Working the ‘Pause…the U.S. Experience

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in career | 0 comments

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????About a year ago, I wrote a post about a UK study exploring women experiences of working through the menopausal transition. Among the various challenges cited, poor concentration, fatigue, memory issues, depression and loss of self-confidence ranked among the highest. Moreover, the majority of women chose to avoid discussing their symptoms with their managers, making a bad situation even worse.

A more recent survey has been released by The Working Mother Research Institute and not surprisingly, the findings are similar. And, while the methodology is not quite scientific and based on a series of survey blasts, it does serve up some sobering statistics. Among 1,500 women surveyed (ages 45 to 65):

  • About one-third cited hot flashes as the most troublesome symptoms in the workplace, and roughly two-thirds said that they occurred daily.
  • Similar to their UK counterparts, changes in memory and concentration and fatigue (attributable to sleep disruption) were also among the most troublesome symptoms.
  • Almost half (48%) reported that managing their symptoms took a toll on their work life, with 12% passing up more demanding work or promotions as a result.
  • The more ‘male’ the work environment, the more that women tried to hide their menopausal symptoms while at work; this distinction was almost two-fold.
  • Fewer than one on three women felt comfortable discussing their symptoms with their supervisors and among those who were, again, gender was a strong determining factor.

So, what do these flashing, fatigued women desire in their work environment? Overwhelmingly, one primary ‘want’ shines through: the ability to adjust temperature in their workspace. A close second and third? A flexible dress code and the ability to bring a fan into the workspace.

The bottom line of this survey echoes the UK study: employers need to be more aware that among their female employees ‘of a certain age,’ the menopausal transition can cause some difficulty. And while the solutions are relatively simple, the lack of consideration for an issue creates a problem in and of itself.

According to the North American Menopause Society, approximately 6,000 women enter menopause daily in the United States. Not only are these women living longer but increasingly, they continue working well beyond what was once considered traditional retirement age. So long as women keep working the ‘pause, employers will need to readjust the environment to keep those women happy and productive. Currently, it appears that there is a long way to go to achieve the optimal balance in the workplace.

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Balance. I have it. Sometimes.

Posted by on Jan 22, 2014 in career, exercise, Guyside, health, general, men | 1 comment

Work and life don't always balance. CC-licenced photo by Flickr user mohit_k In my 20s, I used to work as studio director for a radio morning show. Often, I’d stay up, watch Late Night with David Letterman, and then hit the sack, only to get up and hit the road to be at the station at 5, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with coffee for the gang. A little later on, I worked at a 24-hour news network, and my shifts were almost always 3 a.m.-11 a.m. or 4 a.m.-noon. I’d come home, do some other work, my partner would come home, and I’d almost always be in bed after 10 p.m. Five hours sleep was fine. In an magazine job, all-nighters were common as we got to production.  

If I tried that now, I would implode in a week. And that isn’t always the easiest thing for a man to admit. We’re supposed to be invulnerable, aren’t we? One of the things I’ve noticed as the years have gone on is I can still be as intense as I was in the past (I think!), but that I can’t maintain that level of intensity for same length of time. I attend a music-industry conference each year where part of the deal is attending music sessions that go on until about four in the morning. I can do that, but inevitably there’s a post-conference crash.

Combine the fact that my “energy well” isn’t as deep as it used to be with the lifestyle of a self-employed consultant, where the pace can sometimes oscillate between frenetic and … what now? and you have a recipe for stress.

I have a few things I try to do to combat that stress. I try to keep my sleep habits as regular as I can. I’m lucky in that I rarely have insomnia, so it’s easy for me to stay rested most of the time. That keeps the energy supply high.

If there’s a frenetic period on the horizon, I will try to book downtime to recharge my batteries after the urgency subsides. Better to book it and keep it for myself than to carry on as if I didn’t just complete a herculean task and end up crashing.

And I try to keep my regular appointments sacred. Yoga class, exercise, and the like can sometimes feel like a distraction that I “should” skip “just this once.” But that has an impact down the road. Short-term gain for long-term pain.

