Anne Loehr: Talking about menopause in the workplace
When we came across Anne Loehr’s article for Fast Company, “ How Menopause Silently Affects 27 Million Women at Work Every Day,” we knew we had to talk with her and share her with you.
Fall in love with Anne Loehr. We did.
Anne’s story isn’t just about dealing with menopause at work, it’s about finding ways to speak up and advocate for change.
According to Anne’s research, 20% of the workforce is dealing with menopause at any given time. Twenty percent are dealing with symptoms like headaches, hot flashes, dizziness, dry eyes (such a treat, when most of us spend at least part of our day staring at a computer screen), general achiness, and exhaustion.
That’s one in five, folks. But the general conversation around the topic sounds like….? *crickets*
There are simple things a business can do to accommodate their menopausal workforce and help them continue to produce at a high level, and yet it’s the rare business that even acknowledges it happens. In our podcast, Anne talks with Gennev CEO Jill Angelo about menopause and ageism and how great leadership can make our workplaces more comfortable….for everyone.
Anne is a speaker, writer, consultant, and trainer who helps large organizations make better decisions.
She’s had a fascinating history, including 15 years running hotels and safaris in Kenya, and having come face-to-face with lions, she’s pretty fearless. When well-meaning, professional friends advised her not to write about her menopause experience for fear she’d age herself out of the market, Anne picked up her whip and chair and went for it.
About Anne Loehr
Jill: Today we’re excited to be speaking with Anne Loehr, an internationally sought-after keynote speaker, writer, consultant and trainer where she helps large organizations improve their communications and deepen their working relationships. Anne was named ‘The Generational Guru’ by The Washington Post and her work’s been featured in The Post, The New York Times, among many other publications. She recently published an article in Fast Company in February 2016 about dealing with menopause in the workplace. A subject that’s so taboo that others encouraged her not to write about it. Well, we’re glad she did and we’re so glad she’s willing to join us today to talk more about this important issue.
Well, first of all Anne, you’ve had an amazing history. You’ve run hotels in Kenya, now you’re teaching organizations how to prepare for some real changes in the workforce. Can you talk a little bit about your background and what you do now?
Anne: Sure. So, my background is actually hospitality, believe it or not. So I actually was a chef first and then after that, went to a hotel school at Cornell University and studied hotel and restaurant management and loved it. Loved working with the people, loved being of service, literally. And after graduation, decided to move to Kenya. My husband is Kenyan and we went there for twelve years. We were only supposed to stay for two years and fell in love and stayed for twelve, running hotels and then also running a safari company. After that, we sold everything and moved back to the States about eleven years ago and people were like, ‘Well, what are you gonna do with the rest of your life?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know!’ And they said, ‘Well, why don’t you do what you did, which is developing talent, growing people, growing organizations but you’re just not running a hotel anymore, you’re doing it for other organizations.’ And so that’s we do now. We have a small firm now. And do all types of leadership development, whether it is executive coaching, training, online work, writing and we have a ball.
Menopause in the workplace
Jill: Let’s talk a little bit about your recent article that was published in Fast Company in February of 2016. You took a different direction and you took the subject of menopause in the workplace head-on. Why is this subject so important to you?
Anne: Well, the subject is important to me personally because I’m experiencing it and didn’t realize that I’d be experiencing it so soon and it rocked my world, Jill. So, as I started to look at it and as I started to look at the work that I was doing, and asking organizational HR people how are they dealing with it, I realized no one was talking about it. This is an issue that affects 27 million women right now, between the ages of 45 and 64. Jill, it’s 20 per cent of our workforce. And no one’s talking about it. So that’s when I decided that maybe it was time to bring it up a little bit.
Jill: You know, and it’s incredible, you know, why are women so reluctant to admit they’re dealing with menopause issues? ‘Cause I hear you just openly talking about your experience. But why are most women so reluctant to talk about it?
