of advanced age. We internalize that people of advanced age are less intelligent, skilled, or capable, specifically as “productive” or valuable members of a capitalist society.

Organizations may unjustly let go ageing team members due to their perceived lack of knowledge or skills. Team leaders may leave them out of projects, ignore them in meetings, and dismiss their ideas. This can be even harder for women, trans and non-binary people, disabled people, or racialized people, to name a few.

Since we often associate menopause with aging, we may project our stigma against ageing onto team members experiencing menopause (if team members decide to be open about their menopause journey). Many team members experiencing menopause are hesitant to reveal their symptoms, fearing being labelled “hysterical,” “incompetent,” or a “nuisance.”  

It is on all of us to create a more compassionate society that supports everyone’s well-being and takes pride in developing cross-generational communities.

Begin anti-ageism efforts by reflecting on your own ageism or internalized ageism. For example, think of the people you spend time with; what is the most significant age gap between you and them? Is there something you recently thought you were too young or too old to do? Why? Beyond potential physical limitations, what other ideas might be supporting this belief, and how can you challenge them? Next, critically reflect on ageist stereotypes; when you think of someone of advanced age at your workplace or in your community, what stereotypes come up? Reflect on where they came from and how they might harm that person. How might these stereotypes intersect with gender or race?

Do not let internalized ageism make you feel like you don’t deserve help or should be ashamed for needing it. Do not let internalized ageism make you feel like you have nothing to offer. Indeed, team members of advanced age are a vital part of the team and have much to offer younger, more “green” team members and the organization they work for. 

“In a world where women are viewed as depreciating assets, ageism is a critical part of the conversation.” - Dr. Sarah Saska 

Designing Policies, Programs, and Processes to Support Menopause, Life, and The Workplace

The menopausal transition is a time in a person’s life often full of other changes. For example, people experiencing menopause may also support their children as they move into adulthood, care for aging family members, or take on new work responsibilities. So it’s a lot to manage.

Team leaders must recognize this and provide support and accommodations like any other workplace health issue. And we think they’re on the right track. We have noticed a shift in how organizations discuss the common bodily experience of menstruation. In fact, some are providing menstruation-related perks. This is awesome!

We consider the recent conversation about menstruation at work an excellent entry point to discuss menopause and consider a vast array of experiences often sidelined.

When establishing policies, programs, and processes to support people experiencing menopause, consider the following:

  1. Use gender-inclusive language. Not all who experience menopause are women and not all women experience menopause!
  2. Bring an intersectional approach. For example, be sure to consider the racial and ethnic disparities in menopause. Did you know that Black women have a longer transition and worse symptoms?
  3. Create a culture of trust. Do not require team members to prove why, when, or how they navigate their physical health. Instead, offer paid menstrual and menopause leave for team members to use when they want.
  4. Privacy is critical. Being open about menopause can be a safety issue for genderqueer or trans men and can also dissuade women who want to fit in with “the boys club.” Will leaves be shared on a community calendar, or is the process more covert?
  5. Training is critical to disrupt stigma. Accompany any new policy, process, or program—such as a leave or community budget—with training on why this benefits the organization. Train managers to learn the facts about menopause and how team members experiencing menopause may feel so they can have supportive conversations and offer reasonable accommodations. Develop culturally aware support for your team members to help them better understand that everyone experiences and perceives menopause differently.

Conclusion

Multi-generational workplaces are an asset that must be protected through support and understanding. We are so excited to witness more organizations consider the array of human experiences from menstruation through menopause and beyond when developing policies, processes, and programs. Undoubtedly, a human-first, intersectional approach is key to developing a healthy, happy workplace where people of all ages, races, genders, sexualities, and abilities feel valued.