The taboo of menopause. Menopause has for centuries been hushed up, demeaned and generally lampooned. More recently TV, film and radio have either misrepresented us as old, sexless, temperamental hags or simply removed us from the storyline altogether.
Even today, the women used to represent us for products specifically marketed at us, are generally 10 to 20 years older than we are. One woman who is frequently used in corporate documentation, is also used to advertise retirement villages and hearing aids. This is more appropriate given her age.
Why is this?
The last 130 years has seen a rapid increase in women’s life expectancy. Menopause has become an expected part of our lives, no longer the exception it once was. But for the first part of this period, it was generally an end of life experience, not the midlife one we know today. My own paternal grandmother is an example of this, at age 51 she looked like a woman of 70 would today. She died a year later. There is no doubt her life was incredibly hard and it took its toll. The issue here is that we are still referring to menopausal women in the media as per that generation.
Other than getting a bit upset about the visuals, why does this matter?
This isn’t just about the odd photo, it’s the continuous subliminal reinforcement that menopause means we are old and past it. That we are no longer attractive or capable. This impacts women’s sense of self, driving many to fear that they will be declaring obsolescence both at home and/or at work the minute they mention the ‘M’ word. It causes many to stay silent rather than request support from their employer, until things have become unbearable.
While daytime TV is full of chatter around menopause, it is still the subject of jokes and banter in many workplaces. Every survey focused on this phase in life, confirms this. Without doubt there are some organisations who have done great work in this area. Others however have done nothing and many more have taken the one-off workshop approach, which is the sticking plaster for cultural issues.
But, while things are not as they should be, menopause specifically in the UK, is seeing something of an uprising. This promises to change the way we view not just women, but female health in general.
With all the issues just stated, you would be forgiven for thinking that we had reached something of a roadblock. This is not the case. We are seeing, an organised Guerrilla force of women from all walks of life, who are prepared to run the gauntlet and publicly talk about menopause.
This generation of women are familiar with firsts, they are used to having to redefine the way they are perceived in the workplace. Their ambitions are not limited to the secretary or admin assistant, with many having a focus on the C-suite. They also have mortgages, dependents and a lifestyle to maintain for them and their family. More women than ever before are the primary or sole earner in their household. There is much at stake.
These changes mean that today’s 40 and 50 year olds are calling for a step change in both workplace and with societal perceptions of women at this phase in life. McKinsey and Deloitte are reporting an increase in women voting with their feet, selecting employers that recognise and value their industry experience and contribution. Where the workplace culture encourages them to achieve and succeed through menopause and beyond.
The benefits to those businesses are considerable ranging from increased performance and profitability, to easier recruitment of women of all ages. This positively contributes to balancing gender representation in management and exec roles, as well as assisting in closing the gender pay gap.
For those that persist in focusing on old ways of thinking, there is much to lose. Including some of their most experienced and brilliant people. With an increased focus on female representation at the most senior level, negative PR can prove very costly indeed.
While change can feel challenging, especially within our places of work, it is imperative that we continue to pursue the advantages, for this generation and the ones behind us. While it is a choice, it is one we must make.