Cognizant's Shameka Young on why it is time to address menopause in the workplace
Adapting women's health and wellness benefits to evolving trends in the workplace can create a more supportive culture, one which promotes employee well-being and engagement. For example, menopause is a natural stage of life, experienced by around half of the workforce at some point, and therefore, shouldn't be a taboo subject. The same could be said for a variety of female health and wellness-related issues, including fertility, pregnancy, and gynaecological cancers.
Menopause has long been considered a taboo subject in the workplace, but Cognizant is taking action in this respect.
In a recent exclusive interview with People Matters, Shameka Young, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion (D&I), Cognizant shares why it is important for companies to have menopause-specific guidelines in the workplace to destigmatise this natural process, create a more supportive culture, and sustain diverse experiences in the workplace.
Why it is important to have menopause-specific guidelines in the workplace?
Menopausal individuals are one of the fastest-growing demographic in the workplace. They are likely to be at their peak professionally and bring years of experience and significant value to the business. However, many of them may be struggling to manage the changes their bodies are going through with menopause, and severe symptoms or lack of support may lead them to leave the workforce. Therefore, organisations need to look within and recognise the endemic barriers that can negatively affect those trying to reach their full potential in the workplace and ensure an equal playing field for all employees.
For example, there are a plethora of studies that have found that women grappling with menopause are not only concerned about how it affects their performance, but a majority feel embarrassed to ask for support at work, or even discuss it with family and friends, or seek care when facing related health issues. Supporting them is vital to building diversity and inclusion in the organisational culture which is bound to lead to different perspectives and greater innovation.
We felt it is important to listen to our associates and turn their feedback into action steps to make menopause transition easier in the workplace across India. The recently launched menopause-specific guidelines help destigmatise and raise awareness about menopause, provide guidance on how associates can be supported at work, and foster an environment where everyone feels heard and valued.
How can such guidelines help destigmatise menopause?
Menopause has been long considered a taboo subject in the workplace, which has resulted in a paucity of open conversations and information, often leading to discomfort and challenges for employees experiencing it.
With the launch of Cognizant’s menopause-specific guidelines, we are actively encouraging all our associates to build their understanding of how it impacts women and other genders such as trans people, intersex, or those who identify as non-binary, as well as provide strengthened support and flexibility during what can be a challenging time in their career.
First, by providing guidance and support for associates experiencing menopause, it normalises the experience and acknowledges that it is a natural process that many people go through. This can help in reducing feelings of shame or embarrassment that some associates may feel about discussing menopause in the workplace.
Second, the guidance not only sensitises managers but encourages open and honest conversations about menopause, which can help to break down barriers and reduce stigma. The guidelines will not only help in creating a safe environment where associates feel comfortable speaking up and discussing their experiences but also reduce the sense of isolation that some of us may face during the process.
Finally, supporting an impacted team member means going beyond conversations to provide tools, benefits, and available resources to the associates and their support network.
How does Cognizant benefit from investing in menopause support for its associates?
At Cognizant, we encourage our associates to prioritise their health and well-being... it is critical to the success of the organisation. Such a culture can lead to significant benefits, such as improved employee engagement, increased productivity, and overall well-being.
Moreover, we take great pride in creating an environment where everyone can thrive, and feel safe and included. Menopause can be a challenging journey for some associates, which requires leading with compassion and empathy that improves morale and creates a more positive work environment for everyone.
Also, diverse backgrounds help us to work better together. To that end, having menopause guidance is one way we enable and sustain diverse experiences, views, and perspectives in the workplace. It should be on every business’s agenda to address menopause in the workplace, and we hope that our efforts will inspire other organisations to do the same.
How should companies approach the implementation of such guidelines? What challenges can they face in doing so?
Everyone experiences menopause differently. Some may have no adverse symptoms while others may have intense symptoms. Some may feel comfortable talking about menopause while others may find it stressful, embarrassing, or worry about the impact menopause has on their work.
Knowing this will help set the tone for those who would like to openly take advantage of available resources and support.
Therefore, companies should approach the guidelines in a way that recognises that the appropriate support will vary. For this reason, it is important to provide guidance that uses a person-centred approach. Our guidelines cover a breadth of information, set minimum standards, and are subject to laws and requirements in India.
What role does leadership play in creating a workplace culture that supports women's health and wellness?
Leaders, who set the tone and lead by example, can create an environment where women feel valued and empowered to prioritise their physical and mental well-being. For example, our Chief Marketing Officer Gaurav Chand who is also the Executive Sponsor of Women Empowered (WE) Group at Cognizant actively championed menopause support which encouraged associates to speak up as well as destigmatise the conversations.
Undoubtedly, the most important thing a leader can do is foster a supportive environment. In addition to leading by example, including prioritising their own self-care, encouraging open communication about women's health issues, pointing to necessary resources, and advancing a culture that values inclusivity.
What are some best practices for promoting gender equality and women's health in the workplace, and how can these be integrated into a company's overall D&I strategy?
Our unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion is not just a moral obligation but a business imperative. We have taken a top-down approach to D&I. It begins with leadership conviction as well as walking the talk by the leaders.
While we have formal programmes for professional development, inclusivity training, and progressive hiring policies, we believe the real magic happens when our people become the heart of change. For instance, our associates champion global and local affinity groups sponsored by executive leadership to facilitate a culture of allyship. When colleagues speak up for those who may feel underrepresented, it creates a powerful sense of belonging and underscores that the organisation’s D&I efforts are bearing fruit.
Another key element of a successful D&I strategy is ensuring the programmes are not a one-step intervention but take a systematic approach to help employees lead change, every step of the way. At Cognizant, our programmes for building tomorrow’s leaders, especially women, are designed to enable pathways along their journey - return to work after a career break, propelling growth through mentoring and leadership development, upskilling in future-ready digital capabilities, are a few examples. By understanding each opportunity, we have to drive greater inclusion, thereby not only enhancing our employee experience but setting the cultural tone across the organisation.
How can companies measure the effectiveness of these guidelines, ensure that they are achieving their intended outcomes?
At Cognizant, the menopause guidelines intend to provide support and establish trust, two key elements in creating a stable and strong workforce.
Thoughtful changes in the work environment including flexibility at work, raising awareness and sensitising managers, educating employees on the effects of menopause, making educational resources easily accessible, and encouraging affinity groups to help champion the adoption of the guidelines can make a meaningful difference in an associate’s experience.
I believe taking a collaborative and holistic approach plays a key role in guidelines being effective and achieving the intended outcomes. Our menopause guidance for India, for example, was created by leveraging the contributions of a dedicated internal working group, authoritative sources on menopause, input from corporate medical advisors as well as members of our own affinity groups for women, LGBTQ+, and allies. We plan to revisit the guidelines at regular intervals to meet the evolving needs of our associates and trusted colleagues.