Last week it was my privilege to facilitate and contribute an important conversation as part of our working for the Plymouth Charter. It was a webinar entitled, “How to retain your wise women – Menopause in the Workplace.”
Oh yeah, another middle-aged, white, male talking about privilege, but what’s he doing entering this discussion? Well, what indeed.
Working for Real Ideas I cannot help but recognise the privilege I have. I am trusted to work independently but supported where I need it. It has also helped me come aware of the universal, unconscious privilege I experience every day. Therefore, be assured that what follows is intended as my way of opening up a conversation that is lurking behind a curtain. And this is just as much for men as it is for women.
Alison Theaker & Anne Hope led the session and demonstrated, not only the depth of conviction that comes from lived experience, but also a refreshing and open approach to the subject. Their collective strapline says, “It happens to 51% of the population, but it affects us all”. This statement helped me understand that this is a discussion I can be involved in. Ignorance is not bliss and we can all be involved in exploring ways to better understand the process that is menopause.
This was another lightbulb moment for me and others in the session. The current way of thinking about menopause is that it is a problem that needs to be fixed. A bit of Googling revealed the creator of HRT, Robert A. Wilson, claimed that “menopause is a hormone deficiency disease, curable and totally preventable, just take estrogen”. Bearing in mind Wilson was operating in the burgeoning capitalist United States in the 1960’s, one cannot help but be aware of the commercial motivation that might exist around such a line. Think about the approach to the highly addictive opioid, OxyContin so dramatically realised in DopeSick (Disney).
So if we acknowledge that menopause happens, in the same way we accept that puberty (the opposite end of the hormonal journey) happens, perhaps we can have a sensible conversation about it without the nervous banter. During the call, I asked the question I put to most of the clients and members I work with “how can I help?”. It turns out, by tweaking the question to “what would be helpful”. The experience of menopause has some common symptoms, but the way they are experienced by individual women is personal to them. Just like at the other stages of the hormonal process.
Men, whether you want to admit or not, there will be women in your life, personally and professionally, who will be entering, experiencing and exiting the process that is menopause. We cannot fix it because it is a process not a problem. No matter how well meaning, or for that matter indifferent we are, there is no point in ignoring it. A bit of empathy, a bit of patience, a bit of tolerance, and the right amount of levity. Both Alison & Anne advocated a sense of humour when having these conversations, but that tone is not for us to decide.
Some may think that a man should keep his thoughts and opinions to himself on this matter because they are women’s issues. That may be and it is not the intention to antagonise. If that is helpful to remain silent, then so be it. However, if there is something that can be done, here is a space to say.