Calls for government to report how menopause is affecting women’s employmen
Interestinjg article in today’s The Australian newspaper. Worth getting the paper to read this article. Why are women so reticent to discuss menopause?
Calls for government to report how menopause is affecting women’s employment
Birgitte Nyborg, the former Danish prime minister, in TV series Borgen. The show smashes the stigma in its recent series.
“Is it me or is it hot in here?”
A typical workplace question perhaps but it’s guaranteed no woman in a boardroom would be caught uttering those words.
This week the Australian Institute for Superannuation Trustees that represents the $1.7 trillion super sector called on the government to measure and report how menopause is affecting women’s employment and retirement decisions. If just 10 per cent of women retired early because of menopausal symptoms, the AIST estimates a loss of earnings and super of more than $17bn.
It is worried that women in droves are leaving the workforce at the top of their game aged around 50 because of menopause.
Around 80 per cent of women experience some of the hormone-related symptoms. Up to a quarter of them are severely affected.
Symptoms include hot flashes, irregular heartbeats, mood swings, brain fog, vaginal dryness, visible ageing, a feeling of disempowerment, night sweats and weight gain.
There has been fulsome public debate on the earnings and super lost by women who leave the workforce to have children. But the loss from and early exit or a late break in a woman’s career can actually be far more costly to her.
Mel Birks, deputy CEO and head of advocacy for the AIST, says average earnings for Australian women aged 50 are about $70,000 a year.
“Even if they were to work for another seven years to take them up to the same age that men retire, that is over $500,000 in earnings, plus the super. For a typical worker, this is half a million dollars,” she says.
Birks is equally concerned about women leaving because of menopause symptoms and then try to return to the workforce some years later.
“It hits usually at around 51 and it can last for five to 10 years. It’s not a flash in the pan,” she says. “It is harder to get back in when you are older and they have lost a number of years at their peak earning capacity, people who have the corporate knowledge, the skills. That is a huge loss for the economy and the organisation they work for.”
Undoubtedly one reason why menopause has received so little attention from policy makers and the media is the stigma around it.
The cult TV show Borgen smashes the stigma in its recent fourth series. In it Birgitte Nyborg, the former Danish PM, is now back battling in parliament but has to rush to the bathroom to deal with hot flashes. “I can’t keep changing my shirt three times a day, I’m the Foreign Minister,” she says.
Her doctor refuses, with little sympathy, to give her hormone replacement therapy because of a family risk of breast cancer. HRT is used by many women to counter symptoms.
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon certainly could relate to Nyborg. “Now she’s a 50-something menopausal woman, angry at the world so there are a lot of parallels there.’’
The UK is leading the debate on menopause with HRT available over the counter. In May a British survey of 4000 women found one in 10 who worked while going through menopause left because of their symptoms, 14 per cent cut their hours, another 14 per cent went part time and 8 per cent had not applied for promotion.
In Australia, the AIST marks 30 years of compulsory super contributions. The earliest of those female contributors hit menopause right around now.
“If people are leaving the workforce earlier than they intended that means they are also retiring with less super than perhaps they planned on having. But we don’t seem to have any robust data on the impact it is having,” says Birks.
In its budget submission to the government, the AIST uses ABS data. Women in the 45-54 age group intend to retire at 64 compared to men at 65. But the actual average retirement age is 52.1 for women and 59.5 for men, demonstrating that unforeseen circumstances can thwart intentions.
And of this female cohort 44.9 per cent cite “sickness, injury or disability” as the reason. The AIST wants the government to drill down on how much of this is menopause related.
Spare a thought for female CEO or director, those at the top of the pyramid who get hit hard by menopause just when they need to be Helen Reddy invincible.
It is hardly surprising that peak body groups like the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Chief Executive Women have kept their heads down.
“If anyone has had to do a presentation while having a hot flash, you can’t hide that, I don’t care what boardroom you are in,” says Birks. “It is about normalising it and destigmatising it. And then getting on with dealing with it.
“There needs to be better understanding of what employees can do and for women to be able to speak to their doctors about what treatment they can have. I’m concerned that in some cases a lot of women are actually reluctant to ask for help.”
Editor-at-large, The Australian Business ReviewFollow
Ticky Fullerton is one of Australia’s most experienced commentators and journalists. She was previously Sky News Business Editor and co-anchor of Business Weekend on Sky News Australia.
Posted on October 5, 2022, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Calls for government to report how menopause is affecting women’s employmen.