It’s time to throw my personal hat in the ring and enter the discussion about the menopause, and the way in which it affects professional women at the peak of their career.
When I started Cognitive Law in 2014, I needed a totally flexible working life that was not readily available in a traditional law firm. I was juggling lone parenting with a professional career, and needed maximum flexibility. Since then, the firm has grown by 12 more lawyers, male and female, parents and childfree, who wanted the same agile work-life balance. There are no set hours, no office presenteeism (before or after the pandemic), and no targets.
Now I’m a few years older I find that the reasons for needing total flexibility have changed, but the ethos behind the firm certainly has not.
Like many women of my age (I’m a child of the 1970’s) I was incredibly ill informed about the menopause, expecting the stereotypical hot flushes and little more. Nothing had prepared me for the insomnia, the crushing fatigue, the brain fog, the memory loss, and increased anxiety levels – to name but a few symptoms.
Now I am raising teenage children and looking out for ageing parents whilst going through the menopause, and continuing to practice the law at what I like to think of as the peak of my career. Add those menopause symptoms into the mix and you have the perfect storm.
Enter truly flexible working, and at least some of the issues are alleviated. Not just for the menopausal woman, but for those around her.
Insomnia until three or four in the morning, but the ability to turn off the alarm clock and sleep until vaguely refreshed, can only be achieved if nobody minds what time or even where you do your work. There is something incredibly liberating about not having to get up at a particular time in the morning after a virtually sleepless night. Or taking an afternoon nap. Or practising some yoga mid-morning because your body feels so tight. Working in a truly flexible environment i.e.: when, where and how you choose, really can be a life saver – mentally and physically.
But flexible working and the menopause are not just a female issue. I’m not going to comment on the andropause which is far outside my area of expertise, but having a spouse or partner going through the menopause affects men too. My long-suffering husband is well versed in my sleepless nights, my prowling around the darkened house and being commensurately irritable the following day. He also has to put up with those days when I am so weary, I can barely string a sentence together never mind walk the dog. But he’s a consultant solicitor too, working completely flexibly, which means that he can pick up the slack exactly when its needed – not when he gets back from the office in the evening. Consultant solicitors are not answerable to anybody and can completely flex their professional lives around their personal needs. As can partners and spouses supporting their partner or spouse going through the menopause.
Flexible working, by which I mean more than just agile or home working, is a godsend for anyone going through the menopause, but this isn’t simply a plug for consultant solicitors. It’s really refreshing to have this discussion, as for so long it has been seen as a taboo. I have no idea why though, when nearly every woman will experience the menopause, more so than experience pregnancy. We have abundant workplace policies for pregnancy and maternity, yet very few for the menopause. I think it will be a few years yet before men start mentioning their spouse or partners’ menopause symptoms as easily as they do pregnancy. But when I was born very few dads were in the delivery room, and look how that’s changed? It’s about time that discussing another defining moment in women’s lives became the norm, and I feel that only by having frank conversations with male and female business leaders, like we are beginning to see, will it do so.