The Only Thing that is Constant is Change
These wise words, acknowledged to be from the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, over two and half thousand years ago, hold true today now more than ever. We regularly hear this refrain in the workplace and in our lives more generally. The accelerating pace of change, caused by technology and globalisation amongst other things, is disrupting the old world order. The world is moving at such speed that, at times, I feel I am having to hold on for dear life!
This giddying pace of change often refers to external drivers, tectonic plates that are shifting the ground beneath our feet: automation, the rise of populism, demographics. These external drivers are giving rise to grand challenges, many of which are hard to comprehend and, to be honest, make my head hurt!
Hand in hand with these external forces of change, is the rise of movements for change, groups that come together striving to work towards a common goal. High on my radar (as a woman and mother of two teenage daughters) are the events that led to the #metoo campaign and the desire for women, once again, to give voice to all that is unjust and wrong about women’s treatment in the world. And sadly, here, the pace of change is dizzyingly slow. But this lament is not my focus for today and, thankfully, is given voice by many others.
Instead, an often neglected narrative in the story about change, are the physical changes that men and women, but most especially women, experience throughout their lives, changes that can have a huge impact on their mental, economic and social well-being. As a middle-aged woman, a mother and person who has spent over twenty five years in the workplace, I am only too aware of the many transitions I have experienced as a result of my biology, but which have had a significant impact on other aspects of my life. Transitioning back into the workplace after having children is much documented and discussed (although that doesn’t mean we’re there yet) but the transition or ‘the change’ that women in their mid-40s and 50s experience is little discussed.
A recent poll by Comres for BBC Radio Sheffield and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, shed a sliver of light on the profound impact the menopause and perimenopause is having on women in the workplace. The poll found that 70% of women did not make their employer aware they were experiencing symptoms, whilst nearly a third said they had not visited their GP. Staggeringly, nearly half of respondents said the menopause had affected their mental health, while a quarter said it made them want to stay at home. Some had reached disciplinary stages at work, as they did not want to alert their organisation to the debilitating symptoms they were experiencing as a result of the menopause. Other stories highlighted how successful women had given up their work, their careers, as they could no longer cope.
Cliched ‘women’s problems’ are difficult to discuss and are often taboo. As someone who has very real experience of crippling insomnia, heightened anxiety and the joys of joint pain (and at a point in my career when I was chipping away at that glass ceiling) I am very aware of the embarrassment, sense of failure and mockery one can experience at this stage in life; a stage of life when experience, expertise and wisdom should mean women are at the height of their powers.
Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 wonderfully celebrated Menopause Week with a section of their programme dedicated to this subject. But let’s not make it a week once a year or something that’s only discussed on Woman’s Hour (as one of my girlfriends jokingly said, “when are they not discussing the menopause!”)
Let’s make it something that not only more women understand and can transition through successfully, but let’s also make it something that organisations take seriously, with policies and approaches that help women successfully transition through this stage in their lives.