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Arthritis Society Canada is supporting female employees by including menopause in its accommodation policy.

The policy identifies ways in which a menopausal woman might require similar accommodations as a pregnant woman and includes adjusting an employee’s job responsibilities, finding alternate work and taking leave, says Trish Barbato, president and chief executive officer at Arthritis Society Canada. “I see the path of menopause being similar to [pregnancy] in terms of acceptance and inclusion — women being afraid to tell their employer they’re pregnant, afraid of losing their job or not getting a promotion.”

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Like most employers, menopause hasn’t really been on Arthritis Society Canada’s radar, she says, but the organization is beginning to better understand it. She recommends employers make menopause a normal part of the conversation by reviewing their policies to ensure they’re menopause-inclusive and making sure supervisors are informed and educated on how it might affect their employees.

Janet Ko, president and co-founder of the Menopause Foundation of Canada, also urges employers to recognize the importance of support and education around menopause in the workplace. “One thing we want to get across is this shouldn’t be about window dressing. It shouldn’t just be about giving every woman a fan at her desk. There are more than 30 symptoms of menopause and while most people know about the hot flashes, they really don’t understand the other symptoms.”

According to a new survey by the Menopause Foundation of Canada, three-quarters of female employees sad they feel their employer isn’t supportive or don’t know if they have workplace support for menopause.

“There are 10 million women over the age of 40 in Canada . . . and their health-care and societal needs related to menopause have largely been overlooked,” says Ko. “So it’s time to break the silence and the stigma and that’s what we intend to do with the launch of this important data.”

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The survey also found a third of working women worried they might be perceived as weak, old or past their prime in relation to menopause.

“Employers can help normalize the conversation so women don’t feel like if they say something it will make them appear weak or that they can’t be counted on to be promoted,” says Barbato. “It’s already hard enough for women at this age to be successful, so we want to try and remove barriers, not add them.”

Ko believes menopause is the missing link as to why more women aren’t breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling. “Menopause can hit in the prime of a woman’s life and, for working women, it usually hits when they’ve taken on more senior roles. They’re incredibly valuable to the organization, so it behooves employers to not ignore menopause as they look to promote women to break through that glass ceiling.

“Menopause needs to have a moment in the workplace and now is the time.”

Read: Women in Canada’s benefits, pension industries discuss gender equity, reversing pandemic-fueled ‘she-cession’