A conversation with Kate Usher – Menopause Coach and Change Strategist
The 18th of October is World Menopause Day, founded to raise social consciousness about menopause and provide support to women who are experiencing menopause and perimenopause. Menopause is when a woman stops having periods and can no longer have children.
As October is Menopause Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to seize the opportunity for men, women, healthcare professionals, and the media to work together to raise awareness around this phase in women’s lives and discuss the support and management options available, while combating global stigma and misinformation.
To raise awareness here at the London Coworking Assembly (LCA), we had the pleasure to pick the brain of the powerhouse and menopause coach and change strategist Kate Usher. Without any hesitation, Kate shared her first-hand experiences and story of becoming the advocate of menopause and gender equality.
She also offered some tips for organisations to support their staff. We spoke about menopause affecting women in their personal and professional lives.
Kate Usher has a 20-year career working as a project manager. She trained as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist over 20 years ago, and has 15 years of coaching experience.
Kate became a full-time coach after she was made redundant during the global recession. When her Menopause hit it was a natural progression to use her skills and become a Menopause coach and author of Your Second Phase: Reclaiming work and relationships during and after Menopause.
Kate remembers that her menopause started at the age of 46, where she had to face, as she calls it, “devastating symptoms” that had a tremendous effect on her personal, professional, and social life. Kate talked about how she went from being unstoppable in all areas of her life to not knowing how to function. She feared who she had become and how she might survive it.
The author realised that she had two options: either let menopause consume her or find a way to reclaim her identity and take back control of her life. Thankfully, Kate chose to research and learn as much as she could to save herself and her relationships. She recognised that talking about Menopause and her experience of it, gave not only her but those she worked with, that all important confidence. She describes herself as an ally for every other woman out there, “By me talking openly and confidently about Menopause, I am advocating for those who don’t yet have a voice. If I can’t talk about it, how can I expect other women to be able to?”.
“Today it is estimated that there are 13 million menopausal women in the UK, and there are more women in employment than ever before”, says Kate. She goes on to point out that this generation of women are the first to experience their Menopause in the workplace en masse, we are having to break down the historical misperception about Menopause and Menopausal women, while managing our symptoms at the same time.
Much of our thinking today is driven by two things; firstly, our grandmothers were the first generation to live through their Menopause en masse, even so their life expectancy was such that they died shortly after. Therefore proportionately they were old, which leads us to the second point. Most of the terms used to reference women of this age have historically been negative and derogatory, ‘over the hill’, ‘past it’ ‘unpredictable’ and ‘difficult’. Every single reference to women older than 45 in the media in the 70s, 80s and 90s played to those stereotypes. When we think about Menopause today many of us are drawing on those stereotypes without being aware of it. In fact if you google ‘Menopausal women’ the images you get are of women stressed and in their 70s and predominantly white.
Kate reiterated that every woman will have a Menopause, it is not a choice. In the west the average age of Menopause is 51, however the average age women will experience symptoms is between the ages of 45 and 55. It is important to note that one in every 100 women has their Menopause before the age of 40. Lastly the average time that they will experience those symptoms for, is four to eight years. That’s every day and night of those years, there is no time off.
Regarding the symptoms of which there are 40, just over 50% of women will have some symptoms that with a little support they will be able to manage, while just over 25% of women will have a devastating and life changing experience. The remainder will sail through without any symptoms whatsoever.
To sum it all up, one out of four women will have devastating life changes; two out of four will have symptoms manageable with little assistance, while just one out of four will have hardly any menopausal symptoms.
Menopause is unique to every woman, in fact it is as unique as their fingerprint. This level of ambiguity is one of the reasons many have been reluctant to discuss it. We have to get comfortable with this level of variability, after all when does one size fit all?
She points out that recognising the disparity between our historical thinking and the facts of Menopause today, is a key step in changing how we view this phase of life and very importantly how we support women who are going through it.
The menopause coach is convinced that we all need to know about Menopause and its potential impact, after all we all know and interact with a woman in some capacity whether they be a colleague, friend, partner or family member. While women experience it directly, because of the nature of Menopause everyone else around them will experience it indirectly. “Increasingly, I am working with men who want to ask questions in a safe and non judgemental space, as often they are too afraid to ask in case they offend anyone or come across as unaware”, says Kate.
