Menopause has had a moment, with media coverage ranging from daytime TV to the broadsheets to online periodicals like this one. Business is also slowly waking up to the fact that if they want to recruit brilliant women into their ranks, they will need to recognise and support them through their life phases. But where does this leave men, after all menopause has little to do with them, does it?
Menopause, surely it’s a woman’s thing?
If we are talking about who experiences menopause directly, then yes, it’s predominantly women. In addition to this all trans-men and some non-binary people do as well. But, because of the nature of menopause, anyone interacting with those who are menopausal, experiences it indirectly too.
Symptoms cannot be left outside the security barriers, meeting room or the front door. They come along to every important interview, project meeting or parents evening, in fact the more stressful the event is, the more likely they are to make themselves known.
75% of those going through menopause will have at least one troubling symptom. With symptoms occurring for most between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasting for on average four to eight years, it means that many of us will be interacting with someone, whether that’s at work or at home, who is struggling with their symptoms.
In essence, this means that menopause is an everyone thing.
We all need to know what menopause is and how it can impact the person we work with, manage or go home to.
How do we get men involved?
Almost every organisation I work with asks me this question. The answer is communication and to relate menopause to someone that men care about ie their partner, mum, friend or colleague. When the benefit is personal, we all become vested in the outcome, which in turn has a positive impact on everyone else.
Many of the men I work with, want to understand what menopause is and how to offer support. Most fear they will say or do the wrong thing, so choose silence or inaction as the safer, less contentious option.
Organisations need to be cognisant of these issues and create training and support services that are clearly open to and for men. To create spaces where men can learn about what the menopause is and how they can be an active ally, without fear of ridicule or worse, inadvertently saying something that will be prejudicial to their current or future career.
I frequently find when I analyse an organisations demographics, that statistically a high percentage of the male management team are going home to a partner who is of menopausal age. The impact of this is something very few are discussing, yet it has a potential negative impact on performance due to increased stress and fatigue. For complex social reasons many feel unable to ask for help when supporting a partner or family member who is struggling with their symptoms.
It is unrealistic to expect men to simply know how to manage and discuss a subject, where until recently they were completely excluded from the conversation.
So, what can men do?
The first step is to recognise the enormity of menopause. If a person has ovaries they will have a menopause, there are no exceptions. Unlike periods and pregnancy, it lasts for years, that’s every day and night of those years, there are no days off. Lastly it is unique to the individual experiencing it, no two people will experience it in the same way, which means there isn’t a standard approach to managing or supporting people. We have to get comfortable with variability.
We need to educate in what the menopause is and the key symptoms. Create a foundation of knowledge which will take you from that rabbit in the headlights sensation, to one where you feel assured that should a colleague mention they are menopause you can add a few supportive words.
Take the time to identify what your organisation is doing for those who are menopausal and their colleagues. It will give you a clear understanding of how to signpost the support that is available should your colleague confide in you. It will also highlight any initiatives there are to make menopause an everyday subject. It is important to note that many organisations extend psychological or medical support to partners or immediate family members if they are struggling with their symptoms.
Following on from research, if necessary, ask your employer to provide male focussed training. Men are without doubt a key part in changing the culture and conversation around menopause. Without male allyship menopause will always be seen as a niche, female only issue. Managers are pivotal in cultural change and need to be supported in how to have empathetic, business focused conversations. This is the same for female as well as male managers.
If you are finding that your partner, colleague or friend’s symptoms are causing you increased stress or/and fatigue, take action for yourself and access support that you need. Men are not automatons, no matter what the normal social narrative states. Comments like ‘man up’ alongside stereotypes such as ‘the strong silent type’ are not helpful or accurate for men themselves or those they interact with.
Menopause is no longer something managed silently by women in the shadows. It is part of our workplace and our relationships. We are all, men included, involved.
Kate is an experienced Menopause Coach and gender equity consultant. She works with women and organisations to create simple strategies that enable modern and supportive Menopause conversations. Ensuring women retain their careers and organisations continue to benefit from some of their most brilliant employees. She is an internationally published author, her book 'Your Second Phase – reclaiming work and relationships during and after Menopause' was shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year Award.