Anne: I think there’s lots of reasons and I think it’s somewhat personal. I do also think though that organizational structures, whether it’s a non-profit, a for-profit, a government agency, they’re just not ready to talk about it. They haven’t really even started to come to grips with the fact that Baby Boomers, the biggest generation, we’re now gonna be having, by 2018, 31 million women ready for menopause. No one is ready for it. And the few times that women have brought it up, there was one survey that said over a fifth of women believe that it’s negatively impacted them because their managers have thought about them in a different way. There’s another study that said over half of the women weren’t even able to negotiate flexible work hours while they’re dealing with the symptoms. So, I think a) it’s an instituitional thing, b) I think organizations just aren’t ready for the conversation, it came sooner than people expected or were ready to talk about it and c) I think that the women who did try to speak up weren’t really listened to in a way that mattered and so they just decided not to bring it up anymore.
Menopause impacts and accommodations
Jill: You know, and I think we’re, or the public is somewhat generally familiar with some of the symptoms, hot flashes, or, you know, no more periods that women experience as they go through menopause, but can you talk a little bit about, what is it about the symptoms in the workplace that impacts their job performance?
Anne: So, for myself, it is the fog. My brain is not thinking and it reminds me of when we had our daughter; it’s that lack of sleep, that sleep deprivation, you’re just really not there a hundred per cent. So, for a lot of women, including myself, it’s that lack of sleep which then contributes to the brain fog during the day. So that’s one big thing that I’ve really noticed. A lot of other women also report headaches, loss of energy, which can make sense because you’re not getting all the sleep you want, aches, pains, dry skin, dry eyes. So the bottom line, Jill, is that 20 per cent of the workforce is potentially at work either sweating to death at their desks, having headaches, not having energy, not enough sleep, this is a huge issue that managers and leaders really need to start looking at so that they can, not only make sure that their team is as productive as possible, but that others understand it and feel comfortable bringing it up and we can start to have the team that we want, again, in terms of supporting each other.
Jill: That’s pretty incredible when you think about that large percentage of the workforce going through very debilitating things that interrupt the course of work and can even create some embarrassment. You know, you talk a little bit about leaders need to take this head-on but what are some of the simple things that workplaces could do to accommodate women dealing with menopause symptoms?
Anne: There’s lots of little things that people can do, because as you said, people tiptoe around this, maybe perhaps on their gender, or their cultural ethnicity or just their family religion, it’s not something that’s talked about so no one really knows how to talk about it. So they kind of tiptoe around it as you say. So there’s lots of little things, I don’t think there’s one big thing that everybody can do. But just something as simple as flexible schedules when needed, allowing people, men or women, but we’re talking about women right now in menopause, to be more flexible. That would be one thing. I have seven things but just allowing flexibility, also allowing flexibility on sick day policies. So flexible schedule in general but just flexibility in sick day policies. Does that organization even consider menopause a sick day policy? Now, that alone is somewhat controversial because there’s nothing wrong with the person, they’re not sick, but the people don’t know what to do with it, they don’t know how to record it, so just looking at flexibility and looking at policies are just two of the seven ways that organizations can start to support the people that they need to support in the workplace.
Comfort level: talking openly about menopause
Jill: Anne, you mentioned there’s a number of things that the workplace can do to start to make it more accommodating for women going through menopause, you know, whether it’s flexible work schedules or just a greater, you know, understanding within their overall wellness plan. I think at the heart of it, if I were to put myself in either a manager’s position, which I am one myself, and or, you know, the employee’s position as a woman, which I’m also, a woman, it’s hard to bring it up and so, when I think about that dialogue that needs to occur, who initiates it or how might women employees feel more comfortable saying, ‘Hey, I need to come in a little later today, you know, for this reason.’ or how might a manager, male or female, initiate the conversation or create a comfortable enough place that the females on their team can bring it up?
