Opinion: If we’re serious about elevating women in leadership, we need to talk about menopause

Kelly Taylor, Head of Communications at Property Council New Zealand shares insights into Property Council’s benchmark gender diversity research and addresses The Power Gap prevalent in our sector.

Back in 2021, the Property Council undertook benchmark gender diversity research to measure and chart the property industry’s progress towards increasing diversity and embracing inclusion.  

The research found that, of the 24 participating member companies, women were under-represented in management, with for example only 20% of key management personnel (KMP) positions held by women. In essence, while gender diversity at non-management levels was relatively balanced, the higher up the hierarchy you looked, the fewer women there were. We dubbed this The Power Gap.

Often, when such a discussion arises the conversation naturally turns to women taking time out of their career for motherhood – a well-documented handbrake to career progression that can contribute to women receiving lower pay and, consequently, having less in retirement savings. While this remains true, there’s another significant milestone in a woman’s life that can cause a “doubling down” of the motherhood penalty: menopause.

The menopausal transition affects a significant portion of our workforce. This natural biological process consists of three stages:  

  • perimenopause, the up to ten-year transition leading up to a person’s last period;  
  • menopause; and 
  • post-menopause, or all the years beyond menopause. 

A natural part of the aging process, symptoms can include a variety of physical and psychological challenges. Addressing these needs is crucial for fostering a productive and inclusive work environment. For male colleagues and managers, understanding and supporting their female counterparts during this transition is not just a compassionate gesture—it’s a strategic business decision.

Understanding menopause in the workplace 

Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, characterised by a decline in estrogen levels. Research now shows there is a relationship between menopause and changes to the brain that result in poor memory and a decline in mental health.

The most reported challenges that menopausal women face includes poor concentration, tiredness, poor memory, feeling low or depressed, sleep disturbances and lowered confidence. In some women, these issues are so severe they report not taking opportunities for promotion, cutting back their work hours and even quitting the workforce altogether.

It is for this reason that many are calling for menopause to be considered not just a reproductive transition, but a neurological transition, with approximately 70% of women experiencing neurological symptoms during menopause. 

In a workplace setting, menopausal symptoms can result in increased absenteeism, reduced concentration, and lower productivity. Despite its prevalence, menopause often remains a taboo topic, leaving many women feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable discussing their experiences. This silence can exacerbate the challenges faced by menopausal employees, leading to a sense of isolation and decreased job satisfaction.

The business case for support 

Supporting employees through menopause is not just a moral imperative; it makes good business sense. A 2023 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that two-thirds (67%) of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 experiencing menopause reported a negative impact on their work. The same survey highlighted that over half (53%) have been unable to go into work at some point due to menopause symptoms and one in six women considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of support in relation to their menopause symptoms. 

According to research conducted by NZIER on behalf of Global Women New Zealand, Māori women were also nearly 50 percent more likely than average to report feeling less physically able to do their work during menopause. Alarmingly, they were 50% more likely to reduce their work hours or take extra leave (75%). 

Employee turnover is costly for companies, both in terms of direct costs associated with hiring and training new staff and the indirect costs of lost knowledge and experience. By providing menopause support, companies can reduce turnover, increase employee loyalty, and enhance overall productivity.

How male colleagues and managers can make a difference 
  1. Raise awareness and educate: The first step in supporting menopausal employees is to raise awareness and educate the workforce about menopause. For male colleagues and managers, this means taking the initiative to learn about menopause and its impacts. Companies can organise training sessions and provide informational materials to dispel myths and reduce stigma. Inviting healthcare professionals to conduct workshops or webinars can be particularly effective. 
  2. Develop supportive policies: Implementing clear policies that address menopause can create a supportive environment. These policies might include flexible working hours, the option to work from home, and provisions for breaks during the day. Male managers can play a crucial role in ensuring these policies are communicated effectively and are easily accessible. 
  3. Create a culture of openness: Encouraging open dialogue about menopause is crucial. Male colleagues and managers can foster a culture of openness by normalising conversations about menopause and showing empathy. Establishing support groups or employee resource groups where employees can share their experiences and provide mutual support can also be beneficial. 
  4. Provide access to healthcare resources: Ensuring that employees have access to healthcare resources is essential. This could include offering health insurance plans that cover menopause-related treatments, providing access to occupational health services, and partnering with healthcare providers to offer specialised support. 
  5. Train managers: Male managers should be trained to recognise the symptoms of menopause and understand its impact on work. This training should emphasize empathy, active listening, and the importance of creating a non-judgmental environment. Managers should be equipped to have supportive conversations with employees experiencing menopause. 
  6. Improve the physical work environment: Adjusting the physical work environment can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with menopause. This might include providing access to fans or temperature control, ensuring comfortable seating, and offering private spaces for employees to rest if needed.
The path forward 

According to the latest household labour force survey, there are an estimated 665,300 females aged 40-59 in the New Zealand workforce. As this workforce continues to age, the number of employees going through menopause is set to increase. Companies that proactively address this issue and provide comprehensive support will not only improve the well-being of their employees but also gain a competitive advantage. By creating a supportive and inclusive workplace, businesses can retain valuable talent, enhance employee morale, and boost overall productivity. 

For male colleagues and managers, understanding and supporting menopausal employees is a vital part of building a compassionate and productive workplace. Most importantly, it’s worth remembering that every woman is different – just because your mother, wife or sister sailed through menopause doesn’t mean it’s the same for all women – as with any health issue, no two people will have the same experience.

If we’re serious about elevating women in leadership and addressing The Power Gap we need to approach the menopausal transition as we would any other major life change; with empathy, understanding and practical solutions that support and empower. 

Further support

For further guidance, feel free to visit one of the local providers of corporate menopause training and information: 

Kelly Taylor

Head of Communications, Property Council New Zealand

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