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Workplaces have come a long way in welcoming women staff since the 1950s. Menopause remains one of the last taboos.
Campaigners like UK broadcaster Davina McCall are trying to lift the veil of silence. Some employers are listening. More than 2,700 UK companies have signed a workplace menopause pledge, created by charity Wellbeing of Women.
Growing awareness of menopause issues is driven by demographics. The average age for women in the US experiencing menopause is around 51. In 1990, there were some 467mn women globally above the age of 50, according to a 2016 study in the journal Maturitas. That number is projected to reach 1.2bn by 2030.
A 2022 British study by the Fawcett Society found that one in 10 women who worked during menopause had left a job because of symptoms. These vary. Some women experience few ill effects. Others suffer from brain fog, hot flashes and depression.
Productivity losses associated with menopause-related absences could cost about $1.8bn annually in the US, according to a study published this year by the Mayo Clinic.
A growing cohort of older working women is therefore also an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies. Prescriptions for hormone-replacement therapy are on the rise. Germany’s Bayer hopes that elinzanetant, a non-hormonal treatment in late stage clinical development, could generate peak sales of €1bn-plus a year if approved.
The market for menopause dietary supplements and over-the-counter remedies is forecast to hit $24.4bn in revenue in 2030 from $15.4bn in 2021, says Grand View Research.
Trade unions and campaigners want workplaces to offer adaptations. Workplace policies vary. Free menopause management apps have appeared. In a bolder move, Tesco last year removed time off due to menopause symptoms from sick leave calculations.
Adjustments for menopause symptoms can benefit the wider workforce, says Rhianydd Williams, an officer at TUC, a UK trades union body. Better ventilation in workplaces or breathable fabrics in uniforms are examples.
Employers can win kudos with female staff simply by recognising that the menopause is a problem for some, removing the stigma and dealing with it sympathetically. If fewer experienced staff quit, money is saved on recruiting and training replacements.
There is always a danger of tokenism. But the right support could ensure that older women remain economically productive for longer.