Women going through 'the change' left short-changed

·3-min read

Going through 'the change' can result in Australian women being collectively short-changed in retirement to the tune of an estimated $15.2 billion per year.

The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees' estimate takes into account the impact untreated or severe menopause symptoms can have on women, including not seeking promotions, going part-time or taking early retirement.

The subsequent earnings and superannuation losses can put them at a severe disadvantage, it adds.

Deputy CEO Mel Birks said cost estimates may vary but the evidence was irrefutable that untreated or severe menopause symptoms exact a heavy toll on women in the workforce.

Research published in the US by the Mayo Clinic this week estimated the cost for women in America was about $US26.6 billion ($A40.2 billion) a year in lost work time and medical expenses.

The finding underlines the need for the Australian government to conduct a similar analysis of the impact of menopausal symptoms on the national workforce, Ms Birks said, adding "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it".

"Menopausal symptoms are one of the factors contributing to the gender gap that sees women retiring on average seven years earlier than men and with 30 per cent less in their superannuation accounts," Ms Birks said.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has been urging employers to include paid menstrual and menopause leave arrangements in the workplace for some time and agrees with the institute's call for national research.

"The impact of menstruation and menopause can be significant health issues for many workers, affecting their wellbeing and ability to work," ACTU President Michele O'Neil told AAP.

"The ACTU supports measures that improve women's workforce participation, increase flexibility and lead to better outcomes for women, both in work and in retirement.

"Menstrual and menopause leave is one such measure that would help achieve greater workforce participation and gender equality."

But Australasian Menopause Society president Karen Magraith is less convinced of the merits of formal menopause leave.

"My personal opinion is that menopause leave doesn't help," Ms Magraith told AAP.

"You can't itemise every different situation somebody might be facing.

"(And) it doesn't really help with the stigmatisation, especially for employers who may not necessarily understand.

"They might think 'I won't necessarily have a woman who's in her 40s because she might go on menopause leave'."

In the meantime, one solution lies in educating businesses and the community as a whole on menopausal symptoms so both employers and employees are better prepared.

"It's a great loss to the whole community - women leaving work because of menopause," Ms Magraith said.

"They've got a valuable contribution to make.

"But some women really feel very concerned about their performance, very anxious, may feel like their brain's not working (normally), talk themselves out of jobs, lose confidence.

"That's where the normalisation of menopause and the support groups and menopause education at work come into their own.

"It helps people start thinking 'well, maybe I don't need to leave'."

Hundreds of years ago when life expectancy was considerably shorter, menopause was an 'end-of-life' stage.

Now, women may live for a third or half of their lives past menopause, Ms Magraith noted.

Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees says the federal government should fund the Office of Women to conduct research on the extent to which menopausal symptoms impact women's employment and retirement decisions and incomes.