Today is being celebrated as the International Women’s Day and I want to talk about a topic that has been off limits, unofficially :). We all know that a generally good career graph peaks around 40 to 45… one starts to work at the age of 20 or 21 after graduation and it takes around 15 years to reach middle/senior management and then another three to four years to reach senior management. This is the average Joan. Am not talking of the mavericks and the ones who are born as CEOs and reach that role fairly quickly. I am also not talking of men ! I am talking of women who stay around long enough in the workplace and their career generally peaks around 40 to 45. It also happens to men but their trajectory is very different. They don’t take off for having children and get rated a “somewhat meets expectation” for a year nor do they have social pressures of a newly wed girl, who cannot work the night shift…
Lets look at what happens to a woman’s career – she starts like the men at the entry level role, works as hard and if she has good communication skills and some managerial skills and is not derailed by “inappropriate” behavior she would move to a senior executive within a year or two (in some cases, it could be a subject matter expert). Then when she is around 24 usually she gets married … am generalizing about India and I don’t mean any offense nor am I passing any judgment. I fell in love and got married at 21 – a year into my career. Often there is a break at this stage because the person she marries may not be from the same city and she would have to relocate because being older, the husband’s position at work would be a little more senior. The good trend that has come about is women continuing to work after marriage – and am certainly rooting for it to continue. There are challenges and mindsets that have to change, but all that can happen if the woman continues to work after marriage.
If there is no break in her career, she would probably change jobs and get into a slightly higher paying job. If there is a location change, automatically there is also a change in the company she works for. A couple more years she makes it to the entry level manager or team leader role. The BPO world has created several layers before the entry level manager role but in most places, 5 to 6 years of good work will see you in an entry level managerial role. Now.. this is the time when the planned pregnancy may happen. I chose not to have children, but most women would like to have children and the trend is to plan for the child after a few years of marriage. So either the pregnancy gets deferred by a year or the promotion gets deferred. I am not getting into the horror stories of those who do inhuman things to themselves in order to have a biological child …. It’s a separate topic in itself.
Lets say the girl delays her pregnancy and gets her promotion. She then has a child when she is 26 or 27 – she loses a full year, even if she does come back to work after the maternity period because the child takes priority as it should. Then she works hard for the next two to three years and if she has continued in the same organization then it helps to get the next promotion otherwise she makes the change during her maternity period. She becomes a manager around 30. Some couples decide to have another child and that generally happens before the lady turns 35. So from the age of 30 to 40 is when usually a woman gets time to focus on her career and she moves into the middle or senior management role depending on her capabilities and the culture in the organization.
This is when the next biological event unfolds for women …. The dreaded menopause or cessation of her periods. Just like polycystic ovary condition is a gift of the modern lifestyle, early menopause is also a gift. Periods are tough and am glad some organizations are beginning to offer “period” leave. I have usually taken off on the first day of my periods because I have had very painful periods and until a man goes through that pain, there is no way to describe it. My sisters know it so they don’t need a description !!. Menopause is nothing like anything you have felt before.
I am 48 and smack in the middle of menopause and I am not going technical on the different stages of menopause. Usually the darned thing goes on for ten years before periods stop. Some of the things that happen during menopause – mood swings of a kind that one hasn’t experienced before, uncontrollable anger, weight gain (well, that alone is enough to derail any woman), headaches, hot flushes, cramps in the middle of the night, heavy to very heavy periods, irregular periods (so you don’t know when it will start), stress, dark dreadful thoughts, depression, rashes all over, ….. IT IS TERRIBLE. I have had a problem with short temper, but my temper tantrums in the last few years have been unbelievable. Every periods episode is different and I don’t know what to expect. If it helps to understand how I behave because of the hormonal changes – I went looking for Krishnan at the swimming pool because he got late by 10 minutes and I was quite certain that something terrible had happened to him. Ask me in my normal days and I wouldn’t have even registered the fact that he is 10 minutes late. I am a subject matter expert when it comes to organizing and packing things (have moved 21 times) … but there are days when I am unsure what to pack or even getting things ready in the order of priority. That’s the impact of hormones.
My mother has been at the receiving end because even in normal days, she and I will keep bickering, but I yell and scream at her for silly things like adding extra oil to something and probably just two spoons extra. The scariest part is, the rational me, the in-control me is a mute witness to all this – I know I am being foolish and nasty, but I have no control over my emotions. That’s what menopause does to a woman. There is loss of bone density so one needs to keep exercising, but there is no motivation to exercise because one doesn’t lose weight. I have ended up having knee pain and the latest is my right collar bone has curved a little on its end and my right hand doesn’t move as freely – guess what, some websites suggest, this also is because of Menopause. I am undergoing physiotherapy and the condition is reversible… if not I will have to undergo a simple surgery.
Now, reading all that must have put you off track. We were at 40 or 45 and the woman is in senior management … Menopause hits and she is contending with huge pressure and stress from all sides. What will the corporate world do to help the woman at this stage. It’s a passing phase, but it comes when she is peaking in her career and many times is not taking the best of decisions or is not investing in herself because she is under attack by her hormones and is following nature’s edict.
I dealt with it well because I have a very supportive husband and I invested in an executive MBA program (PGPMAX) from ISB. That’s the best thing I did after working for 20 years – it brought out the best in me. Then I quit full time work in 2015 to focus on my leadership coaching and our purpose in life of giving back to the community through ShikshaDaan. It has helped me to not be stressed out and take things more calmly. But the point is, not every woman wants to step aside and not everyone has a calling in life to give back – their calling could be to continue excelling at work and that’s what organizations need to think about. Women leaders also need to step up and be understanding of their women colleagues – very few women have an easy menopause, they are an exception. Just like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who went back to work two weeks after her delivery cannot be used as a role model to develop the maternity leave policy!!
On this International Women’s Day, I want men and women to pause and think about menopause and its ramifications. Its as much a life event as a marriage or childbirth. Hoping this blog of mine is a thought starter and I welcome suggestions, ideas and even contrarian views – my only aim is to get more women to stay invested in their careers and grow to their full potential.