It’s not easy to stay energized all the time. But if you can learn — even attempt — to manage yourself a little better, you can perform at a higher level all the time, rather than some roller-coaster cycle of sprinting, and then collapsing.

What are your tips for managing energy levels? Tell me in the comments.

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Work and the ‘pause: a two way street

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in career | 0 comments

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Can you believe that three years has passed since I first wrote about Amanda Griffith’s study on menopause and work? The final results are in and they are fairly indicative of the issues that menopause brings to the work environment.

Dr. Griffiths is a professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK. Several years ago, she and her colleagues set out on a journey to discover gender-specific health issues in the workplace other than pregnancy. And, since her target was on women between the ages of 45 and 55, chances are great that the focus would be less on reproductive issues and more on post-reproduction, i.e. menopause. Noting that studies have shown that some women find that their symptoms negatively impact their work life, and that certain work factors, e.g. environment, may increase the intensity of symptoms, Dr. Griffiths also points out that women are generally reluctant to divulge to colleagues or their managers that they are going through menopause. Moreover, even if employers know, what sort of things can they do to help?

Mind you, this study is in the form of an electronic questionnaire and this is the type of design that many will question as introducing bias and issues with recall. However, rest assured, the researchers carefully honed their questions based on an earlier study that was done with a group of women police officers, through one on one interviews with women to discuss the impact of menopause on their health and work and through close review and evaluation by experts in a variety of medical and occupational fields. But enough of the science; let’s get to the meat.

Roughly 900 women were surveyed; about 43% were perimenopausal, 31% in menopause and the rest, on hormones or in menopause due to surgery. Yet, regardless of where they were in their menopause journey, three symptoms were especially problematic when it came to work: feeling less confident, an inability to concentrate and memory issues. Three’s a charm…except when it comes to menopause. The icing on this cake were hot flashes; not only were women unable to control the temperature in their workplace environment (honestly, who does have that ability?!), but having hot flashes became unbearable when the work environments were overly heated or improperly ventilated.

To make a bad situation even worse, over a third of the women said that they worked harder to overcome difficulties so that menopause wouldn’t affect their performance or draw attention to them. Working harder also meant learning the best strategies for coping with their symptoms and worklife. And while, on the surface, this doesn’t sound so terribly awful, can you imagine having to make light of matters, making a list and checking it thrice to avoid mistakes or changing your working hours to hide a condition?!

Managers, take note! What do women want to make their workplace more tolerable? Overwhelmingly, women report that they would be better served if management acknowledged that menopause was a possible health problem and provided more flexible working hours. Better ventilation, air conditioning and temperature control are important. And advice and support? More than 50% of women said that having information and advice from their employers about menopause and coping at work as well as informal support from colleagues would make their work environments more palatable. On the flip side? The researchers say that it might be helpful to explore working women’s attitudes toward their co workers and line managers’ perceptions of menopause; after all, women in the throes of the ‘pause may actually be overestimating others’ abilities to infer menopause status when a hot flash hits and may even have misconceptions about others’ negative perceptions of menopause.

There is no doubt that menopause impacts working ability, environment and relationships. As with any health condition, appropriate support from employers is imperative and may help to reduce stress, help boost performance and insure loyalty. Yet, employers can’t do it alone; women need to be able to communicate their status and their needs. Work and the ‘pause is truly a two way street.

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Wednesday Bubble: The Glass Ceiling is a Myth

Posted by on May 8, 2013 in career | 7 comments

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Earlier this week. Fox Business ran a piece claiming that the gender pay gap was nothing more than a myth. Some of the more interesting conclusions suggested that there are fewer women in select fields was because they choose to work in industries that pay less such as education, versus those that pay more (and where you find greater numbers of men), such as computer and engineering.

The author writes: “women sacrifice pay for all sorts of reasons including security, safety, flexibility, and fulfillment. Their priorities are vastly different than men’s. And when you account for that, when you compare apples to apples, when women actually make the same career choices as men, there is no gap. Men and women earn the same.” He adds that even when women pursue higher paying fields, such as medicine, they tend to gravitate towards areas that are less stressful, such dentistry rather than specialize in stressful positions such as surgery. Moreover, men work more hours.