Anne: I think there’s a few things that can happen and I think it would be at a macro level as well as down to the micro level. A lot of it comes down to trust, right? Do I trust this person about this very personal thing? And again, depending on your cultural background, that might even be taboo. So, a lot of it comes down to trust, which comes down to organizational trust. Is there just trust within the organization about leadership management? Do I feel like I can speak up about anything, let alone about menopause? So, first of all, there needs to be that cultural trust. A couple other things so that managers, leaders can do that creates the trust would be something just as simple as, most organizations have something called the ‘Wellness Week’ or the ‘Wellness Day’, something like that, where they’re learning about nutrition and mindfulness and that kind of thing. And so having just someone speak about menopause, even if it’s just at a booth to learn about menopause, just saying, ‘It’s here. We are acknowledging it.’ Doesn’t have to be made a big deal, it doesn’t have to be a huge keynote. But just letting people know: ‘We acknowledge that this is just as important as understanding about any other medical situation you may have, such as diabetes, blood pressure, etc. that kind of thing. So, just doing that type of thing helps people feel safe, like, ‘Alright, well they had a booth’ or ‘They spoke about it at ‘Wellness Week’, must be okay to bring up.’ Another way that would help people start to feel like it’s okay to bring this up and to create that trust is to appoint an in-office or an in-organization advocate, or even a few, where it’s like, ‘You know what, if you have a question, here’s someone you could talk to. If you wanna know more, here’s someone you could talk to.’ Again, it doesn’t have to be a huge deal, doesn’t have to be shouted from the rafters, but letting people know there is a resource there, that starts to create the trust. A third thing might be implementing a hotline. Some kind of wellness hotline. So just a wellness hotline in general – support, information, resources on medical issues – of which one of the issues is menopause. So at a macro level, if organizational leaders do just these three things in terms of implementing a hotline, having an advocate, including it in the ‘Wellness Week’ or ‘Wellness Day’, that sends the message of ‘We know this is a medical issue, we’re happy to bring it up.’ and starts to create the trust. Now, your question was about ‘Well, how does that actually work and who initiates it and does the manager go first or the woman go first?’ I think that’s all situational. It depends on the team dynamics, it depends on that particular relationship with the manager and the employee. I don’t think there’s one way or another way that’s best. I think it’s just a matter of having that trust between the two people to say, ‘You know what, there’s something somewhat sensitive, we need to talk about.’ And then having that conversation and truly listening and being of support.
Menopause and age: the stigma double whammy
Jill: I can’t underscore enough that notion of just putting the word out there, or the booth or, there’s so much that can, you can go such a long ways with just making people aware that you’re thinking about it too and then you go from there. And, you know, I think for many reasons, menopause and the associated symptoms have such a stigma associated with it around being hormonal or moody or whatever. And in fact, you were even advised against writing about menopause and your own experience. Can you tell us a little bit about, you know, why you were advised against it and why did you push through that?
Anne: I think your question speaks to something even bigger than hormones and moodiness. I think it speaks to ageism. I think that our country, and I’m American, I love America, and I think that our culture is obsessed with young people. And so to admit that you’re in menopause is now saying you’re probably over 45. And maybe even over 50. And that is admitting that you are, in our society, in our culture, seen as old. We see it all the time, especially in Silicon Valley; I wrote another piece in Fast Company about ageism and recruiting. And so I think there needs to be a bigger conversation around what is it with American society rewarding, wanting younger people, rather than valuing the wisdom and the experience? And that doesn’t need to be binary, right? It doesn’t have to be either young or old. Why can’t we all talk about our experiences? What it’s like to be a young person person out of college with a hundred thousand dollar debt? That’s a conversation that needs to happen. And what’s it like to be a young person who is a single mom trying to make it work? And what’s it like to be a fifty year old mom who’s trying to make it work? It’s all part of life but for whatever reason, and we don’t see it in other cultures as much, but we definitely see it in the U.S. culture, that conversation doesn’t happen and that conversation directly impacts the conversation about menopause.
