According to the Harvard Business Review, menopause generally occurs when people with ovaries are between 45 and 55 years old — right around the time in their careers when they’re most likely to be moving into a more senior leadership role. But despite the fact that it affects such a large portion of the American workforce at such a critical moment in their careers, frank and unnecessary discussions about menopause are still taboo in the workplace; and when those discussions do happen, they carry the inherent risk of exacerbating existing sexist and agist stereotypes about women at work.
In honor of National Women’s Health Week, NationSwell’s Gender Equity Group, in collaboration with Beth Bengtson, CEO of Working for Women, Ann Garnier, CEO of Lisa Health, Senior Vice President of AARP, Kamili Wilson, and Dr. Stephanie Fabioun, Medical Director of The North American Menopause Society and physician at the Mayo Clinic’s Women’s Health Center, convened for a panel discussion on what needs to be done to ensure that the physical and mental effects of menopause and perimenopause are being adequately addressed in the workplace.
Here are some of the key learnings from the event:
Digital technologies is a promising tool when it comes to addressing gaps in care
In just the last couple of years, new technologies — including AI, machine learning, wearables, and telehealth resources — have sprouted up as enticing options for making healthcare more accessible to more people. These new technologies have particular promise for their ability to give women experiencing menopause a highly unique and personalized view of their health, which many say is lacking in their relationships with their primary care physicians.
The case for increased support for professional women experiencing menopause has to be made from an economic perspective.
Research supports the idea that when women are hit hard by menopause, they experience increased rates of absenteeism and are hit harder on productivity. In demanding that their workplaces offer benefits parity and reimbursement models that offer affordable access, women will need to frame the possibility of not getting these things as an economic issue — one that will affect companies’ bottom lines if it leads to women abandoning the workforce in droves.
Women and allies will necessarily have to advocate for increased support at the federal level.
The United Kingdom and other countries provide positive models of the types of public-private partnerships that are needed in order to ensure that women experiencing menopause get the support they need. While lobbying for benefits parity and compassionate office policies is crucial, those lobbying efforts will also need to extend to the federal government if women can hope for wide-ranging policy shifts to the current healthcare model.
Critical gaps in education exist for both healthcare providers and women experiencing menopause
A decades-long lack of resources and training during residency programs has made it so that healthcare providers are sometimes ill-equipped to deal with women experiencing menopause symptoms — creating a frustrating lack of education and awareness that affects patients. Just as technology offers promise in increasing accessibility to health care, it also holds the potential to create new pathways for women to access compassionate and informed professionals who specialize in treating the symptoms of menopause.
Treatment options outside of hormonal therapy need to be part of the conversation.
There are a host of treatment options that can be used to address the symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, and not all of them are medication-based. While hormonal therapy is one of the most commonly recommended treatment options, not all women are eligible, increasing the importance of science-backed, non-medical alternatives like cognitive behavioral therapy, healthy lifestyle changes, hypnosis, and more.
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