A revolution is underway in the workplace, but most people don’t even know it’s happening

For the first time, women are starting to talk about menopause and employers are being warned to ignore it at their peril. 

Kate Billing is the head of the Auckland-based business Blacksmith, which runs leadership programmes for chief executives, human resources bosses and other senior executives.  

Billing was reluctant to incorporate menopause into her programmes, until she started to experience it herself. 

She says she’s part of the messy middle of women, the 50 to 60 percent who experience mild to moderate symptoms. 

One in four women sail through it, only noticing their periods have stopped, and a quarter are sidelined by severe symptoms and go to a doctor or specialist for help. 

“There are a bunch of us in the middle who I think are suffering a lot more than we need to. There are a lot of risks associated with thinking it’s not bad enough to do something about it or get help,” Billing says.

In her comedic song, ‘Menopause Rhapsody’, Shirley Serban sums up some of the symptoms like this: “Is this my new life? Irritability, shutting down inside, I can’t sleep and am so itchy, got sweaty thighs, this is my demise you see.”

Billing found out about peri-menopause in her late 40s, after she woke one night in the middle of winter drenched in sweat, describing it as if she’d had a shower in her clothes. Several years later she realises menopause is a “long and hard journey”. 

“My experience has been over the past seven or eight years, a growing awareness of the symptoms and joining them together as a story, understanding how they were part of the estrogen endocrine system, which is in upheaval through this time in our lives.” 

Today on The Detail, Billing tells Sharon Brettkelly menopause kicked off for her in a huge way two years ago, with the arrival of Covid-19 and the stress it caused for her as a business owner. It made her rethink her own lifestyle and aspects of her business. 

She explains why she’s cautious about telling employers to tackle it until women understand it better themselves. But she says there are already workplace menopause movements and the “firestarters” behind it, the people who have had experiences with menopause, who feel highly motivated to start talking about it. 

It’s estimated the global market for books, self-help videos, medicines and potions for menopause will be worth more than $30 billion by 2026. 

By then, according to a recent Forbes magazine article, there will be more than a billion women experiencing menopause in the world, 12 percent of the entire population of eight billion. 

Symptoms experienced by women can lead to reduced quality of life, increased use of medical resources and overall loss of productivity. The healthcare burden of menopausal women is estimated to be $1 trillion, productivity losses $225 billion. 

The Detail also talks to broadcaster Anna Thomas about her experiences with menopause. 

“Words would totally escape me,” she says. “I’d walk into a room and I’d think, why did I even come in here?” 

For Thomas, who has made a career as a communicator, forgetting simple words while live on air or at a high-level meeting was terrifying. 

Billing and Thomas tell The Detail why they are willing to open up about a topic that most women and men won’t touch.  

“I think we’re at the very beginning of women beginning to wake up to this experience,” Billing says. 

“Gen-X are arriving into this stage of life as the women that we are and going ‘hang on a cotton pickin’ second’ or much stronger words and there’s a rising tide globally about it.” 

Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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