As I writhed around in agony, experiencing the worst period pains I’ve ever had, my male partner looked on in disbelief. ‘How women deal with these things blows my mind’, he said. The truth? It kind of blows ours too, but we have no choice but to just get on with things. Or do we?
For many of my female clients, there are several factors that can impact their career. Disruption caused from monthly cycles to menopause, from pregnancy to childcare. It’s a lot. No wonder the statistics show that for women in particular, ‘life’ can take over, causing career and development opportunities to take a back seat. But help is at hand! Many report that something as seemingly simple as a flexible approach to work could make all the difference in helping them manage.
The benefits of flexible working can be felt by all, gaining significant popularity in recent years, offering employees the opportunity to adapt schedules and locations to suit personal needs and responsibilities. This approach has many advantages, including increased work-life balance, reduced stress, and improved job satisfaction.
Most employees could benefit from these advantages, but certain groups will find this particularly beneficial. Parents, career changers or returners who are looking to fit in a career into their new life and menopausal women trying to balance potential life changing symptoms, with a successful career. Maybe you know you can’t concentrate in an over-stimulated environment with menopausal brain fog; flexible working which allows remote work away from the office when needed might be the solution. Need to do the school run but want a career around it? Working a split shift pattern might help. Worried about delivering training amidst hot flushes? An understanding culture and switching your camera off for virtual training could be the answer.
For employers too, there are a plethora of benefits to offering a flexible working approach. Studies have shown that it can result in greater employee engagement, higher productivity and wellbeing, as well as being an attractive benefit for potential employees in a tough recruitment market.
Has the perfect solution arrived?
Flexible working has become so beneficial, it has even been formalised. In 2023 the new Flexible Working Bill achieved Royal Assent, essentially giving any employee the right to request changes to their working hours, times, or location from day one of employment. This is viewed as a leap forward in the rights of many workers who want, or need, to have flexibility to make work, work. But Elizabeth Willets, founder of ‘Investing in Women Careers’ provides a note of caution: ‘This bill marks a significant leap towards normalising flexible working, but there’s still work to be done! Until it is made default – employers can say no (if they provide a valid reason) – and there is the risk that nothing much will change, despite the proven benefits.’ Picking a potential employer wisely now becomes a key part of a career plan.
And Elizabeth has a stern warning for all employers; ‘don’t say you care about EDI if flexible working is off the table’. If you’re seeking flexible work for reasons including menopause however, there are also other things in place which could help protect you. Indeed, whilst Menopause isn’t a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 which protects employees against discrimination, it is linked to some characteristics which are (including age, disability, and sex). So, if you feel you are being put at a disadvantage and treated less favourably due to menopause, this could be classed as discrimination and could be put to an employment tribunal.*
So, what does this all mean for your career?
While there are numerous pros to flexible working, there are some challenges too. Distance between staff can mean a reduction in networking opportunities. Those new to their career after a break may find this particularly challenging, as they would ordinarily seek mentoring and guidance from those more experienced around them.
Remote working can also decrease visibility to others, hindering opportunities for skill development and longer-term career prospects. Those ‘water cooler’ moments don’t happen naturally in this environment and so an individual needs to work harder to get noticed. And if you’ve taken a flexible approach to work, perhaps working a split day, then you might be even less visible.
Yes, as I’ve discussed with many clients, this seems another unfair hurdle. However, here knowing what the challenge is means you can do something about it. You might be ‘MIA’ for part of the day as you pick up the children from school or to help manage menopause fatigue, but knowing this means you can focus the rest of the time on being more visible. Select projects that get you in front of others and don’t shy away from sharing your work pattern; it’s something to be proud of, not apologise for. Worried how it’ll look when you get brain fog? Be open and honest with your peers, share your ideas of quick-fire brainstorming when you know you’ll be at your best, and become everyone’s best friend in the process; nobody likes long meetings.
For many women, dealing with menopause induced anxiety, imposter syndrome and that fiendish curse I like to call ‘comparitinitus’ is tough. Take the time to get to know yourself better, what is working well for you right now in your career and what needs attention. A clear development plan (detailing where you’re aiming to get to and what you need help with), alongside a list of your achievements and successes, will help address this. Set goals and be proactive about what you want. Even include how flexible working could help you achieve these goals and share this with your manager. This has been proven to have a greater impact on your career development than a simple ‘who will I bump into at the water cooler’ approach and will fast-track you to success, whatever you’re juggling in your life and career.
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