Advice for Employers and Recruiters

Early career job searching barriers for menopausal women

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Steven Rothberg AvatarSteven Rothberg
August 18, 2023

I recently listened to a fascinating episode of The Daily podcast entitled, Menopause Is Having a Moment. I’ve always approached health and even death objectively, perhaps because I was raised by a mother who almost became a nurse and her father was a world-renowned physician.

To me, health issues were just something that we all went through, for better or worse. And death was also something that we all went through, often for the worse but sometimes for the better, as was the case when my terminally ill mother died about 14 months ago. Her death, while certainly sad to those who cared for her, was a blessing as it came before the worst of her suffering would have kicked in.

Menopause is a natural transition experienced by all women when they reach a certain age. That varies woman-to-woman as does the duration and severity, but it is both completely natural as it is, sadly, stigmatized. Society has done a great job of shaming people with certain medical conditions and I hope that humanity is able to improve in that area, as the need for improvement certainly exists.

At first blush, many might wonder what menopause has to do with early career job hunting, as menopause is something that women in their 50s (some younger, some older) go through. Aside from the fact that women who are a lot younger than 50 can go through menopause, it isn’t all that uncommon for women in their 50s to be searching for an early career job opportunity. There are an increasingly large number of adults going back to school, sometimes to complete a high school degree, sometimes to get a college degree. And some of these adults are women who are going through menopause. For these women, entering the job market during this natural transition can present unique and perplexing challenges.

Understanding Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause is a natural part of aging, but its symptoms can present unexpected challenges in the workplace, particularly for those in the early stages of their careers. These symptoms might include hot flashes, mood changes, fatigue, etc. These issues – how they can suddenly appear, interact, and create complexities – can make the transition into a new job even more daunting.

Barriers to Early Career Employment

  1. Navigating New Environments with Hot Flashes: The unpredictability of hot flashes can create discomfort and anxiety during interviews or while adapting to a new office setting.
  2. Mood Swings and Professional Relationships: Building professional relationships is crucial in the early stages of a career. The mood changes associated with menopause can be perplexing to colleagues and superiors, possibly affecting those vital connections.
  3. The Complex Web of Cognitive Changes: Memory and concentration issues can create a perplexing barrier to learning new skills and adapting to new roles.
  4. Physical Health Considerations: Joint pain, migraines, and other physical ailments might limit the type of work a woman can take on, particularly if it requires physical exertion.
  5. Emotional Well-being and Confidence: Personal changes, such as alterations in sexual health, might affect overall confidence and well-being, further complicating the early career journey.

Strategies for Success

Understanding menopausal symptoms can lead to more effective strategies for success. Here are some tips:

  • Open Communication: If comfortable, communicating needs and challenges with supervisors or human resources can foster a supportive environment.
  • Flexible Work Options: Exploring roles that offer flexibility can accommodate the unpredictable nature of menopausal symptoms.
  • Professional Development: Focus on strengths and continuous learning to build confidence and offset some of the cognitive challenges.
  • Wellness Support: Seeking support from healthcare providers and wellness programs can provide tools to manage physical and emotional health.
  • Seek Out Supportive Employers: I purposely listed this last for effect, and not because it is the least important. In fact, I would say this is the most important. Women go through menopause and those women are often searching for new jobs, sometimes early career jobs. Women should not need to overcome the challenges of menopause on their own, any more than a disabled employee in a wheelchair should have to figure out how to climb a flight of stairs in order to earn a living. Society in general, and each employer specifically, need to make reasonable accommodations for these employees. In some jurisdictions, that’s literally a legal requirement but, even when it not, it is a moral imperative. Menopausal women who are searching for a new job, early career or not, should not be discriminated against by employers who insist on treating all employees equally when what they should be doing is treating them equitably. Equally might be providing no accommodations to any employee going through menopause, male or female. Equitably would be providing accommodations to those who need it so that they can be productive.

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