The Last Taboo? Let’s Talk About The Perimenopause

Christina Ratings our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 27 January 2022

By Christina Ratings, Partner, and Amanda Baggott, Managing Associate. 

Having women in leadership roles is critical for achieving diversity and inclusion, as well as representing the core values of any successful business. In the UK alone, the good news is that women now occupy more than a third of seats on the boards of the country's largest companies.

The bad news, however, is that many of them are suffering in silence in the same way they have been doing for decades. Discussed at length in recent media, the perimenopause is finally a topic for open discussion in the corporate world, and it’s about time.

A natural part of the aging process, women have faced the menopause for millenia, just one reason why it’s simply unacceptable for it to be taboo in 2021. Not addressing it as an issue goes directly against everything companies should strive for in terms of D&I. There is an onus on the Government, corporations and leaders to reduce the stigma surrounding this subject, and rightly so.

Recognising that this is an area in need of awareness and attention, we at Hanover want to make a tangible difference.

Why we need more women in senior roles

We’ve previously explored why it’s beneficial to have women in leadership roles across different industries. The benefits include enhanced productivity and team success, increased variation of thinking processes and, of course, the fact that you’re more likely to attract top-level emerging Gen Z talent, who care more about D,E&I and ESG policies than they do about casual Fridays.

However, a key issue here is that the average woman reaches menopause aged 51, with symptoms often beginning several (or many) years before that. This is also the age of many women at senior level, who have worked tirelessly to hit their career targets only to be forced to take a step down, back or away completely by the sometimes debilitating symptoms of the perimenopause. With a world-class commitment to women, global health insurance provider Bupa’s CEO Evelyn Bourke states:

“I strongly believe that championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace – which includes female representation – not only makes business sense, it makes common sense. It enables everyone to bring their best self to work, and not doing so would be a shocking waste of talent.”

With this in mind, it’s essential that women in senior roles are supported as and when they need it throughout the perimenopause in order to bring their best selves to work.

What is the perimenopause?

Perimenopause basically means “around the menopause,” and it’s when a woman’s body transitions to menopause, which is the end of the reproductive years.

Perimenopause starts at different ages for different women. It can last up to 12 years, but generally lasts at least four. This has only been identified fairly recently, which is why so many women don't necessarily make the connection between their symptoms and what they really mean.

During the perimenopause, levels of oestrogen (the most important female hormone) fluctuates unevenly, which can wreak havoc on the female body. In a lot of cases, these symptoms come on gradually, one at a time, which means a significant amount of women don’t even know what is happening to them.

How does perimenopause affect women?

Just some of the most common symptoms of the perimenopause were brought to the attention of millions by a recent Davina McCall documentary. In the programme, Davina tours populated parts of England in a van laden with a huge sandwich board listing the symptoms. It read:

“Your sex drive fades
Your memory fails
Your days are sweaty
Your nights are sleepless
Your bones can get brittle
You’re depressed and anxious
But you feel you have to KEEP CALM and CARRY ON”

In a nutshell, these are the most common symptoms that women have to deal with every day, whether they are at work, home or elsewhere. Other symptoms, cited by the likes of presenter Zoe Ball and sportswoman Gabby Logan, include anxiety, panic attacks, weight gain, irritability, hair loss, itchy skin, brain fog and incontinence. Of course, this can have a deep impact on a woman’s sense of being, their self-esteem, their ability to do their job - and also, the perceived ability of a woman to do her job well.

Despite millions of women being in perimenopause right now, around 40% of them know nothing about its mental health impacts, which can be life changing and in some cases, even fatal.

Davina’s documentary offered some more stark facts. In a survey carried out with over 1,000 women, over two thirds were offered antidepressants after GPs failed to recognise the perimenopause or dismissed the women as being “too young.” And in a poll of over 200 UK health professionals, one in three said they didn’t feel confident managing the menopause.

The documentary goes on to reveal that there’s no compulsory medical training on the menopause for GPs in the UK. It’s simply an extra, short module that they can choose to complete online. And we have to ask, would this have been different if men went through the menopause?

With a real lack of awareness across the board, it’s clear that organisations may have to take it upon themselves to educate their leaders and employees, and research suitable workplace support systems.

Perimenopause: the hard facts

➔ The average age of menopause is 51
➔ The average age of female suicide is between 45 & 49
➔ Common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, memory & concentration problems, headaches, anxiety, mood swings and reduced libido
➔ Over 60% of women experience these symptoms
➔ 8 out of 10 menopausal women are in work
➔ Menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace
➔ At least 1 in every 4 women consider leaving their jobs during the menopause due to suffering “nasty symptoms”
➔ 1 in every 10 women will experience menopause symptoms for up to 12 years
➔ Women who experience menopause suddenly, due to procedures such as a hysterectomy, are likely to experience worse symptoms
➔ 24% of employers currently have no plans to provide menopausal support

How Hanover aims to raise awareness

Hanover recognises the menopause is a work place issue. We have created our own menopause support strategy for female employees within the business, as part of our DEI agenda. We want to raise awareness amongst leaders to encourage them to make the necessary changes to attract, retain and support females who are reaching the pinnacle of their careers. Hanover are therefore hosting a number of webinars on the subject:

1. Be the change. Period: Menopause and the workplace Be the change. Period: Menopause and the workplace - introduction to the topic hosted by Victoria McLean, MD and board member at Hanover.

For those that did not attend the webinar, please do reach out if you would like a recording. 

2. An up and coming event: Dr Naomi Potter, a prominent menopause specialist (hosts webinars and podcasts with Davina McCall and Lisa Snowdon), will be educating leaders on the challenges women face and how to be a forward thinking employer. Dr Potter has 81k followers on Instagram and has made incredible steps in changing the lives on many women around the country who are suffering (peri)menopausal symptoms. Details to follow.

As part of our Hanover Talent Solutions, we have our team of specialists in house.  Our DEI expert, Brent Herman, crafts bespoke solutions for global clients that focus on driving cultural change across organisations, especially in terms of the DE&I agenda and Victoria McLean who is working with our clients, in a variety of ways supporting women, most recently with Menopause workshops and awareness programmes.  

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