In addition to this, they just want to know how to support the women in their lives. They want to know what to do and be supportive without being offensive. “Of course, there will always be those who want nothing to do with it”, says Kate, “but increasingly, people want to know what to do”. She pointed out that “women need men as allies during this phase”.
Last but not least, we looked at how menopause symptoms might affect women’s professional lives. “Ten percent of women leave paid employment altogether because of the menopausal symptoms, but that can also be misleading”, says Kate.
“Unconfirmed suggestions imply somewhere around 20-25% of women leave their paid employment, because they feel unable to have a conversation and access support in their workplace”. The author further adds that these statistics are catastrophic for women, affecting their financial welfare and their pensions in the long term as they move out of the earner positions.
On the positive side, the coach noted that businesses are starting to recognise the need for change and have invested hugely in the women they employ. “Men and women are at their most valuable when they get to their mid-forties. They are at the point where they are incredibly knowledgeable, aware, connected, have got decades of experience, and losing even 10% of them is financially devastating”, says Kate.
By Looking at this from the financial point of view, businesses realised that they have to make sure that those employees stay, ensuring to retain women affected by menopause and create an inclusive environment for them.
According to Kate, big international corporations are out there doing fantastic work in supporting their female employees. They are driving a step-change in the way business has been working, but underneath that, there are still many organisations that would like to make changes. However, they are not sure of what to do, and that paralysis can interfere with making positive changes and supporting their female employees through the new phase in their life.
For this reason, we asked Kate to share with us her top tips to help organisations to create a more inclusive environment for women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Six pieces of advice by Kate Usher for organisations that would like to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for women going through menopause.
1. Create awareness across your organisation amongst men and women on all levels. Have the baseline on what menopause is. “Talking about it is the first step in opening the doors to new ways of thinking,” says Kate.
2. Understand and investigate where you get the best return for your female workforce that is achievable within your budget.
Entry level investment needn’t be high. For instance, giving time off to visit a GP. It takes on average 10 visits to a GP, before a woman gets support.
If you have corporate medical policies, give them access to Menopause specialists, coaches and counsellors.
The cost of women leaving the office is high, and even if they are working from home, it takes two hours sitting in the waiting room to see the GP and return home. That soon mounts up, so the actual cost of providing medical support in the workplace at this point is pretty cost-effective.
3. Create a menopause policy or guideline. It gives women an easy path to start those all-important conversations and to access support within the organisation. It also empowers managers to support their teams as well.
If you don’t have a policy or guideline look at other policies and procedures you have, where you can with small amendments use existing practices. For example, some organisations use the mental health first aider approach and have implemented Menopause first contact points.
4. Accommodate your staff to the best of your ability. If there’s a facility you are offering for your female employees, make it readily available. Don’t make them waste time searching for it. Offer simple necessities such as a desk fan, cold water, and sanitary wear in the bathrooms.
5. Become conscious of your organisation’s internal promotion route. If you see a drop off in your retention in your female staff at a certain age, start raising questions as to why. If there are comments like “there are no females to promote into senior roles” again ask why not, why are women leaving?
6. Ensure that women coming through external recruitment stay in the business, keep their careers, and gain senior-level positions. Women of all ages look to see if there are other women in senior positions, it indicates whether there is a path to success within the organisation.
Organisations could miss out on brilliant, incredible women by not supporting women at those senior levels. This isn’t just about looking after women and doing the “right thing”; it’s about making sure that women stay in business, keep their careers, and gain senior-level positions.
One of the reasons Kate decided to advocate openly about the symptoms is to reclaim the power and control that is available to women at this time “while women remain in the shadows, silent they deny themselves the power that comes at this time in our lives. We are about to become more powerful than we have ever been”.
Kate encourages all women to step into the unknown. Instead of focussing on the anxiety around this phase in life, recognise that every woman will have menopause, stand tall and own your experience. It will give you the control you have been searching for.
So, let’s raise our awareness by drawing people in, women of all ages as well as men, and consciously start conversations about menopause.
Let’s explore menopause collectively as a society!