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Home | Got a Minute | Diversity and inclusion | No. 145 – From unwanted kisses to menopause support: This IWD, women want change

No. 145 – From unwanted kisses to menopause support: This IWD, women want change

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6 March 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: an International Women’s Day bugbear, an unwanted kiss and a wish for support through menopause.

I’m a woman, and firm advocate for gender equality and inclusion. However, I have come to loathe the tokenism of International Women’s Day. My chief executive held a meeting recently and made us all take a photo making Taylor Swift-like heart symbols for this year’s theme, “Let’s Inspire Inclusion”. Yet, at the same time, he has no women on his executive team. I find the whole thing so hypocritical. Am I alone?

I don’t think you’re alone. Each year, when IWD rolls around we often witness the same performative gestures like you experienced, regardless of whether any real change for women follows. I am so glad you asked your question because it allows me to rant about one particular annual bugbear I have with IWD.

Any company, product or event which is advocating the theme of IWD for 2024 as “Let’s Inspire Inclusion” have chosen to follow the marketing suggestion of a private company called Aurora Ventures. This is a marketing campaign and events company which owns the International Women’s Day website and each year they unilaterally decide on a new campaign hashtag (usually one that has accompanying gestures like you describe). The company also offers stickers, posters, ribbons and other paraphernalia to make those morning teas we all get invited to look pretty.

Meanwhile, UN Women is an entity of the United Nations, which designs laws, policies, programmes and services to benefit women and girls worldwide. UN Women also sets a theme for IWD each year and this year it is “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”. Admittedly, it’s more of a mouthful and not conducive to a hashtag, but what it does do is seek to call attention to the alarming deficit in spending on gender-equality measures.

Imagine if your CEO had led a discussion on the financial measures needed to support gender equality initiatives at your Town Hall, rather than your photo opportunity.

I’ve been working long nights to meet a looming deadline, and a male colleague (who is married) is working on the same project. Recently, we were the only two left in the office, and he tried to kiss me. I moved my head, so he got the side of my mouth. I was shocked and tried to laugh it off by saying the sleep deprivation must be setting in. He laughed about it as well. I feel incredibly awkward about the whole situation and I don’t know what to do. Should I tell someone, or just forget it ever happened?

You can and should, of course, tell someone if you feel you want to. You should never second guess your right to raise anything that makes you feel uncomfortable at work. It may also be the case that other women have had something similar happen and so your experience would, together with theirs, be a pattern of behaviour from this male colleague which needs immediate action.

However, if you feel confident this will not happen again, and you are comfortable to work with him, then I think it would also be understandable if you chose to put it behind you. If you do, I would be very alert to any future situations where you are alone again, as this behaviour could be repeated. I would make it clear that what happened last time made you extremely uncomfortable, and is not welcome and if he tries anything again it is probably time to speak to someone so that his poor behaviour is dealt with.

I am a 54-year-old woman going through menopause and receive no support from my employer. I experience hot flashes, difficulties concentrating and feel physically fatigued. Menopause is simply a biological fact, yet it feels like we need to pretend it’s not happening. Should I ask my employer for support, or just leave the workforce altogether?

It does seem to be high-time Australian companies embraced policies that help women going through menopause. Interestingly, just last month the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission published guidelines reminding employers they have legal obligations to support anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms. The guidelines point out that 67 per cent of working women between the ages of 40 and 60 with experience of menopausal symptoms said those symptoms have had a mostly negative impact on them at work. That is a lot of women suffering in silence.

I would think about the kind of support which will be most beneficial to you – rest breaks, better airconditioning, time off – then speak to your employer. If there are other women going through menopause at your workplace, perhaps all go and see your employer together.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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