Jill: Absolutely. It is. It’s a much broader problem. In a way, a social norm change, I think you hit on ageism, you just, you don’t think about it but at the heart of it all, absolutely. None of us wanna age and none of us wanna show our age and that’s a big part of hiding parts of ourselves. Did you, as a result of publishing the article, did you experience any repercussions or even on the flipside, benefits?
Anne: So, the people who told me not to write the article, it was because, when people know how old you are, no one’s going to hire you. And for someone, for myself, who works for myself, I don’t work for a large organization, I mean, that was a consideration. Right. So like well, ‘People aren’t gonna hire me because I realized that I now have menopause?’ Like, that seems a little silly. So. I will be honest. I thought about it for two minutes and I thought, ‘Well, that’s just ridiculous. I mean, that if someone doesn’t wanna hire me because I’m going through menopause, and therefore am of a certain age, like, that’s just ridiculous.’ So that’s why I decided to write it. There were actually no repercussions but I will say, the benefits … so many people wrote me. The people I know. But many people I don’t know, who reached out and said, ‘I saw the article. Thank you so much. Thank you for bringing it up. I thought it was just me. I thought it was just my organization.’ So that has been very, very rewarding to the point where then I decided to write the other Fast Company piece on ageism and recruiting and how it’s affecting and now I’m actually gonna be interviewing the president of AARP. Because I’m just so interested in this whole piece on ageing and the workplace and how do current leaders get ready for ageing in the workplace? How do younger leaders have these kinds of conversations? We’re in a whole new world, Jill. Like, we never had to deal with this before, where people over 65 were still at work and people who are 25 or 30 are their managers. It’s a whole new conversation of which menopause needs to be a part of.
Jill: Anne, you hit on a bigger topic around ageism. And I know, when I think about myself, I’m a woman in my forties, and I’m not a Baby Boomer, I’m younger than the Baby Boomers, my parents were Baby Boomers, and I am now a person thinking about ageism and I think of msyelf as really young. It’s incredible how all of us need to think about ageism. It’s not just the 65 plus or the 55 plus.
Anne: You’re absolutely right. Gen X, which is the generation you’re referring to, which those who were born between 1965 and 1980, are now being considered as old. Right, whereas where we thought before old was 65 plus, 60 plus, and now Gen X, who is the next geenration under the Boomers, is being considered as old and it impacts everything. It impacts our health. It impacts our insurance rates. And it really does impact our work. Are we being valued as much if we’re someone who is considered old? How are we being seen? How do we want to present ourselves? My husband, as I said earlier, is from Kenya and East Africa has a very different way of looking at older people. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, right or wrong, it’s a different culture, they look at it differently. And my husband, who was educated in the West, he understands American culture and is now an American citizen, he constantly says to me sometimes though when I put highlights in my hair because of a little bit of gray, he’s like, ‘Why are you covering up how old you are?’ And it really makes me think about that. Why am I doing that? What is that sending as a message to other people? And what is that sending as a message to organizations? And how can I as a leader, you as a leader, Jill, in terms of having this podcast, start to shift the conversation about, am I doing it just because I want to have highlights, or am I doing it because I’ve bought into this message of older women may not get a job if they write about menopause or appear old or whatever the case may be?
Female leadership and menopause
Jill: Switching gears just a little bit, you’ve also written about post-recession rise in female entrepreneurialship. You know, we have more women-led companies than ever before. Do you feel that the focus that more women are leading companies or are in prominent positions in companies are going to make a topic like ageism and/or menopause less of a taboo in the workplace for women?