While he acknowledges that women are having babies and do most of the child rearing — obvious factors that contribute to the gender pay gap — he claims that these are personal or societally-driven decisions and that truly, the glass ceiling has been broken.

Is this man living under a rock?!

I can rest on my laurels, throw a bunch of statistics in your direction and reinterpret the findings to provide evidence that the gender pay gap is a thing of the past. Or I can share the following proof that it’s not, that this author’s primary point, if you pay close attention to the article, has nothing to do with gender pay and more to do with his opinion that the Federal Government should not be wasting its time trying to equal the paying (pun intended) field.

That aside, let’s get down to brass tacks.

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women continue to be paid less money than men in all but 7 of 534 occupations – respiratory therapy, computer support, operations research analysts, stock clerks, medical scientists, bookkeeping/accounting, and packager/package handlers. You can see the differences in the chart below as outlined by the Center for American Progress:

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[Source: Center for American Progress]

Moreover, it’s not simply a matter of women choosing not to enter higher paying fields; often there is a discrimination bias taking place. For example, as Perry Hewett wrote in a 2011 Forbes.com piece, a key reason that women are lacking in tech is because this male-dominated industry is not broadening its professional networks to include more women. Anecdotally, I hear this all the time from my female techie friends. Importantly, the problem is magnified many fold among women of color who are trying the break the barriers. This problem is coupled with the need to improve girls’ access to science and technology programs (and boosting their interests in the same) so that we are producing a greater field of qualified applicants. And my gal pals also echo Hewett’s contention that visibility is a huge issue; even women who participate in more highly visible events are often invisible to the masses. Those who speak up are often ostracized when they do. The problem is pervasive.

In medicine, the reality is just as harsh. Although women are now entering medical school in droves, studies have suggested that gender discrimination is a large factor driving where females ultimately end up; in one survey, 75% of women on a surgical track had experienced gender discrimination. More specifically, female physicians have three choices in order to excel:

  1. deny that there is any distinction between her and her male colleagues, thereby joining the man’s clube and be subject to be treated as a “neuter”
  2. assume a more traditional societal role as a seductive, helpless, dependent female, which means she is then treated as a sex object
  3. become a superwoman and compulsive overachiever in career and family roles in order to supercede expectations in all areas of her life

As I’ve written previously, gender and age discrimination is also pervasive in the film and entertainment industry. I’m sure that there are more fields, more data, more anecdotes; I’ve simply scratched the surface with the most obvious. However, the issues underlying and driving the glass ceiling are complex. In some areas, women have shattered it; in the majority of others, it is intact. And to overcome the challenges we face as women, it’s more than simply leaning in, or making choices other than the ones that many women are forced to make.

The gender pay gap? It’s real and not going away anytime soon. And it will take more than empowerment to move the needle. I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. But when it comes to action, the future is now.

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Wednesday Bubble: Pink Elephant Redux

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in career | 0 comments

Today’s bubble features an oldie but goodie. The more things change, the more they haven’t.

Isn’t it time that we women start to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room???

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In 1980, I worked as an intern on the municipal bonds floor of a well-known brokerage/financial institution. Although it was certainly not my “thang,” I learned a tremendous amount about how the business world operated, and most importantly, about the games that people play.

One thing that struck me in particular at that time was the role of women in this business and how they dressed and behaved. Women were not abundant in positions of power, and those who were, well, in some respects, they emulated men; they were aggressive, competitive and not particularly kind to one another.

Clearly, things have changed drastically in the almost three decades that have followed. But one thing that hasn’t changed much is how sisters act in the workplace.

A line from this wonderful article that appeared in the New York Times several years ago made me realize that certain stereotypes continue to perpetuate bad behavior. And, that as Author Peggy Klaus so aptly writes, “the pink elephant is lurking in the room and we pretend it’s not there.”

The pink elephant is lurking in the room.

Klaus’ point is that rather than help build each others career, women often work to derail each other, engaging instead in “verbal abuse, job sabotage, misuse of authority and destroying of relationships.” She cites data suggesting that this type of behavior is directed from women to women >70% of the time, while the men who are “bullies in the workplace,” direct their aggression equally to both genders.

