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Really? We Need to Talk About Menopause at Work?

Vivia Chen

March 5, 2020

Casal-1332254_1280I can’t decide whether this is progress or a terrible setback for women.

Anyway, from our friends across the pond, here’s the latest trend: Law firms and businesses are putting the Big M—Menopause—on the corporate agenda. According to Rose Walker of Law.com International’s U.K. arm Legal Week, “The U.K. legal market appears to be ahead of the U.S. market in helping lawyers deal with menopause.”

So here’s the news flash: Hot Flash!

Apparently, menopause is wreaking havoc on women’s careers, causing “debilitating symptoms such as wildly fluctuating temperature, insomnia, short-term memory problems and anxiety,” Legal Week reports. Lindsay Paterson, a former lawyer in the U.K. who now advises businesses on menopause, told Legal Week: “If you’re a senior woman, nobody wants to say, ‘I seem to be turning into a bit of a basket case.’”

To help women through the “change of life” and destigmatize the topic, several firms in the U.K.—including Allen & Overy (or should we say “ovary”?), White & Case, Linklaters and Hogan Lovells—are now offering webinars on coping with menopause, holding open discussions or trying to come up with policies to deal with it. Among the suggestions mentioned are giving women more flexible work arrangements, distributing desk fans to them and “offering menopausal women the chance to move away from warmer areas of the office.”

So very thoughtful. But permit me to offer another idea: How about rounding up women over 50 and put them into a cooling hen pen—sort of an office igloo? Wouldn’t that be more efficient?

OK, I’m being awfully flippant. But I do wonder if we aren’t stigmatizing women by some of these well-intentioned measures. My concern is that we are reinforcing some dreadful stereotypes about women—that we are erratic, needy creatures driven by hormones who can’t be trusted to act rationally. Not exactly what people look for in a lawyer. Just sayin’.

While menopause can create some serious symptoms, I’m wary of putting all or most women of a certain age in that category. I’ve spoken to scores if not hundreds of female lawyers over the years, and I can’t recall any of them mentioning menopause as a career hurdle. More often than not, women gripe about men or the male power structure.

Some women in the U.K., however, believe it’s important to go beyond traditional discussions about equity and be proactive about menopause. “One woman says she made a point of mentioning her hot flush and memory issues while in high-level meetings” and that it helped her bond with a (male) colleague, Legal Week reports.

Well, what can I say? Good for her, I guess.

Which leads to my other point: Where does the intersection of the personal and the professional end? If we’re expected to talk openly about menopause, why not start earlier and share information about our menstrual cycles too? As everyone knows, women can get irritable (or is the word “bitchy”) before their periods, so management might take that into consideration in work assignments.

Look, I’m all for de-tabooing topics dealing with our physical and mental health and bringing our “authentic” selves to the table. I also believe that it’s a good idea for firms and corporations to address menopause and issue a policy on it.

That said, can’t we treat it as a medical condition and allot it some modicum of privacy? I mean, do we really need to send out public notices about hot flashes?

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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