A taboo is now on the table for India Inc | Mint

A taboo is now on the table for India Inc

While it’s well known that menopause can affect productivity, most companies do not have any data on the topic. Photo: Mint
While it’s well known that menopause can affect productivity, most companies do not have any data on the topic. Photo: Mint

Summary

  • A significant part of the workforce goes through different stages of menopause, but there are no forums to address their needs.

MUMBAI : Kanti Joshi, 45, a legal consultant in Bengaluru, has pre-menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and extreme fatigue that creep in during her long and erratic working hours.

“I have to work around my schedules and training sessions with corporates. Most women above 40 years of age do not have any forum to discuss their hormonal changes that happen because of menopause," Joshi said.

India Inc. finally appears ready to talk about menopause, for long a taboo topic that has hobbled women’s participation in the workforce. Menopause mainly affects experienced women in senior or middle management, making it crucial for companies to address the issue.

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Apart from greater women’s empowerment, employing more women has many favourable effects for the economy. It increases household incomes, which boosts consumption of goods and services, and, in turn, drives economic growth.

While female employment increases as the economy grows, female labour participation rate has languished at around 25% compared with more than 50% for developed economies. The rate is even lower for urban women.

One of the many reasons is that many women are forced to take a break at a crucial time in their career trajectory or are considered erratic in their attendance by employers as they deal with hot flashes and other unpleasant mental and physical symptoms associated with declining reproductive hormones.

Experts said a significant part of the workforce is going through different stages of menopause, but there are no forums to address their needs as the topic isn’t discussed openly. While it’s well known that menopause can affect productivity, most companies do not have any data on the topic, including whether women have been forced to quit because of the discomfort caused by the hormonal changes.

“Corporate India’s journey on inclusion must also take into account members of the workplace who have different medical or health requirements," said Aparna Mittal, leading diversity, equity and inclusion adviser and founder of Samāna.

She noted that women undergoing menopause and people facing menstrual issues require hormonal or surgical interventions.

“A host of measures, such as sensitization of HR and managers, flexible leave policies, enhanced insurance cover, and a space for community support without any associated stigma, are some ways this can be done," Mittal said.

A forum to address these changes is crucial for corporates as they try to boost their diversity quotient as women dropouts increase after two years of covid. Return to offices and the lack of childcare facilities have already led to an increase in exits.

Mint reported in May that compared to pre-pandemic, 90% of the male workforce is back to work, while just 60% of women have resumed theirs.

“Women have their menopause at 47-48 years of age, and the pre-menopause start when they are about 43. The symptoms are different, and there is no one blanket experience. India Inc. needs to be sensitized about the hormonal changes women undergo during this stage," said Dr Duru Shah, director of Gynaecworld, a centre for women’s health and fertility.

The age mentioned by the doctor coincides with the time frame during which women also hit middle to senior management roles. “Women make up barely 5% of the senior leadership in the corporate sector. This is the prime time in their lives, career-wise, but the focus is mostly centred around the younger workforce and their health, maternity leaves, etc.," said Mitali Nikore, an economist.

Some companies are ready to broach this topic.

Michele Nyrop, head of employee success, India for Salesforce, said that topics such as menopause have “started to become a big topic of conversation".

Compared to the bare minimum discussion on menopause in India Inc., the UK government has created a team under the ministry of employment to look into conversations and awareness around menopause, policies and the need for flexible working options.

“Women will experience menopause symptoms that can, in some cases, be debilitating and have a significant impact on everyday activities," says the introduction to the UK policy paper, Menopause and Workplace—How to Enable Fulfilling Working Lives: Government Response.

“Without appropriate care, these symptoms can have severe impacts on women’s physical and mental health, workplace participation and personal relationships," the paper published in July added.

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