We have probably all noticed that law librarianship is a female-dominated profession. As of 2016, 75% of American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) members were women. Librarianship is such a feminized profession that recently AALL tried to rename itself to Association for Legal Information—perhaps to distance itself from use female librarians. After all, female dominated professions do, very unfortunately, command less pay and respect in our society.
I couldn’t find any numbers about the average age of law librarians, but looking around the AALL conference each year, there appear to be a lot more ladies of a certain age in attendance than spring chickens! So what does this mean for law librarians? It means that a whole lot of menopause is going on. Not just in law libraries, of course! Women get older in other jobs too (really, all jobs)! According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women over 45 currently make up 20% of the American workforce, and this percentage is expected to increase in the future.
Inspiration for this blog topic came to me last month when I arrived at work to realize that I had totally forgotten to write my ALL-SIS blog post for the month. After a morning of waking up exhausted and grumpy, in a weird sweat, only to soon huddle with a blanket next to a space heater, and then forgetting both my phone and my lunch at home, when the straw broke the camel’s back with the spaced-on-the-blog situation, I desperately tried to think of a topic…and menopause in the library instantly came to mind!
So what is menopause? According to WebMD, menopause is the end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and fertility, which happens when the ovaries no longer produce estrogen and progesterone. One achieves menopause by not having a period for a whole year. It turns out that menopause marks the end to the real problem, perimenopause! Perimenopause begins, on average, 4 years before menopause. The work-related symptoms, which pick up in the year or two before menopause, are hot flashes, mood swings, depression, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, memory and concentration problems, and urinary urgency. For some women, the symptoms can last as long as ten years!
None of those symptoms make work easier. As women in a woman-dominated profession, is this our chance to do something to ease our collective suffering? If so, what could we do? Create refrigerated nap rooms? Stock our libraries with first-aid kits containing sleeping, pep, and happy pills? Posting memory aids to remind people where to find the first aid kits and nap rooms?
According to the Internet, one big problem is that menopause is still a taboo subject at work. In our sexist and ageist society, some women might prefer to suffer silently rather than risk the “old lady” stereotype. Also, admittedly, the list of menopause symptoms doesn’t really seem to describe the perfect employee—unless depressed, irritable, sleep-deprived, forgetful folks who are in the bathroom all the time are the new ideal! However, I suppose that until the robots take over, the only employee choice is humans, and all humans are far from ideal. No sex or age group of employees is without problems. As irritable and moody as women of a certain age might get at times, men appear to have the greater mood regulation problems at work, since they commit the vast majority of the 2 million workplace assaults each year.
So what can be done to improve the work lives of older women? Anne Loehr has 7 tips for leaders to create a menopause friendly workplace:
- Educate managers about the symptoms of menopause,
- Appoint an in-office advocate to advocate for women going through menopause,
- Include menopausal support in wellness programs,
- Expand benefits to include alternative therapies such as acupuncture,
- Include menopause in wellness week activities,
- Improve flexibility in hours and sick days, and
- Allow flexible schedules when needed.
Perhaps the most important thing is to normalize menopause by just talking about it at work, like any other medical situation or life stage. Like menstruation, menopause is a standard human experience for the majority of humans—since there are slightly more women than men in the world. However, any sort of health situation can feel isolating when not shared with others, so perhaps we can support each other by working to normalize the normal at our workplaces.