In recognition of World Menopause Day, observed annually on October 18th, the Birmingham Business School, in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), hosted a compelling event and panel discussion aimed at addressing menopause-related issues within the workplace.
A broad spectrum of topics, ranging from knowledge sharing and personal experiences to research insights and organisational policies were addressed. The aim of these discussions was to foster a reflective understanding of the underlying challenges associated with openly discussing menopause within professional settings.
The speakers were welcomed by Sanam Yaqub, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Lead at the University of Birmingham Dubai. She was joined by Dr Pilar Rojas Gaviria, Associate Professor at University of Birmingham and Dr Camilla Quental, Associate Professor at New York University, Abu Dhabi who shared insights from their recent research paper titled 'The Dialectic of Menopause Zest: Challenging Conventional Organizational Perceptions.'
In stark contrast to the prevalent media narrative that often focuses on the negative aspects of menopause for women, Dr. Quental, Dr. Gaviria, and Dr. Bucchia’s paper illuminated the positive and invigorating facets of the menopausal experience within the workplace. They emphasised that while it is important to initiate conversations around menopause at work it is also crucial to encourage organisations to move beyond their generic medicalized perspectives and coping strategies and adopt the ‘education for all’ approach to avoid further stigmatization of the topic.
As the conversations delved deeper into the positive side of menopause, Dr Quental shared real-life examples and feedback from women undergoing the menopausal transition, revealing feelings of liberation, increased energy, and a newfound sense of autonomy in making life choices. While menopause is inherently a biological facet of the aging female body, their research findings identified noteworthy positive transformations, such as heightened self-orientation, liberation from the reproductive body paradigm, enhanced equality in relationships, and the dissolution of the beauty mandate, ultimately freeing women from objectification.
Dr Heather Jeffrey, Head of Subject for Birmingham Business School in Dubai invited an esteemed panel of speakers to further explore the dynamics of managing menopause within the workplace. The panel comprised of Emma Davies, Chief Culture and People Excellence Officer at Masafi, Dr Linda Smail, Associate Professor Zayed University, Ann Marie McQueen, Founder of Hotflash inc., Sharon James, Women's Wellness and Menopause Coach, Dr Camilla Quental, Associate Professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, Cheryl Thornton, C-Suite HR and Business Operations leader, Dr Pilar Rojas Gaviria, Associate Professor University of Birmingham.
The panel discussions steered towards organisational behaviour and policies concerning menopause. While the speakers acknowledged the importance of designating World Menopause Day for raising awareness, they raised concerns about its efficacy in fostering open dialogues about menopause. The conversation gravitated towards offering advice to companies seeking to formulate comprehensive policies, promote awareness, and educate employees, irrespective of gender, on the subject.
Examples from countries such as the UK and France, which have introduced various initiatives to mitigate the stigmatisation of bodily functions, were shared. The discussion highlighted several barriers to establishing an inclusive work environment, primarily driven by cultural disparities that often hinder progress. Cheryl Thornton, C-Suite HR, and Business Operations Leader, remarked, "The problem stems from organisations viewing menopause as a gender stereotype or a woman's issue. Shifting the perspective to perceive it as an organisational concern could pave the way for effective solutions collectively."
Ann Marie McQueen, Founder of Hotflash inc. added that inclusivity should not solely rely on organizations but also the media's role in promoting diversity. She noted that the media often publishes single generic articles on the topic avoiding detailed follow ups, despite the multifaceted nature of menopause, and underscored the significance of workplace managers being adept at discussing it, thereby contributing to the normalisation of menopause conversations.
The CIPD published a research report recently on ‘Menopause in the workplace – Employee experiences in 2023’ that explores firsthand account of employees’ experiences of menopause at work. The report cites survey results from over 2000 employed women, aged 40-60, and offers insight into the difference workplace support can provide in creating a healthy workplace culture.
At the University of Birmingham, menopause is spoken more openly and is an integral focus of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) initiatives for employees. Detailed framework, guidance, and support networks are available to employees. The institution offers a comprehensive framework, guidance, and support networks for its staff. Additionally, the ED&I team hosts termly online lunch and learn workshops for all employees to expand their knowledge about menopause and how to support colleagues. The aspiration is for more organisations to take the first step by initiating dialogues and embracing these essential changes.