'The disappointing part about all of this is that there are solutions – we just have not delivered them'
“It's really important that we don't portray menopause as something that's holding women back.”
So says Alessandra Henderson, co-founder and CEO at Elektra Health in New York.
The real problem lies in the lack of employer support for women going through the menopausal process, she said in talking with HRD.
“It's really less menopause and women as a culprit and more of the fact that we just have not provided solutions that exist in the market.”
Henderson admitted that menopause symptoms – such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, hot flashes, brain fog – have a real impact on their work.
“But the disappointing part about all of this is that there are solutions — we just have not delivered them or supported women in the past.”
Less than one in five (~19%) of women aged 40 to 60 received a clinical menopause diagnosis, even though up to 80% generally experience symptoms, Elektra reported, citing the 2021 MarketScan Commercial Claims data of 2.6 million women aged 40 to 60, in the U.S.
Earlier this year, politicians in the U.K. shot down a recommendation to pilot a "menopause leave" policy in the public sector, calling the move "counterproductive" with the government's strategy.
Health costs to menopause
The menopausal transition most often begins between ages 45 and 55, according to the National Aging Institute in the U.S. And while it usually lasts about seven years, it can be as long as 14 years.
Elektra noted that 50 million women are currently navigating menopause in the U.S. However less than 20% of OB/GYN residency programs offer menopause training.
This widespread lack of training – coupled with overburdened providers and enduring stigmas around menopause and aging – results in a massive care gap: 70% of women who seek menopause care do not receive adequate treatment, according to Elektra.
And even if employees going through menopause are diagnosed, they face a financial challenge: The population who received a clinical menopause diagnosis incurred 45% more healthcare costs, on average, per year. The average cost in total healthcare expenses for the diagnosed population was $4,637 higher than non-diagnosed.
“What we hear from employers is that they care about the health and wellbeing and safety of their employees, both from a financial bottom line perspective… and a general mental and emotional wellness perspective,” said Henderson.
Menopause is one aspect where employers’ help is badly needed. The Elektra report – which focused on menopause diagnosis in the healthcare and clinical setting – found that women are struggling to get the care that they need.
“Many women in this demographic are… [chasing] down a diagnosis and are having difficulty navigating the healthcare system, because they're going to multiple doctors’ visits a year, they're getting multiple unnecessary scans, labs, tests,” said Henderson.
Impact on work productivity, careers
That affects their work, she said.
“All of that time and energy just detracts and distracts [them] from showing up at work.”
In 2021, an England-based nightclub pledged to address stigma and prejudice surrounding menopause in the workplace – and it encouraged other businesses to commit to it as well.
Supporting workers going through menopause is good business for employers, said Henderson.
“They go hand-in-hand. If you improve healthcare outcomes – and if you improve health care access and expertise – it will have a positive, direct impact on women's time spent at work, and how they show up at work.”
Menopause is hampering the careers of women, according to Elektra.
Overall, 18% of women aged 40 to 60 had not pursued a promotion due to menopause symptoms, and that number jumps up to 24% for Black women.
“About a quarter of Black women who have just reached their professional peak and should be moving into even more senior ranks and the executive ranks are voluntarily… opting out of promotions and moving up the career ladder because of menopause” and extreme symptoms, said Henderson.
“It's an economic issue that we should all be paying attention to. But it's also a very human and physical and mental issue as well.”
Supporting women with menopause
Employers are seeing increased demand for menopause support, according to a previous report. How can employers help these workers? Starting a dialogue about menopause is a key step, said Henderson.
“Start talking about it,” she said. “It could be by designating an HR leader in the organization who creates an open door policy and a confidential policy for women or anyone navigating menopause.”
Another way to do it is to host an event to educate workers about menopause, said Henderson.
Employers should also offer better benefits for workers going through menopause, she said.
“It's important to create an inclusive benefits policy that not only focuses on pregnancy but extends that into menopause benefits and support, so that women can receive support across their full working career.”
It’s also important for employers to create a work environment that will cater to the needs of workers experiencing menopausal symptoms, she said. Providing fans, better workstations and even uniforms to cater to the needs of these workers is important, she said.