In the past year, menopause has dominated nearly every social gathering in my personal and professional life. Seemingly overnight, I graduated into a rarified club with hushed conversations on the best doctors, hormone patches, and strategies for dealing with night sweats.

The timing coincided with my own experience of transition to perimenopause, the decade(s) long stage that precedes menopause with a symptom that’s rarely talked about – shortness of breath and chest pains.

This drew me towards a company in the Seattle-area Techstars program I volunteer with, one that’s building a community for women and advancing evidence backed solutions.

In conversation with Perry’s founder Laura Crain, I learned that far from the tropes of an older menopausal woman overwhelmed by hot flashes, these stages are characterized by over 60 known symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic.

Menopause, a universal experience for women, yet often misunderstood and under-discussed, particularly in professional settings. As World Menopause Awareness Day rolls around, let’s have a candid conversation about the significance of this natural life phase and its economic implications.

Menopause and Perimenopause: A Universal Experience

In 2023, publicly discussing most aspects of women’s reproductive health is seen as uncultured and often stignmatized, reminiscant of passing a pad to your friend in middle school. The impact is fewer dollars towards research, and a lack of awareness even among physicians.

At Perry’s Menopause Journal launch event, an OBGYN shared her reflections:

“When we talk about health care disparities and we talk about them as they relate to menopause the reason why it’s important to know what the experience is for a Black woman as opposed to a white woman is because the disparity exists. But we never get to the next step is why and what are we going to do about it. When I was going through med school we were taught that Black women don’t have hot flashes as much. So that conversation that you’re going to have with the person of color you’re not going to even bring it up as a physician because you think that doesn’t affect them. So having an awareness of what that is and how many things that we’ve been sort of mistaught about what the menopause experience is in general.” Dr. Sharon Malone, OBGYN

Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, typically occurring between the ages of 45 and 55. Preceding this is perimenopause, a transitional period that can span up to a decade, characterized by hormonal fluctuations.

According to the North American Menopause Society, up to 85% of women experience symptoms during this transition, which can include hot flashes, mood disturbances, and cognitive changes. Black women in-particular often experience symptoms sooner, on average two year ahead of other racial groups (New York Times).

Perry’s community is one of few that connects women across the world finding their way through misinformation on the web, uninformed doctors and isolation.

It’s such a comfort knowing we are not alone. These symptoms, at times, are scary, isolating, and just horrible.I’ve felt like a fraud a bit too, partly cos at 39 I thought I was too young to be going through peri, Wrong! (one GP didnt help with that, luckily I was seen by another). I guess my take away is that WE can do this, WE are not alone. To navigate LIFE, jobs, kids, as well as all the symptoms, and the crappiness, takes huge strength and determination. You’re not too young, your not losing your mind and Its going to get better eventually 😌. ✨️ Liz, 39 from London

Perimenopause, Career, and the Economy

If this transition impacts nearly every woman, why are we just hearing about this?

While symptoms are widespread, most women choose remain silent, particularly in the workplace. A study highlighted in The Independent suggests, “Nearly half (44%) of women experiencing menopause symptoms ‘suffer in silence’ at work, due to fears it could negatively impact their career.”

If that number seems astounding, just consider how often women hide their preganacy, especially in male dominated workplaces and when they are interviewing for new jobs. Motherly recently covered the maternal discrimination faced by women, regardless of industry or seniority.

When it comes to perimenopause and menopause, the stakes are even higher. The timeline of perimenopause coincides with a critical juncture in a woman’s career, mid to late 30’s and early 40’s, as we are moving towards the corner office.

A significant study in the UK revealed that 59% of women experiencing menopause symptoms said it negatively affected their work. In the United States, menopause costs women an estimated $1.8 billion in lost working time per year, according to a Mayo Clinic study. In Canada, a Deloitte study highlighted the economic impact, “menopause costs employers $237M annually in lost productivity, and costs women a staggering $3.3B in lost income due to a reduction in hours and/or pay or leaving the workforce altogether.”

Such disruptions not only sideline the individual careers of women but also hold broader economic consequences. When experienced professionals withdraw or underperform, industries lose invaluable expertise.

This isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an economic one.

Concrete Steps Workplaces Can Take

There is no one way to go through menopause. I had no idea how bio-individual it is. We can all talk about menopause as this kind of general stage but it really is so different for everybody. And I know I was told well you may experience some symptoms but you may not. Or you may experience some more severely or you may not – or more frequently or more not. And that is the thing that I think nobody really explains is that we can only give you the outlines right. And then what happens to you is gonna be based on a lot of who you are genetically and where you are in your life. Stacy London, Menopause Advocate and CEO at State of Menopause at the Perry Menopause Journal launch panel

While perimenopause and menopause impact nearly all women, with no universal set of symptoms or timelines, there’s a silver lining for employers.

Companies can support their female employees through this transition with minimal to no cost – with mutually beneficial outcomes; women avoid significant personal financial loss, and employers gain from longer tenures of their most experienced employees.

Perry’s Laura Crain recommends five actions for employers:

  1. Education & Awareness: Regular workshops and information sessions can demystify menopause, leading to a more inclusive and understanding workplace.
  2. Flexible Work Hours: Given that over 60% of women experiencing menopause symptoms report sleep disturbances, flexible working hours can be invaluable.
  3. Open Dialogue: Promoting open communication and training managers to address these conversations with sensitivity can make a world of difference.
  4. Rest Areas: Spaces where women can take short breaks can be instrumental, especially during peak symptom episodes.
  5. Remote Working Options: Providing flexibility can help women manage their symptoms in a more personal and comfortable environment.

World Menopause Awareness Day is not just about understanding a biological transition. It’s about recognizing its broader social and economic implications and ensuring that women, who play a crucial role in our global economy, receive the support and respect they deserve. Through education, empathy, and actionable policies, we can make strides in empowering women during this significant phase of life.