Lesley Salem “absolutely loved” her career in insights and innovation when she decided she had to leave it. She had spent 25 years in the field and recently landed a senior leadership position when she handed in her notice, just eight months into the job. The reason?
“I left because I didn’t understand what was going on with my hormones,” says Lesley. “Had I joined the dots and been able to have that conversation with my peers and colleagues, my story today might be different.”
Lesley’s experience is far from a unique one. A survey of 4,000 women conducted earlier this year by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4 found that one in 10 had left work because of symptoms caused by the menopause. And given that menopause generally happens between the ages of 45 and 55 (for 16% of women it happens before this), that means a potentially significant loss of senior talent from the workforce.
On the face of it, menopause is a simple proposition. The medical definition simply refers to it as the time at which periods stop – which is, officially, 365 days since your last period. The time where your periods are still irregular is referred to as “perimenopause”.
It happens because levels of the hormone oestrogen become so low that the ovaries no longer release an egg, and can be accompanied by debilitating symptoms. There are also other hormone changes during this time that can trigger an array of physical, psychological, and cognitive symptoms (48 to be precise).
For some, becoming menopausal may happen overnight due to medical treatments (chemotherapy or a hysterectomy, for instance), leading to more severe symptoms. For others it may happen prematurely (1 in 100 are under the age of 40). But for most it will be a gradual process. The levels of multiple hormones can fluctuate for some time, particularly in the perimenopause, with the average woman experiencing six symptoms according to a nationwide study conducted by Kantar and Over The Bloody Moon earlier this year.
For Lesley, two of the most troubling symptoms were insomnia and night sweats – the two most common symptoms impacting women. Feeling tired, foggy and forgetful during the day meant she struggled to remember conversations at work, making her anxious and convinced she wasn’t up to her new role.
So what can managers do to best support staff through menopause?
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