Menopause shouldn’t be an invisible tax on women in the workplace

Menopause is a journey every woman, everywhere, undertakes.

At Maven Clinic, the women’s and family health company I founded and where I serve as CEO, our platform has served women going through menopause since 2015, but last year when the U.K. created a panel to understand how to support menopausal employees in the workforce, we saw the demand for workplace benefits skyrocket.

As our team came together to upgrade our menopause offering globally, the degree to which this complex and deeply personal condition is rendered almost completely invisible by society came into renewed focus.

By 2030, more than 47 million women globally are expected to enter menopause each year. Menopause symptoms can vary enormously, but they can be severe: disrupted sleep, debilitating joint pain, depression, and anxiety. In the U.K., nearly one in three women who were going through menopause said they had taken sick days for their symptoms; and a quarter of women with serious symptoms said it had caused them to leave their jobs.

How much of the workforce is impacted?

Women going through menopause make up a significant proportion of a company’s employee base. In the U.S., the median age of a woman in the workplace is about 42 years old, squarely within the range of perimenopause, when the earliest signs of menopause become noticeable.

In OECD countries, the number of older women in the workforce has grown by almost 50% in the past 20 years. These women are experienced: They have received specialized training and applied it on the job for two decades. They are potentially also managers who are responsible for coaching more junior colleagues and driving their companies forward. They’re woefully underserved by what’s on offer. Even with a condition severe enough to drive them to quit, 42% of women report never having spoken to their physician about their symptoms.

There are myriad factors at work here, but it all comes down to problems common across women’s health journeys: a lack of access to quality providers, misinformation about common courses of treatment, and stigma. The consequent high levels of individual suffering have major cost and talent implications for companies around the world.

At the nexus of work and well-being

Our lack of support for menopausal women who work comes at a time when the workforce as a whole is aging in the U.S. and other industrialized nations around the world. Stigma around menopause likely contributes to a status quo where the needs of workers as they age go largely undiscussed.

In the survey conducted by the U.K. Parliament, a quarter of women who said they did not speak up at work about their menopause symptoms said they were “worried about the reaction” of colleagues and managers to asking for help.

As is the case with undergoing IVF or pregnancy, menopause represents another moment in a woman’s working life where her health needs go unmet. Workplaces concerned about equity and inclusion–which ultimately drive improved business performanceshould think of menopause as an issue that affects the potential of their employees to be fully present and do their best work.

Thoughtful steps that employers can take include investing in ERGs to ensure that the fullness of women’s health journeys are represented in content and programming; training managers on how to support employees as they navigate these health journeys; making common treatments like hormone replacement therapy (HRT) more accessible and affordable through insurance; and offering increased access to specialized providers through health benefits.

Where we go from here

The pandemic has erased the outdated distinction between an employee’s “home” and “work” lives. In the last two years, we have seen companies step up on a wide variety of underserved healthcare needs, from mental health to fertility, with a deepened understanding that when employees’ well-being is supported, they are better able to meet the demands of their jobs.

When it comes to menopause, there are few employee populations so large and so underserved, which makes the return on investment for employers substantial. The workforce as a whole is aging–and offering age-appropriate benefits will increasingly be expected of modern, best-in-class workplaces.

Millions of women are suffering in silence. Menopause has always existed in the workplace, a silent tax on women’s work and well-being. It’s encouraging that employers are now taking notice.

Kate Ryder is the founder and CEO of Maven.

The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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