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HR’s Role in Supporting Women’s Second Phase

By Kate Usher

All HR professionals are used to having difficult conversations, it comes with the territory. Yet there is one subject that still makes even the hardiest HR soul uncomfortable and a little unsure.

 

Menopause

 

It has been a taboo subject for centuries and is tightly knitted into various social perceptions of women, age, ability and usefulness. As uncomfortable as this makes us feels in a modern society, scratch just beneath the surface and there it lurks.

 

It is a subject that until recently was managed in solitary silence, stoically in the shadows and most definitely not discussed in the workplace. Yet with the ever-increasing numbers of women within our organisations, many in senior positions, the need to open the conversation to support women so that they can retain and nurture their careers is growing.

 

It is estimated that 10% of all Menopausal women leave paid employment altogether, because of the severity of their symptoms and the fact that they are unable to discuss this phase of life with their employer.

 

This is the entry point for HR

 

At a time when we need to retain and develop our best talent whether they be women or men this is a worrying figure. The loss to our organisations in knowledge, experience, and ability as well as the cost of re-recruitment and training is considerable. Add this to the the less tangible cost of loss of access to women’s industry networks, developed over many years and mentoring of the next generation and suddenly Menopause becomes an issue that is too impactful to ignore, both on women and the organisations bottom line.

 

Culture

 

The first step is to recognise that there is considerable social bias around this subject. Without recognition our ability to move forward is inhibited. As a society we have viewed the Menopause and women experiencing it in a less than a positive light. Now is the time to change this.

 

The easiest way to break this down is with awareness. Remove the taboo. Open the conversation across the organisation from the post room to the board room, men and women. Only addressing women perpetuates the situation. If everyone knows what it is then the taboo loses its power. Developing an inclusive empathetic culture around this subject will drive a step change that policies will struggle to achieve. Culture beats policies, but together they are incredibly impactful.

 

Conversations are Key

 

Menopause is incredibly variable, accepting that a one size fits all approach is not applicable, will enable your organisation to offer meaningful support as and when it’s needed. This is not like pregnancy, it can consume 22% of a woman’s career, but just to make things complicated, it might not. Because of this, a critical part of supporting women and in turn enabling them to work optimally is the ability to have effective and constructive business conversations around the subject.

 

It sounds like a simple expectation yet in reality many find this difficult, from both sides of the desk.

 

All the issues previously stated step forward to cloud judgement and induce a sense of discomfort not felt since that first conversation about a team member’s body odour, all those years ago.

 

This requires a more directed approach. Managers whether they are men or women need to be trained in how to discuss this subject, what process to follow and what can be reasonably offered by way of adjustments and when. Managers need to accept and welcome the fact that given the longevity of this, there will need to be multiple meetings both scheduled and as and when needed.

 

I have never met a woman yet who wants to reveal the complexities of their experience, they want support so that they can continue with their careers, not a good cry.

 

Women should be encouraged to step forward and declare that they are Menopausal, it is after all a sign of commitment and ambition. They should not be judged, fear the impact on their career prospects or lastly have to fight tooth and nail for adjustments.

 

Menopause is not a choice on any level. Women do not get to choose when or how they experience it. But for those organisations that support their female employees the rewards are great. More research has repeatedly proven the positive impact that women make as far as culture, effectiveness, cohesiveness and that all important bottom line.

 

Post-Menopausal women, unhindered by hormones are a force we are only just starting to recognise. HR have a pivotal role in ensuring their organisations reap the considerable benefits from what is effectively a miniscule investment. The payback is immense.

 

Find Kate Usher on LinkedIn and visit her website below.

Second Phase