Our Head of Thought Leadership Jennifer gets hot under the collar about menopause and suggests we treat it as a positive life transition.
OK, so this is not an article about ‘coping’ with menopause, nor even an ask for us to just talk about it more. There is a positive movement going on about all that, it’s true. This piece, takes a slightly different angle and advocates for us to embrace menopause, as a leadership development opportunity.
Menopause is finally being discussed at work. Individuals are gaining a bit of flexibility around the working day to deal with symptoms. There are practical provisions such as access to fans, or having uniforms – where used – made of natural fibres to help with changes in body temperature. The hybrid working world brings greater opportunities to control the environment, take breaks and manage working conditions too.
So practical actions and conversations: job done, surely? The important thing is that we’re lifting the taboo, right? We’re talking about it. Well, sorry to get ‘heated’ about this, but it still bothers me a bit. Because how we talk about things matters. The current conversation seems to regard the menopausal woman as a collection of symptoms, in need of a good policy. Sweaty, confused; rushing with battered confidence between the loo and the nearest open window; this mid-life ‘change’ has moved from taboo and embarrassing to a bit pitiable and inconvenient. Is that the best we can do?
Of course, many people experience really challenging physical, mental and emotional symptoms. It’s right that we discuss strategies and make adjustments. But, beyond that, I’m on a bit of a mission to reclaim the menopause as a life transition, not an illness. We’ve had to point out over the years that pregnancy is not an ailment, even if some effects need managing. Now let’s own mid-life in the same way.
‘Ah’, you may say, ‘pregnancy is different: it’s so positive’. Yes, what comes out of menopause is not another new person, but a new phase in life. In a conventional sense, is what follows that change merely a less desirable version of me. Isn’t that all a bit sad, and upsetting?
Instead of mourning the loss of that phase (which, let’s face it, had its ups and downs too), what could stand in its place is ownership of a new status. One in which value is not linked to either fertility or youthful attractiveness. A time where there is a kind of liberation in standing outside all those conscious and unconscious expectations.
How does this translate to the workplace? Menopause usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55. This is often a phase when women are stepping into serious leadership roles. Many post-menopausal women do find a new confidence to speak their minds, as the conventions that may apply to younger women no longer feel relevant. Speaking truth to power is no big deal when you no longer feeling obliged to justify yourself to power, let alone feel somehow expected to flatter, or even flirt with, power at the same time. Have you ever tried ‘manterrupting’ a senior woman or ‘bropropriating’ her ideas? A new kind of honest directness is possible. Or the wisdom to let it go, if it really doesn’t matter this time.
And the symptoms side? I really don’t know whether this is helpful to say – perhaps it’s just irritating – but if you’re in the gang that experiences hot flushes, is there a mindfulness opportunity there? If we’re weren’t so concerned about how we came across to others, and how they are judging us, would there be scope to ‘roll with it’ a bit more? To experience this ‘power surge’ with open curiosity, trying to sense where in the body the feeling of heat comes from and how it changes as the wave passes? Everyone’s experience is different and it’s absolutely not for me to know what your hot flushes are like or how manageable they may, or may not, be. All I actually know is that I can be quite fascinated by what my body has just decided to do and where on earth all that perceived heat comes from.
Again, maybe it’s about owning it, rather than trying to push it away.
No leadership development course comes without its challenges; at least nature’s programme is free.