I used to be a good neighbour—one that drops food off to those who are elderly or infirm, sharing an egg or cup of sugar with someone who needed it. I’d let your dog out and water your garden when you were away. Exactly when I became the woman who screams, swears and rages at those on the other side of the fence to be quiet and turn off their music is unclear to me. But it happened.
After a few of these “rage” experiences, I was on a nature walk with my friend Lisa Boate and shared that I was terrified about what was happening. It was like an out of body experience that I had no control over. A switch would flip and suddenly I’d be screaming. Did she think I had a brain tumour? Her reply was swift and simple. “That’s menopause. Your hormones are off the charts. It will be ok.” It turned out that Lisa was a certified menopause coach. I had the right walking companion that day.
Canoe trip with no guidebook
Every time I turn another corner on this menopause journey, I feel frustrated. I’m a 56-year-old woman who is frequently surprised by some new symptom. Of course, me being me, I must talk about it. I’m asking EVERYONE I know what their experiences have been. You see, society hasn’t prepared us for this roller coaster.
In grade six we started having “the talk.” All the girls knew that they needed to keep a quarter in their desk (just in case) and if they didn’t have one, Mrs. Brown did. Girls who experienced “that time of month,” walked taller when they came out of the bathroom and everyone else hoped they would be next.
Why is it that “becoming a woman” felt like a badge of honour while entering perimenopause remains largely a mystery. Mothers don’t talk about it with daughters and it is normal to live with symptoms thinking you are slowly losing your mind.
In the Menopause Manifesto, Jennifer Gunter writes: “Menopause is like being sent on a canoe trip with no guidebook and only a vague idea where you are headed—although the expectation is it's awful. There will be no advice on how to get there or how to manage any of the obstacles, such as rapids. That is if any exist. Who knows? Have fun figuring it out! Good times. Oh, and don't write. No one wants to hear about your journey or what it is like when you arrive.”
What does it have to do with our work?
When 75% of the nonprofit workforce is made up of women, many of whom are very likely boarding the canoe trip of menopause, (with NO guidebook) we MUST talk about it. Not only do we have to talk about it, but we also must educate and accommodate women who are experiencing it.
As I continued to explore this topic, another friend—Michelle Chambers—shared that their agency, THINK, has an official human resource menopause policy. WHAT! A policy on menopause? Of course, I had to see it.
The purpose of the THINK Menopause policy is to: “Set out guidance and support for employees who are affected by the menopause or experiencing symptoms. The policy aims to provide awareness and understanding about menopause to everyone working within the Company.”
The policy outlines what menopause is, common symptoms, how it could impact employees, supports that are available and, possibly most important of all, that anyone who violates this policy by breaking confidentiality or making disparaging private or public comments will be subject to a disciplinary procedure. Reading this policy immediately felt like the guidebook I needed.
Benefits of a menopause policy
The reality is that we still live and work in a patriarchal system where it’s normal for people to walk out of a tense meeting with a female boss and comment, “must be that time of the month.” Everyone knows it is inappropriate. Yet, it’s still normalized. I’ve heard both men and women make comments like this.
When staff training is provided by a menopause coach or an official policy is adopted, every woman who is experiencing menopause symptoms feels seen and protected. It’s also good for men to know how to support their co-workers.
Protecting our leaders
I don’t feel old, barren or ready to slow down. I feel wise, powerful and like I’m just getting started. But, I am writing this article at 4:00 am because I don’t sleep well right now. Fortunately, I no longer must get on a commuter train at 5:30 am because if I still had to do that, while going through this, I know I would find it very hard to do my job. Yet, this is the reality for many women in our sector. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has extensive information available about menopause in the workplace.
Here are just a few examples of what you can do to support your employees:
• Educate and train all employees to speak openly about menopause without stigma.
• Review your HR policies.
• Provide flexible working hours and time off for medical appointments.
• Allow control over ventilation and temperature where possible.
• Provide access to a quiet room or rest area.
Let’s shine a light on menopause as a real condition that may require some workplace accommodations. Let’s also remind all our employees of how important they are to our organizations.
You should know that women who are on this canoe trip are only just coming into their full power. You don’t want to miss it.
This article was originally published in Hilborn Charity eNEWS.
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