From maternity to menopause; supporting workplace success for women

From maternity to menopause; supporting workplace success for women
Mandisa Ntloko Petersen BCX chief marketing officer

When talking about the five pillars of wealth creation – earning, saving, investing, budgeting, and protecting – women are often excluded from the big picture. This may be because, historically, men are expected to lead (financially) but also, wealth creation for women is more complex because there is a physiological and psychological component. A woman may be a business leader or an entrepreneur, but she encounters specific blockers that aren’t always spoken about in the workplace: returning to work after maternity leave and menopause.

Opt-out or empower

Navigating the return to work after maternity leave is an emotional journey that many women struggle with. Juggling the role of a caregiver and committed employee often sounds manageable until you have a baby and have to become reacquainted with life as a parent. For many women, returning to work isn’t a choice but a necessity which is why, as a leader, it’s important to create a culture of support. A new mother may feel disengaged from her responsibilities as an employee and choose to take on less work and this leads to two different scenarios. Even in workplaces that highlight diversity and inclusion, those around her may experience subconscious prejudice and see pregnancy as a resource burden. The result is that working mothers feel alienated and often end up choosing to leave their careers altogether. This phenomenon, often referred to as the ‘opt-out revolution’ has startling high numbers with nearly 57% of highly qualified women dropping out of mainstream career paths, some leaving the workforce for good.

It’s no secret that inequalities at home in turn reinforce inequalities at work which is why a top-level strategy that focuses on making new-mom employees feel valued is incredibly important. Building a culture of professional empathy should be central to your company culture. Being appreciated and heard can positively boost productivity – a recent study from Deloitte found that improved employee engagement improves job performance. Of course, offering a generous parental leave policy for both men and women is not only a part of company culture but also a critical aspect of economic empowerment.

An empathetic change

You may be wondering what menopause and perimenopause have to do with the workplace and that could be because while some women go through this transition without notice, others suffer from an array of different symptoms including migraines, concentration issues, irritability, hot flashes, anxiety and more. What’s interesting is menopausal women are the fastest-growing demographic in the workforce. It’s an important segment yet one that isn’t supported properly because menopause is still a ‘taboo’ issue. Instead of menopause being openly discussed, women are left to suffer in silence and consequently, aren’t able to perform to their full potential.

According to a report about menopause in the workplace, thousands of women globally pass up promotions because of menopause. In fact, two in five women said their symptoms were dismissed which is why a quarter of women consider quitting and a tenth eventually do. In a male-dominated business, it’s often easier for women to leave than get the support they actually need.

But there is good news for both ‘the change’ and transitioning back from maternity leave. Post-pandemic, the hybrid working model is here to stay. Home is where work is and that has made it significantly easier for women in the workplace to thrive. For those with jobs where a full day at the office is expected, a starting point would be to look into your organisation’s menopause policy. A second aspect of is recognising that the symptoms you’re experiencing are menopause. If you’re uncertain, go to a doctor and arm yourself with research. Most importantly, do not take your mental health for granted. If you find yourself overly anxious or struggling with memory, you’re not alone – over 75% of women going through menopause experience brain fog and there are ways to combat this so you can be at the top of your game.

Ultimately, a working woman has to consider three Ms in her lifetime: menstruation, maternity, and menopause. Instead of letting these become issues that impact your bottom line as a person or a business, help the women around you to flourish. Not only will the policies you put into place today help future generations of women entering the workforce to succeed without stigma, but you’re also investing in wealth creation for women today.