It has been called “the change.”

Menopause. That time, occurring roughly between the ages of 45 and 55, when a female’s reproductive life ends and any number of incapacitating symptoms appear.

These symptoms — from hot flashes to memory issues to muscle and joint pain — can impact physical health, mental health and, inevitably, performance at work. Employers would do right by their female employees to implement menopause support in their workplaces — after all, 63.4 per cent of women aged 15 and older participate in Canada’s workforce, according to 2020 Statista data.

Read: A look at the U.K.’s menopause-supportive workplaces

The U.K. has been on the forefront of advocating for menopause-inclusive workplaces. Research published in 2022 by the U.K.-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found three in 10 employers now have a framework — “policy, awareness-raising, guidance or line manager training” — in place, up from one in 10 three years ago.

In Canada, there isn’t a current count on the number of menopause-supportive workplaces, but that, too, will change. “After we launched our report, the Silence and the Stigma: Menopause in Canada, in 2022, it helped crack open a national conversation on menopause,” says Janet Ko, president and co-founder of the Menopause Foundation of Canada.

And employers can play a role in that conversation through education and awareness. “Lots of people don’t know what menopause is, including women,” says Trish Barbato, co-founder of the Menopause Foundation of Canada. “They don’t know the symptoms. They don’t acknowledge their symptoms and they don’t realize their symptoms are related to perimenopause or menopause.”

Read: Just 14% of U.S. women say employer recognizes need for menopause benefits: survey

In fact, according to the report, only 23 per cent of respondents said they believe they’re “very knowledgeable” about the signs and symptoms of menopause. “When you don’t understand that your lack of sleep, your body aches, your migraines, your headaches, your heart palpitations might be all connected, you’re not able to take action to support your health,” says Ko. “It is about your health, your quality of life and when that suffers, everything else in your life suffers.”

Starting the conversation

The City of Mississauga began its conversation and awareness campaign with Equity Alert, its monthly diversity, equity and inclusion alert to help build employees’ understanding of DEI.

The topic for March 2023 was menopause, including terminology, the impacts of menopause in the workplace and menopause-related microaggressions. “The idea for those Equity Alerts is to spark some conversations across the organization among leaders and employees and build awareness,” says Elena Shiganova, senior manager of total rewards at the City of Mississauga. “When you think about menopause, there’s a stigma associated with it.”

By the numbers

In August 2022, more than 1,000 Canadian women between the ages of 40 and 60 were interviewed for a report by the Menopause Foundation of Canada. The results include:

74% of working women experiencing menopause feel their employer isn’t supportive or don’t know if they have support through the workplace;

87% agree working women need support at all life stages;

77% agree there should be more support for menopausal women in the workplace; and

75% agree employers would benefit from offering menopause support.

She’s right — according to the Menopause Foundation of Canada report, 54 per cent of respondents still feel menopause is a taboo subject. “The first phase is normalizing the conversation and educating employees and leaders.”

Sheri Kashman, a principal consultant at the Jouta Performance Group Inc., agrees. “First and foremost, it’s removing the stigma and facilitating a safe space for women to feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, I need to take a second’ and being able to sit down with their managers, co-workers and colleagues.”

Read: Arthritis Society updating accommodation policy to support employees experiencing menopause

In addition to awareness and education, employers need to review their policies and put something down in writing — either by incorporating menopause support into an existing policy (like DEI or leave of absence) or by creating a stand-alone policy.

Barbato, who’s also the chief executive officer of the Arthritis Society Canada, incorporated a menopause support statement into the organization’s parental leave/pregnancy policy. “We want people to be able to perform their duties. We understand . . . menopause can disrupt [regular work] and we want to be able to adjust their responsibilities [and] find alternative work.”

Menopause-related resources

In addition to reviewing policies, employers can review their benefits plans through the lens of menopause support.

For example, does the plan incorporate menopause care and treatment such as hormone replacement therapy or pelvic floor physiotherapy? Is there alternative coverage for women who can’t take hormone therapy or don’t want to?

In terms of menopause-related resources, the City of Mississauga’s benefits plan includes a health-care spending account, which can be used for alternative health-care practitioners like naturopaths, and a wellness account, which can be used to cover fitness equipment and tools, since active living is very important during menopause and perimenopause.

It also covers hormone replacement therapy through its drug plan and has an in-house health services team that can help both onsite and remote employees with health issues. And the City will be posting these resources on its intranet’s benefits page to ensure employees know what’s available.

Read: Q&A with the City of Mississauga’s Elena Shiganova

For employers aiming to attract and retain top talented female leaders, they must care about menopause, says Ko. “Menopause happens to women between the ages of 45 and 55, when women are taking on those more senior leadership roles.”

Indeed, according to a report by U.K.-based Health & Her, 10 per cent of women leave the workforce due to menopause. “By fostering that age- and gender-inclusive workforce, employers will be able to tap into the valuable skills and talent that women of all ages have to offer,” she says.

“We really have to normalize this natural part of life. Not every woman will get pregnant, but every woman will go through menopause.”

Brooke Smith is a freelance writer.