Menopause isn’t an event that can be singularly addressed. In fact, according to Dr. Neel Shah, instead of viewing menopause as a switch that’s flipped, we should acknowledge it as a “multi-phase medical journey that takes place over several years.” That journey can negatively impact women, and Shah believes that “no one should have to tamp down their career ambitions because they have menopause, the same way they shouldn’t have to when they’re pregnant.”
Shah is chief medical officer of Maven Clinic, the largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health, and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. Here are his tips for addressing the stigma and solutions of menopause at work.
Access to easy care
“We can make sure women, particularly in midlife, are included and supported directly through benefit offerings,” said Shah.
He calls out how digital health services can help, indicating they provide access to services that don’t otherwise exist. This easy access could be helpful, as 73% of women don’t treat their menopause symptoms, and this could address the stigma and confidentiality many desire.
Digital health, a multidisciplinary concept at the intersection of technology and healthcare, has helped remove geographical barriers to healthcare. It also helps increase patient involvement in their care, navigate the healthcare system, and collaborate across providers. Shah indicated that “employers were real innovators” in offering mental health services in this way during the pandemic. With telehealth, he says, “women can quickly get to experts they need to manage hot flashes, and everything else that comes with Menopause too.”
Normalize it as we did with pregnancy
To motivate change, we can learn a lot by reflecting on history. Shah points to the massive paradigm shift for pregnancy in the workplace to guide us in closing the care gap for menopause. “People are still hesitant to tell their employers about their pregnancy,” he says. “But it is much more nomalized than it was thirty years ago.” Fertility benefits have also increased in recent years, moving past wellness offerings to destress while working on getting pregnant to a medical benefit.
Shah points to supports now in place that were once unheard of in the workplace. “It’s hard to imagine a modern employer that doesn’t have a lactation room or doesn’t offer paid family leave. We’ve made massive progress over a generation and are at a similar inflection point for menopause.”
Treating the whole human during menopause
While Shah is keen to have menopause treated as a medical need, he wants to ensure the supports move beyond the physical symptoms and treat the whole person. “People are much more vulnerable to mental health needs during this period,” he says, “What they need is just someone to plug them into the right experts.” This could be an expert in pelvic-floor health, a common symptom of menopause, or “something that requires help for therapy for a specific issue, like urinary incontinence.
These services can also look at the nutritional health of a menopausal woman and leverage access there too. With changes in weight and metabolism common in menopause, Shah believes, “If you had access to a nutritionist, you would want to take advantage of it.”
Age’s impact on inclusivity
Workplace inclusivity efforts have increased over the past few years as part of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Yet, progress remains slow, and companies are left frustrated to find the approach that will make a difference. Shah believes age may be the next “frontier of building an inclusive workplace.”
Leverage digital health services
Digital health, a multidisciplinary concept at the intersection of technology and healthcare, has helped remove geographical barriers to healthcare. It also helps increase patient involvement in their care, navigate the healthcare system, and collaborate across providers. Shah indicated that “employers were real innovators” in offering mental health services in this way during the pandemic. With telehealth, he says, “women can quickly get to experts they need to manage hot flashes, and everything else that comes with menopause.”
Change comes from the bottom
As he reflected on the progress that the topic and care of pregnancy in the workplace has made, Shah was hopeful. “The purchasers of healthcare, meaning employers, are the most sensitive to bottom-up demand. We need a swell of demand.” The past few years have brought increased pressure from employees, from demands for better benefits to requests for companies to speak out on social issues. As companies feel pressured to retain and recruit top talent, Shah hopes we will see continued change.