Happy International Women’s Day
This year as I contemplate what it means to me, I sit at the other side of the world to my family, caring for an aging parent.
Like many women at mid-life, my life is a combination of work (running 2 businesses), caring for children and a parent, maintaining a relationship, friendships and looking after myself.
I wouldn’t change this and I am not complaining, merely stating my current situation.
I say this to highlight the complexity of mid life.
Equity not just equality
Having worked with women for over 16 years, I am putting my focus on equity for menopausal women. Particularly equity in the workplace, for women of menopausal age (around 40 – 55).
I came across this graphic which perfectly demonstrates the difference between equality and equity.
In terms of menopause, equity means giving women the support they need as women, not just as people.
Women are not men.
Um, yes, obvious you might think, but if we look at it from that angle, it becomes clear that women and men have different health needs.
We have long recognised that women need specific support during pregnancy. It’s time to recognise that specific support needs be available during menopause.
Equality is giving access to health support for all
Equity is giving access to menopause support for women
At menopause (approx 40 – 55 years), women experience a hormonal transition similar to puberty. It brings with it a range of symptoms and changes that can derail even the most competent, together woman.
By providing education, support and conversation around menopause, it will not only normalise this natural stage in every woman’s life, it will also benefit society as a whole.
Menopause and the working woman
The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) estimates Australian women loose at least $15.2 billion per year in lost earnings and superannuation due to menopause. Given she is likely to live up to 30+ years post menopause, that can have a significant impact on retirement and needing additional government support.
Australians have fought hard to have family carers leave and domestic violence support added to most workplaces, and it’s time to consider women aged 45 – 55 who are going through peri-menopause.
As long as women feel the need to “act like one of the boys”, suppress emotion or any kind of physical difference, particularly when working in a traditionally male dominated area, we don’t have equality. Or equity.
The numbers don’t lie
Experienced middle aged women are leaving the workforce at a time when they are at their peak experience and earning potential.
A quarter of Australian women are retiring 4 years earlier than expected, under the age of 55, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST).
Half of these women say it’s due to personal “sickness, injury or disability”.
British studies show 25% of menopausal women in the UK are forced into long term absences or early retirement due to debilitating menopause symptoms.
Challenging social stigma: grey hair is not an indicator of ability
A failure to see middle aged women doesn’t lie with workplaces alone.
Inequality and prejudice around this time in a woman’s life is woven into our Western society.
As long as aging is seen as a negative, menopausal women will be written off as over the hill and past their prime.
I would argue the opposite is true.
If we can change our attitude towards menopause and aging we can start to support women and see them flourish at a time when they have so much to give. Age brings wisdom, knowledge and experience that comes with having lived a life. By acknowledging this, and harnessing the wealth of life and business experience, we all stand to benefit
For many of us, post menopause brings a profound sense of self, confidence and freedom. I know that I don’t speak for all women, but as we get older, some of the intensity of the child rearing years eases off, leaving us free to pursue our careers and other interests with renewed energy.
Even the medical system ignores menopause with most medical schools around the world, currently in 2023, ignoring menopause almost entirely.
In October 2022 a global study found that “overall training on menopause management is profoundly inadequate”.
Supporting Menopausal Women in the Workplace Benefits Everyone
By unpausing the menopausal woman, workplaces stand to retain these highly experienced, skilled and often enthusiastic workers, benefiting the business as well as the individual woman. Not only does a working woman boost her retirement income, her mental health benefits too. We all need to feel useful and that we are making a useful contribution.
With an average of 32 years of life post menopause, these women are middle-aged, not old-aged and they have a lot of living left to do.
Watch out world: once she’s come out the other side of menopause, she may well surprise herself and others with a renewed vigour and energy for life and work.
Starting with conversation and education, we can unpause women. By breaking the taboo and celebrating this new chapter in women’s lives, everyone stands to gain.
Equity means recognising this time of hormonal transition in the Fair Work Act alongside family and domestic violence leave. By doing so, it would recognise that women face health concerns that don’t directly affect men.
It’s the right thing to do.
Let’s not define ability by the appearance of grey hair and wrinkles .
Happy International Women’s Day.
Anja Lineen is a Menopause Champion and founder of The Wellbeing Toolkit. Her mission is to help businesses become menopause friendly workplaces so that they can support and retain women during their transition.
She also helps individual women unpause and power up and navigate their peri-menopause by harnessing natural strategies.
You can find Anja at: