Leonardo di Caprio is not the first Hollywood star to prefer younger women. But the Leo Index is now almost as well known as the FTSE (or maybe that should be the VIX). The viral graph shows Leo, 47, has never yet dated a woman over the age of 25. But such wizened women do miraculously exist. You probably know some. All will go through the existential wrench that is menopause. And for everyone to reach the bright lights of Business Success City, if nothing else, we need men to get on the menopause motorway. Wave at Leo as you glide past him.
Suddenly, finally, menopause, is a thing, even in finance. According to a recent in-depth report by City stalwart Standard Chartered, and the Financial Services Skills Commission, 128,000 women, or one in 10 employees, working in the financial services sector are currently going through the menopause. For almost half of employees experiencing the menopause, it makes them less likely to want to progress in their role. For a quarter it is the reason they are more likely to retire early.
Why? Technically the menopause is just another stage of a woman’s life, most likely to start between ages 45 and 55 and is the point at which women stop having periods and so can no longer have children. In real life ‘the change’, as your mother or grandmother may have euphemistically referred to it, can start earlier or later, and is likely to include some of the following super fun symptoms, or all of them if you’re truly blessed:
- Irregular periods
- Vaginal dryness
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Weight gain and slowed metabolism
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Loss of breast fullness
This is where the private becomes something many women, and some men, have for years been saying needs to be made public. Man or woman, looking down that list, who can honestly say they would be their best at work with all that going on?
Clare Jupp, group director of people development at Brightstar Group, admits: “In truth, workplaces are probably not doing enough to take into account the unique life journeys of women, from IVF to menopause.”
She adds: “Just as the whole subject of working parents/flexible working was in the not too distant past, the menopause has been largely regarded as an issue and problem for women to face and deal with, filed under “women issues”.”
Companies that view the menopause, and other female life events, as just “women’s issues” are missing the bigger picture, according to the Standard Chartered report.
With the financial services sector facing skills gaps and competition for talent, as the report points out, sidelining menopausal women this way will result in increased workload for staff, increased costs and limitations on growth, putting pressure on businesses’ profitability and continuity. Retaining and retraining skilled staff is vital.
Yet more than a quarter (27%) of working women aged 45-65 who have been through the menopause experienced a negative impact on their career because of it, insurer and wealth manager Canada Life found this month.
Women reported feeling undervalued (27%), had negative feelings with their colleagues (20%) and two-fifths (41%) of women said they felt unsupported by their employer and unable to talk to their line manager about their menopause experience.
This lack of support led to 11% of women to consider leaving their job.
Jupp believes to build greater awareness and openness around these topics, men and women in businesses need to not only see these as important issues, but to also ensure both men and women are regarded as being potentially affected by these things: they are indeed ‘problems’ that men are experiencing too.
She says: “Men have partners, family members and friends potentially going through these challenges in life and they are of course, even if not physically, experiencing emotional and psychological effects themselves.”
The issue is also business critical. As the Standard Chartered report points out, without action the staff retention issue of women at menopause age will act as an obstacle to achieving key business aims. It added: “This risk is currently impacting the financial services sector, and causing problems for talent retention and the pipeline to senior leadership roles.”
Kim McGinley, director at VIBE Finance has spoken with many women who are “seriously struggling with non-empathetic employers and a ‘carry on regardless’ attitude”.
She says: “The honest fact is cultures of companies need to change when it comes to conversations surrounding the menopause. If there is no training or understanding for staff and team members – how can it then become a discussed subject or at the very least understood?”
The biggest hurdle, she says, is ensuring those in senior and management positions are approachable on this subject, as some women will not open up about menopausal issues if they feel a male senior will not understand or listen.
McGinley says: “Opening up is just the first step, followed by understanding and then deciding a best way forwards for that particular individual as menopause affects each person so differently.”
Policies will help for guidance. But McGinley says that is not enough.
“It needs to form part of a companies culture to allow women going through the menopause with a support network and an environment that can cater to situations where they can confidently continue their work in a work place that is menopause-friendly.”
Everyone experiences the menopause differently and some can have more severe symptoms than others, sometimes lasting for up to 12 years.
Women experiencing the menopause are usually at the height of their careers and an asset that employers should work hard to keep. With more than 1 in 4 women feeling their career negatively impacted by the menopause this could quickly become a key recruitment and retention issue for employers if not handled openly and compassionately, the Canada Life research points out.
Company practices and levels of understanding are increasingly joining the rest of us in 2022.
Jupp says: “I have seen, thankfully, an emerging emphasis on raising awareness about issues around the menopause and some businesses perhaps using this as a topic of discussion during things such as International Women’s Day, on social media and featured in articles and blogs.”
With first hand knowledge as Brightstar’s people director, Jupp has seen the difference it can make including men in the conversation in the example of childcare, where recent strides have opened up the workplace for both parents to work flexibly around childcare.
She says: “Once you get greater acknowledgement of working parents being men as well as women, and flexible working being something men and women can and should have access to, things suddenly got a whole lot better: childcare and parenthood were no longer regarded as women’s ‘problems’ to deal with.”
Jupp believes this is exactly the same with women-centred issues such as menopause, IVF and pregnancy related issues.
She says: “Things will get better when everyone is involved and these things are regarded as challenges that can and are faced by any employees in the workforce.
“Many senior leaders are men, so in order to move this whole thing forward, it will be vital for them to ensure that these issues are open for discussion, acknowledged and talked about – by men and women.”