Menopause Discrimination Affects Millions of American Women

Supermajority Education Fund

February 7, 2020

There are 61 million women in the American workforce who are over the age of 50, per the Harvard Business Review (HBR). Given that the average age for a person to begin menopause is 51, 61 million U.S. workers are either experiencing or will in the coming years experience menopause while at work. The experience of menopause affects women’s work so why, the HBR asks, is there rarely any acknowledgment of this reality in the workplace?

It’s a question British researchers have attempted to address in recent years. A 2019 survey from the U.K. based Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) found that three out of five (59 percent) women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopausal symptoms say that menopause has negatively impacted them at work. Another U.K. study of close to 900 professional women found that menopause was connected with lowered confidence, poor concentration, and poor memory, which are all things that affect work performance. But even though all of these things affect their health, three-quarters of the women surveyed in the CIPD study said that they weren’t willing to address these concerns with their supervisors. 

As Dr. Louise Newson wrote in The Telegraph in 2017, menopause discrimination is a real obstacle for many women in the workforce. Newson wrote that while menopause-related symptoms can effect work performance, menopause is not an illness or a medical condition, and symptoms of it — like fatigue or brain fogginess — are completely manageable. A big piece of that management, Nelson added, would be for employers to set up systems that help, instead of hinder, employees’ productivity.  

“There is clear guidance from the Faculty of Occupational Medicine for women whose menopausal symptoms are affecting them at work,” she wrote. “The recommendations include encouraging discussions to take place with managers about practical needs, speaking with the occupational health service, and also talking with other colleagues. Advice regarding healthy lifestyle and wellbeing is also mentioned, which are clearly very important when considering the management of the menopause.”

Lynette Shepard, the author of Becoming A Menopause Goddess, told Supermajority News that society treats menopause as a taboo topic, which only discourages women from talking about what they’re experiencing or bringing it up at work. The solution, she said, is for workplaces to treat menopausal employees as they would anyone else going through a challenge at work. Making the situation awkward for either party won’t lead to solutions. 

“Men (and many younger women) are uncomfortable with talking about menopause or menopause symptoms in general,” she said. “So, not only are women going through perimenopause and menopause suffering, they feel that they have to keep it under wraps at the workplace. When we can simply accept menopause as a normal part of life, then we can support women going through this transition.”