Millions of Canadian women are coping with menopause, and advocates say they don’t have the support they need. A new report by the Menopause Foundation of Canada suggests missed work days, lower productivity and lost income cost $3.5B a year.
A growing movement is aiming to make workplaces more ‘menopause-inclusive’
Nisha Patel · CBC News
Earlier this year, Darlene Mulcahey wasn’t feeling like herself. She couldn’t focus or remember information, and her productivity at work was plunging.
Mulcahey later realized these were symptoms of menopause. But when she brought up the issue with her manager, he told her he didn’t know how to help.
“I found myself feeling very alone and without any support at work, so eventually I had to take a leave of absence,” she said.
Most women reach menopause between ages 45 and 55. That means two million members of Canada’s workforce could be coping with symptoms, and the lack of support may be taking a serious economic toll.
A new report by the Menopause Foundation of Canada suggests missed work days, lower productivity and lost income due to menopause symptoms cost $3.5 billion a year. The foundation’s president, Janet Ko, said many women end up taking time off or quitting altogether, often at the height of their careers.
“We believe that menopause is the missing link to explain why more women aren’t breaking through the glass ceiling,” she said. “When women should be earning the most, they’re actually stepping back, and that creates, of course, a ripple effect in the economy.”
Closing the gap
Almost half of women polled say they are unprepared for menopause, and nearly all report experiencing symptoms such as hot flashes, joint pain and anxiety, according to a national survey by Leger for the Menopause Foundation of Canada.
“I think one of the reasons why it doesn’t get talked about is because it’s overwhelmingly viewed as negative,” Ko said. “It is shrouded in mystery and secrecy because it’s wrapped up in ageism.”
Employees have a tough time accessing information and support, with 67 per cent of women surveyed saying they would not feel comfortable speaking to their supervisor about their symptoms. The majority would like to see workplaces offer more support, including medical insurance covering menopause treatments and therapies, options for time off and flexible work, and menopause-awareness sessions for employees.
Ko is calling on big business to step up.
“We don’t think this is a heavy lift for employers. We think that having conversations and breaking the taboo is one of the most important things that can be done.”
A menopause movement
Around the world, companies are starting to pay more attention to the issue. Adobe, Kellogg’s and Bank of America are offering menopause-specific support in a bid to attract and retain female employees.
In Canada, insurance company Sun Life is one major employer taking up the cause. “It’s an underserved health gap,” said Helena Pagano, chief people and culture officer for the insurer. “It’s a solvable problem if we put some resources and momentum behind it.”
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Pagano has been hosting employee awareness sessions about menopause and has been overwhelmed by the response, with staff thanking her “for letting us have a conversation that I never thought I would have at work.” Sun Life is also offering benefit coverage for hormone replacement therapy, mental health support and a flexible work environment.
Pagano said what’s good for the company will also be good for employees.
“It’s going to help the career success, personal success, financial well-being, health well-being of our people.”
After a four-month leave of absence and hormone replacement therapy, Mulcahey is back in the office and feeling better than ever. She’s launched her own menopause initiative: a virtual platform to help others find information like articles and videos. She hopes it will keep more women in the workforce.
“It’s very difficult trying to do it alone,” she said. “We deserve to be heard, to be seen and to be supported.”
With files from Laura MacNaughton
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nisha Patel is a senior business reporter with CBC News. She’s been reporting on business and economics for more than a decade and has lived and worked in New York City, Edmonton and Calgary. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two kids. Find her on Twitter @nishapatel.