What would you like colleagues at LSE to understand about the menopause?
It can be so much tougher than you think. It’s not just hot flushes and mood swings. It can have serious impacts on physical and mental health and on how you manage day to day, and it can vary every day. Imagine not having a single proper night’s sleep for 6 years but having to do everything you’ve always had to do with no let up. Imagine also being afraid to let on that you are struggling because you don’t want to be written off with ‘womens problems’. Imagine being sleepless and trying to keep it together so you aren’t seen as a liability or a nuisance in the work place every single day. And imagine going through something half the population go through and being treated as if you’re ill or depressed, or worse, not being taken seriously at all, even by your GP.
What has been your experience of working at LSE with the menopause?
It was hard. I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping, I had terrible ‘brain fog’ and trouble concentrating, I developed painful eczema and felt less than myself for so long I forgot what I used to be like. Keeping up with work was horrendous and some days I just wanted to give up and throw myself off a bridge. I worked for men who didn’t notice and whom I didn’t feel I could talk to. My first line manager thought I was being difficult and was angry that I was making his life difficult. I felt under pressure if I took what was perceived to be ‘too much sick leave’.
To be fair to my second male line manager he was not unsympathetic but I didn’t want to tell him how badly I was struggling because I didn’t want to be seen as a liability who couldn’t do their job properly, especially after my experience with my first line manager.
What advice would you give your manager about talking to staff in relation to menopausal issues?
It’s not an illness. Don’t make someone feel they are not performing well and be very aware that of the language you use – because often it can sound discriminatory or make someone feel worse. Understand they are struggling, and that they are under pressure to be as ‘reliable’ as a man in the workplace. Look for creative solutions – it’s in your interests to have an engaged and well-performing member of staff, and often in your gift to help them be that.
Lockdown has made flexible working much easier, but I was expected to be at my desk every weekday morning regardless of how awful I felt. Create a workspace where all your staff feel OK to call in and say ‘I need to work from home today’ or ‘can I come in a little later and work a little later as I had a terrible night’. What do you care as long as the work gets done? (I accept that’s more difficult with shift work and public facing work and I don’t know what the solution is other than to be creative.) Foster a staff environment where understanding and flexibility is the norm – it will benefit every member of your staff.
Are there any particular tips you’d give to colleagues on how to support you and other people who are going through the menopause?
I think understanding and compassion is key. Over the course of my career I’ve heard things like: well I have to come in, why are they special, why are they getting different treatment than me, why is it down to me to keep things going just because they’re ‘tired’? It only adds to the pressure that menopausal women already feel. They don’t want special treatment and don’t want to be seen getting special treatment but some days are so much more difficult than others and they just need a little slack. Sometimes we all need a little slack.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Every woman colleague you work with will go through menopause, every woman you know will go through menopause. Some will be in their 50s and some will be younger, some much much younger and so will have to deal with not being able to have children, some will be plunged into menopause by cancer or another health issue and have to deal with that too. Some will sail through it and some will have serious health issues. Some will feel like they are invisible – that their age precludes them from being seen as meaningful in the workplace when they have wisdom and experience to offer. Most will be reluctant to ask their GP for a referral to a specialist. Many will not be believed by their GPs or they will be dismissed.
My menopause was early, so not only did my (female) GP not believe me, she just said ‘well never mind dear we all have to go through it’. If you want to see how disregarded women can still be in our society, go through the menopause. And do not say to me that menopause is natural, that it will imbue me with spiritual wisdom and make me a moon goddess because I have two words for you…