Menopause and me: A need to remove the stigma

  • Posted on October 17, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes

Just at the point when their years of hard work and proven track­ record of success should be opening doors to jobs at the very top of their profession, women in their late forties and early fiftie­­s enter a period of their lives where their bodies become their personal glass ceiling. I am talking of course about menopause.

Menopause is inevitable for 51% of the population, but workplace detriment and discrimination should not be, and thankfully things are beginning to improve.

I am at the epicentre of my personal menopause journey and wanted to share my reality of pursuing my career in Avanade over the last two years battling against the betrayal of my own hormones.

Hot flushes are probably the most commonly known menopause symptom and for me, virtual meetings during lockdown were a godsend. I had to keep a water spray on my desk out of sight and I’d type a quick “brb” (be right back) in chat, then go off camera to cool down! One call it was so bad that the “brb” required a change of clothes. I genuinely don’t know how I’d have coped in an environment where I had to be in the office every day!

I had bigger issues to contend with. One has been my energy levels. I have always been a person who would jump out of bed at 6:30 and embrace each day with enthusiasm. But that was before I started to wake up around 2 or 3 a.m. and nothing I could do would get me back to sleep. I don’t know whether brain fog is hormonal or just the result of this chronic sleep deprivation, but I remember sitting reading emails and I’d get to the end and having no idea what it had said or being mid-conversation and just losing the vocabulary to finish my point. This type of difficulty, continuous and recurring over several weeks, made me feel at times unable to have the impact I normally would.

The second symptom I started to experience was anxiety – anxiety about situations I had previously taken in my stride. I quite wrongly combatted this with increased perfectionism which resulted in crazy hours and more tiredness – a vicious cycle.

Up until this point, I had thought I could get through the menopause with exercise, good nutrition and self-care. For me, however, this wasn’t enough. Avanade UK offers the opportunity through our private insurance provider (BUPA) to consult with a Menopause Specialist to get advice and understand treatment offerings. I took the opportunity to put a menopause plan in place and started Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).

The hot flushes disappeared immediately, and although I still wake early, it’s normally not before 5 a.m. The anxiety gradually reduced and has got to a stage where I’m in control of it. Meditation helps too.

After six months on HRT, this summer brought a period of crisis where due to the dual impacts of Covid and Brexit, supplies in the UK were exhausted and it was impossible to get hold of. I, like many other women, spent hours on the phone with my doctor and various pharmacists getting prescriptions changed and rechanged then sent from one pharmacist to another desperately chasing elusive stocks. Just the admin of managing this situation whilst working a full-time job was incredibly stressful, as was the sudden return of symptoms. Yet I did not feel comfortable sharing this situation with my manager or colleagues. Fortunately, after a difficult four weeks, supply chain issues were resolved.

In retrospect, I was completely unprepared for the impact that menopause had on my life, and how detrimental it would be to my experience of work.

I work in a male-dominated profession where most of my peers are men. As a woman who has spent 30 years fighting discrimination and biases to climb to a senior role in this male-dominated world, I don’t want to have a conversation about the fact I’m struggling “because of my hormones!” It feels like I’m making a joke! It’s cliché! I felt the equality that I’d fought for so long would be eroded! I kept quiet.

I love working at Avanade. It is a wonderfully empathetic employer that is completely authentic in its commitment to supporting its employees across all aspects of diversity and inclusion. But when I was going through this difficult time, I felt anxious that I wouldn’t receive understanding if I spoke up. I wondered what we could do to bring menopause into the I&D conversation that is already happening at Avanade.

Increasingly this topic is beginning to get the attention it deserves. Menopause is a recognized workplace issue and Avanade is looking carefully at what we need to support our menopausal employees. I am delighted to become part of the Menopause Working Group, a Europe wide group, and will be introducing initiatives including a Menopause Café to provide support and is developing a menopause guidance for adoption across the whole company.

The greatest challenge is removing the stigma and taboo , not just in the workplace, but in society as a whole.  The more we talk about it, the more we normalise it.

I want Avanade to have the sort of environment where women feel it is possible and safe to discuss menopause with their managers and colleagues, and where we enable access to support without the unintended consequence of further stigmatising women. Because women want to feel trusted to manage their work alongside menopause, without judgement or scrutiny for the accommodations that they may need!

Education is important too. I didn’t know anxiety was related to menopause until I researched it. Another mental health taboo. My late mother had dreadful social anxiety throughout her 50s and into her 60s, having previously been a very independent person who travelled widely in her job. A link to menopause wasn’t even considered.

Awareness is the first step and that is what motivated me to share my personal experience. Let’s start a conversation.

Kirsty Christie

Brilliant article Anne tackling what still feels like a taboo subject with real honesty and a lot I can relate to!  Thank you

September 27, 2023

Sue Holly-Rodway

Just a brilliant article and exposé of what we have to go through @Anne. Thank you so much for sharing!

October 28, 2022

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