Anne: That’s a great question. I cannot speak for every leader. My hope is yes. My hope is that it will start to become a topic that people are talking about. I think a lot of it has to do with the organizational culture and the industry that you’re in. If it’s a male-dominated industry or not, a male-dominated organization, you may be the COO or a CFO but how many are the men on your board, that kind of thing. But I think it is coming. I think we’re seeing more and more, at least the conversation happening. Just in New York, all of a sudden now, they’re talking about reducing the tax on tampons, right. You wouldn’t even have seen that in the press. We’re not longer saying that it’s a luxury, it’s a necessity for half of our population so why are we taxing someone for this necessity? So I think the whole conversation about women’s issues, women’s health, women’s reproduction, I think we’re seeing more and more of it in different ways, whether it’s the tampon tax, whether it’s menopause, whether it’s pregnancy, I think we’re gonna see more and more of it and we just need more voices like yours and your organization to continue the conversation. My take is that it is not that anybody is waking up saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t wanna talk about menoapuse today.’ I think it’s just not in their awareness as they’re running organizations and running teams and making products and so it’s your job and my job to start to educate management, to say, ‘You know what, have you even thought about this topic?’ And then letting them start to assimilate the information, making the information relevant and easy, that will go a long way. And having these conversations, whether you’re a female leader or a male leader, to say, ‘We need to start thinking about this and we need to start talking about it.’
How do we start the conversation?
Jill: I think that’s absolutely right. And, you know, part of of Gennev’s vision is to create a platform and a community for opening up that kind of discussion and kind of empowering women, you know, like you said, leaders certainly need to start initiating this in the workplace but obviously there’s more workers and employees than there are leaders. Just in closing, how would you suggest women, and maybe even concerned men for that matter, because men care about women and have women in their lives, take the lead and start this discussion from their own, you know, point of view within the workplace that they work in every single day?
Anne: Well, the research is pretty clear that when we’re talking just about women leaders, having girls start to take STEM classes, that kind of thing, the push is when there’s a male leader who has a daughter. So when there is a male leader, someone in the C suite or someone very high up in a non-profit or academia, when they have a daughter, and they see the discrimination, or the barriers that their daughters are facing, they start to become more aware of it and they start to fight more in general to make gender parity, gender pay parity, that kind of thing. And so I think it’s the same thing. It may just be as simple as having the conversation in your family. Having the conversation with your close neighbors and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m having hot flashes, don’t tell anybody.’ And just saying at a barbeque, ‘Oh my gosh, having another hot flash,’ you know, ‘get me another drink’ or whatever it is in terms of, you know, ‘helping me start to reduce it’. Just saying it out loud. I heard someone say that at a barbeque actually recently and she’s like, ‘Can you please get me another lemonade, I’m having a hot flash.’ And you could just see a couple heads were turning, they’re like, ‘She just talked about that out loud? At a neighborhood barbeque?’ And I think the more that we can do that and to say, yes this is life, this is who we are, this is a stage in life, whether we’re getting married, or not, whether we’re having children, or not, whether we are, whatever the case may be, medically or not, and whether we’re going through menopause or not, let’s just start the conversation in a place you feel safe and then start to bring it up more and more in the workplace.
Jill: I think that notion of feeling safe is a big point that you hit on. Thanks, Anne, for what you’re doing around this topic, you know, of menopause but even broader, around your leadership development and your nurturing of the workforce. I think you’re having an incredible impact and you’re the kind of pioneer I think in these new types of spaces that we all need. So I appreciate you spending time with Gennev and with our listeners today. And I look forward to where we take this forward.
Anne: Well, thank you, Jill, for today. Thank you for creating Gennev to have these conversations. And I look forward to the day that we don’t even have to have this conversation, it’s just so normal.
Love podcasts? We’ve got lots more. Check out Midlife is Me Time with Dr. Barbara Mark for a great conversation about killing it in the next chapter of your life, or find out how to cure what ails you with Chinese medicine practitioner Jennifer Mason of Vitamin Chi.
Want to talk more about ageism and menopause in the workplace? We’d love to know how your company handles sensitive topics, so leave us a comment below, find us on Facebook, or join our closed Facebook group, Midlife & Menopause Solutions!
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