Klaus offers numerous reasons why women become aggressors in the workplace: scarcity of positions, bootstrap (I pulled myself up, why should I help you?) and hyperemotionality that leads to an overinvestment in workplace occurrences that cause them to hold grudges.

Her point, however, is not to determine the why but rather, engage one another to put an end to this type of behavior.

I’ve written previously that as we grow older, friendships and support of one another are essential to our overall wellbeing. Regardless of whether its in the workplace or in our personal lives, supportive relationships allow the soul to flourish and grow. Personal resources as they pertain to social support also help see us through the rougher aspects of menopause.

Should women give preferential treatment to one another? No, absolutely not. But as Klaus says, perhaps we should start treating one another as we want our “nieces, daughters, granddaughters an sisters to be treated.” We should simply… acknowledge the pink elephant in the room. And show it the door.

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Reinventing Women: Send me an angel…meet Beth Collins

Posted by on Feb 25, 2013 in aging, career | 0 comments

iStock_000000164248XSmallWhat do you do when you put out an open call for life stories and an angel answers? That’s Beth Collins, co-creator of Elizabeth’s House, a resource center for women who want to rethink, renew, and reinvent their lives. Truly, I could not have found a more ideal person for a series about reinvention.

Who is Beth Collins? Beth is a personal and creative coach and her story of reinvention is focused on beginnings. To Beth, reinvention starts “from where you are to all that you know. It’s saying yes to something more and then creating the space in your life to find out what that more looks like.”

She explains that her calling to create on behalf of other women came during a time in her life when she had reluctantly left a dream job in college administration to become a working and then full-time, stay-at-home mom. However, answering her ultimate calling has been anything but easy; in fact, her ever-shifting path has been wrought with roadblocks and detours. When she left the corporate world for a world of  play dates, room mothering, volunteer committees and booster clubs, she still had an urge to serve women in transition, an itch to scratch that would take more than six years to realize as she followed and supported her husband through multiple relocations. At the age of 46, just as she was finally hitting her stride and passion, she was sidelined again: “I got hit by a truck, literally.”

Through a ‘jaws of life’ rescue and time in the neuro-ICU, Beth faced yet another tough decision: rest or keep going?

In the mid 1980s, Austrian Monk Bhanke Dhammika wrote the Dhammavadaka, a poem designed to present inspiring aspects of a Buddhist’s life. One line in particular resonates:

None can live without toil and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you and you will be denied the joy that comes from labour’s end.

Like Dhammika, Beth realized the value in rest and so, she resigned from yet another job that she had grown to love to allow her body proper time to heal. Not surprisingly, in this quiet she heard yet another calling and in 2006, began a mentoring and coaching business for women who were ready to reinvent their lives. “I had clients in five states and was curious when I realized that these women were all asking for the same things,” Beth explains. “They longed for a community that would support their journey of change. Inspired by their requests, I began envisioning what a place like that would look like and in 2007, opened the doors to Elizabeth’s House, a gathering place for women who want to reinvent their lives.”

Elizabeth’s House embodies a lifetime of  dreams combined with a unique passion to help women. Beth’s personal story? It’s one of “pure belief in a dream, letting go of the outcome and saying yes to what showed up.” And while she says that some would characterize that attitude as courageous while others may call it crazy, the women who’ve landed at the door of Elizabeth’s House call it a gift. “Together we rally when a woman quits the job she hates to create something new and when returns to that job after realizing that it wasn’t the job she hates. We rally around trying new things, getting it wrong, marriage, divorce, cancer and even suicide. It’s been life -changing for the women who find us and for me.”

It’s not surprising that women helping women lies at the core of Beth’s story of reinvention. She says that unquestionably, “What I’ve learned, what I know beyond any doubt,” is that self-help books, online support and endless “coaching” programs are not enough for women who long to reinvent. They are going to need other women who are willing to tell the truth about their lives. They need to know that they are not alone in their desire for change.”

Say yes and let go of the outcome(s). You may take a beating to get your wings but eventually, like Beth’s they’ll grow into something beautiful.

 

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