Menopause and work

Women In Education: Education Quarterly, Issue 6 2023

“We need to rethink the culture of our workplaces by tackling myths and unconscious biases associated with menopause and with ageing,” said lead researcher on a La Trobe University study, Professor Gavin Jack. “Organisations need to recognise that mature-aged women are a committed, ambitious and resilient segment of the workforce.”

The 2014 study found that in addition to managing menopause symptoms, many are juggling child caring responsibilities and other life transitions such as caring for parents, undergoing separation or divorce.

Menopause typically occurs between 45-55 years of age and is often preceded by peri-menopause. In 2019, there were 1.3 million Australian women between 45 and 55 who worked in the health and education sectors, and one in four were likely to experience significant menopausal symptoms.

A Monash University study (2020), found many women believed they needed to leave work, particularly when workplaces lacked the empathy required and also the practical means to support them to manage their symptoms.

There’s a strong economic and social case for supporting women to continue in paid employment as they age. Lead researcher on the Monash project, Professor Kate Riach, stated women “are not simply counting down to retirement, they may be experiencing some health issues for a period of time but they have so much to offer in wealth of experience, talent and knowledge”.

Research has shown that women often view disclosure of menopausal status at work to be threatening and embarrassing, potentially exposing them to ridicule and hostility.

The Monash study proposed important steps for creating an environment of acceptance and understanding about menopause that should include a conversation between the employee and line manager on specific work-related experiences of menopausal symptoms and then, using a framework tool, together identify an appropriate workplace adjustment or form of practical support. For example, in a school context, it may mean having easy access to toilets or a change room, temperature control, a plan for classroom supervision at short notice, flexible working arrangements, etc. The La Trobe study found many of the study participants feared age-based discrimination in the workplace. They felt anxious when speaking with their managers and colleagues about symptoms because they dreaded being stereotyped as aged or unable to cope.

No one should be discriminated against, marginalised or dismissed because of menopausal symptoms. If you are subjected to or witness discrimination do not allow the situation to continue. Federation’s information leaflet on Discrimination provides advice on how to act, including:

  • tell the person that their behaviour is inappropriate and that it must stop
  • document the dates and circumstances of the perceived discrimination
  • obtain advice from Professional Support about how to lodge a formal complaint.