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workingwise.co.uk speaks to Nina Kuypers from Black Women in Menopause about the need for greater diversity in discussions about the menopause at work.
As a British Standards Institution report released yesterday suggests significant levels of concern among women of all ages that they might have to drop out of the workplace due to the menopause, we speak to Nina Kuypers, founder of Black women in menopause about why we need to ensure menopause discussions include everyone.
workingwise.co.uk: When and why did you set up Black Women in Menopause?
Nina Kuypers: BWiM was established in 2020 – I recognised the need for support, advocacy and resources specifically tailored to the experiences of Black women going through menopause. The aim is to provide a safe and supportive space for Black women to share their experiences, exchange information, seek advice and advocate for better healthcare and workplace support related to menopause and beyond. Health disparities in healthcare access and quality can disproportionately affect marginalised communities. Limited access to quality healthcare and culturally competent providers can create barriers to receiving appropriate menopause-related support and information.
ww: Why do you think that, despite all the talk about intersectionality, there is still not diversity when it comes to menopause?
NK: The lack of diversity and inclusion regarding menopause despite the increasing awareness of intersectionality can be attributed to several factors:
Menopause research and healthcare have historically focussed on women from certain demographics, particularly white, middle-class women, which has led to a lack of diverse representation in available data, clinical studies and shaping of policies. Those shaping policies, resources and initiatives do not reflect the diversity of the workforce. The unique challenges faced by women from different groups, including race, religion, disability, LGBT+ and class, are often overlooked. Therefore, these gaps make it difficult to understand and address the unique experiences and nuances surrounding menopausal symptoms from different groups.
Systemic biases and discrimination that are prevalent in society can further marginalise women from different groups. These women may already be facing discrimination based on their race, religion, disability or other identities may be less likely to receive adequate support and understanding during menopause.
Health inequalities exist across different groups, such as race, religion, disability, LGBT+, and class. These inequalities can impact women’s overall health and well-being, including their experience of menopause symptoms. By understanding and addressing these health disparities, workplaces can help mitigate the effects of unequal access to healthcare and resources, providing more equitable support to women during menopause.
While intersectionality – the concept of interconnected social identities and systems of oppression – has and is gaining recognition, it takes time for these concepts to be fully integrated into mainstream discussions and initiatives.
ww: What role have employers got to play in taking a more intersectional approach?
NK: Employers should acknowledge and understand that women’s experiences of menopause are influenced by multiple intersecting factors, such as race, religion, disability, LGBTQIA+ status, class and more. Overall, understanding intersectionality, health inequalities and cultural nuances is crucial for employers to provide inclusive and supportive environments for women experiencing menopause. By embracing concepts, workplaces can tailor their policies, support systems and resources to meet the diverse needs of women from different groups, promoting wellbeing, productivity and equality for all employees.
ww: What is the result of that lack of diversity?
NK: The lack of diversity in menopause discussions and support can have several consequences, for example:
Invisibility and ignorance – when menopause experiences are predominantly focussed on a specific demographic, the experiences of women from other backgrounds are often overlooked or ignored. This lack of representation can contribute to a general lack of awareness and understanding about the unique challenges faced by women from diverse groups during menopause.
Addressing the lack of diversity in menopause discussions is essential to ensure equitable support and understanding for all. By embracing diversity, organisations and society can promote inclusivity, reduce health disparities and foster an environment that values and supports the diverse experiences of women during menopause.
ww: Why do you use the term a menopause holiday?
NK: I use the term menopause holiday as an analogy. The term holiday in general for many may be a white beach with calm, blue waters; for others it could an adventure holiday in the mountains. A menopause holiday for myself is referring to the fact that holidays can be good and bad, and the outcome may vary due to several factors, such as destination, travel companions, accommodation, weather, clothes and so on. So, it is important to recognise, the whys, whats, whens and hows you need to plan for for this one-way holiday. For example, when thinking about possible destinations or in this case possible symptoms that may occur, it is important to be aware of what you may be able to do to help yourself on your travels, what to pack and for many that means doing the research beforehand. There will always be ‘travel’ menopause essentials that you are able to control and then there are certain things that
are out of your control and that you maybe unsure about.
If you are aware of the varying places that you may visit and have done your research, then it may make it easier to navigate. It is important to make notes about your travels – the good, the bad and the ugly – as what you do not track you cannot measure.
Everybody’s menopause holiday will be different so do not compare, we need to allow everyone to navigate this transition in a way that suits their unique needs and circumstances. Another element to the menopause holiday is looking to a support group for help organising travel; others may prefer to organise their menopause holiday themselves. There is not a right or wrong way. If using support groups to help, be aware of what support they offer or it may be that you seek support from a regulated menopause holiday association such as a British Menopause Specialist (BMS). Just as everybody’s holiday will be different so too will their menopause.
ww: What do you do to address stigma when it comes to the menopause?
NK: Addressing stigma around menopause requires a multi-faceted approach that involves education, dialogue, empowerment and supportive resources. By challenging stereotypes, sharing positive stories and fostering understanding, I can contribute to a more inclusive and compassionate society for black people experiencing menopause. Another way is to advocate for accurate and positive portrayals of menopause in various forms of media. Encourage media outlets to depict menopause as a normal part of life and showcase diverse menopausal experiences.
ww: You say menopause is not an end. Do you think we should focus more on positive menopause stories?
NK: Yes, focusing on positive menopause stories can be beneficial in challenging the prevailing negative narratives and stigma surrounding menopause. Menopause is a natural (for the majority) and transformative phase in a person’s life, and it’s important to highlight the positive aspects and experiences associated with it. Positive stories can empower individuals going through menopause by showcasing the opportunities, personal growth and resilience that can emerge during this phase. By shifting the narrative from one of decline or loss to one of empowerment and possibility, individuals can approach menopause with a more positive mindset. It is important to note that everyone’s menopause experience is unique, and not all individuals may have entirely positive experiences.
ww: Is there a danger that by focusing so much on the negatives we are making younger women fearful about the future?
NK: Yes, there is a potential danger that by excessively focusing on the negative aspects of menopause, we may inadvertently contribute to fear and anxiety among the ‘younger’ generation about their own future experiences. When menopause is consistently portrayed as a period of suffering and decline, it can create a sense of apprehension and dread. Promoting a broader dialogue that includes positive menopause stories may help them develop a more nuanced understanding of this life stage. It can demonstrate that menopause is a normal and natural part of your life design, and that it can also be a time of (re)growth, self-discovery and renewed vitality. Menopause fear, real or perceived, is the most powerful manipulation of all in this conversation.