A movement to make workplaces ‘menopause friendly’
In the last few years, managers at Nvidia, the global computer graphics company, began hearing a new kind of complaint: Some of their female employees were struggling with hot flashes, fatigue and brain fog — common symptoms of the menopause transition — and their regular doctors weren’t offering guidance or relief.
“They came to us and said, ‘Who do I go to?’” Denise Rosa, the company’s head of U.S. medical programs, said. “They were like, ‘We have fertility support, we have egg freezing, we have surrogacy and adoption. What about me?’”
Some women’s health concerns, like fertility struggles and postpartum depression, have already been acknowledged as issues that employers can address. But until recently, discussing the symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, the yearslong stretch that precedes the end of a woman’s reproductive years, was largely taboo.
That is beginning to change. A new movement to create “menopause-friendly workplaces” is catching on, beginning in Britain, where menopausal women are believed to be the fastest growing workforce demographic.
More than 50 British organizations, including HSBC UK, Unilever UK, and the soccer club West Ham United, are now are certified as “menopause-friendly” though an accreditation developed by Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, a British professional training firm. One recent poll estimated that 3 in 10 workplaces in Britain now have some kind of menopause policy in place. There is even an awards ceremony, held in London, for the most menopause-friendly companies.
The British Parliament, which held multiple hearings on menopause in the workplace over the last two years, is calling for such policies — which include training about symptoms, physical accommodations like desk fans and modified uniforms, and more flexible schedules — to be even more widespread.
Now, the effort is arriving in the United States. New York City Mayor Eric Adams promised earlier this year “to change the stigma around menopause in this city,” and to “create more menopause-friendly workplaces for our city workers through improving policies and our buildings.”
There are many reasons for the shift.
Female leaders and celebrities — including Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama — are increasingly bringing what Oprah calls “the Big M” into the cultural conversation. Gen X-ers, now in their 40s and 50s, are more willing to talk about their menopause experiences and request support than previous generations.
A growing number of “fem-tech” companies and other entrepreneurs focused on women’s health are seeking profit opportunities in everything from prescribing hormones to selling menopause-themed energy bars.
And employers are realizing that offering help is a way to retain experienced women in the workforce, as more evidence shows that menopause symptoms are hurting productivity and causing women to leave or consider leaving their jobs.
A recent British study, for example, found that one-third of women ages 50 to 64 reported moderate to severe difficulties coping at work because of menopausal symptoms. A 2021 survey by the Mayo Clinic estimated that about 10% of women ages 45 to 60 had taken time off in the last year in the United States because of menopause symptoms, costing employers about $1.8 billion.
The first step to a menopause-friendly workplace is to provide education to reduce the stigma, said Deborah Garlick, the founder of Henpicked. This can mean posting information on company websites and training employees and managers, regardless of gender.
Many people, for example, don’t know that symptoms of perimenopause can start as early as a woman’s 30s, and that even minor adjustments, like allowing an employee to take a short break when symptoms flare, can help.
It also helps to appoint “menopause champions” — employees willing to talk about menopause and help women find support, she said; the higher they are in the company’s ranks, the better. “When an organization demonstrates through its senior leaders that this is something important and they take it seriously, that gives everybody permission to talk about it,” she said.
Workplaces can also provide employees with access to treatment. Some are beginning to contract with companies that offer virtual appointments with providers trained in menopause care, such as Maven, Midday, and Peppy Health, a British company that recently opened an office in Brooklyn.
In Britain, some workplaces are offering women desk fans. Uniforms can be modified to breathe better. Women having a particularly bad time can ask to change shifts or work from home until they get their symptoms under control. A checklist offers other ideas.