Women are not mini-men, let's stop treating them like such in the workplace

Thirty years ago, a large nationwide auto parts chain faced bankruptcy. The board had heard about a young executive well-known in the aftermarket for modernizing stores and in a Hail Mary move, decided to make an unusual hire.

Despite my being a woman, I got the job.

When I first took on this new role, the urban stores and repair shops were a man’s domain, but the status quo wasn’t working. So, I began hiring talent from within the local neighborhood – women who were willing to work even though they didn’t have experience with cars, and most didn’t even drive. But they did know the neighborhood and its residents, were eager to be trained and felt pride of ownership.

Many of them were young, single mothers, so I installed refrigerators in the backroom so breastfeeding mothers could store their milk.

The company’s financial outlook changed, allowing more stores to stay open and the women had learned on-the-job technical and managerial skills. As a result, these women began moving up the career ladder in retailing.

Terry Weber
Terry Weber

Back then, the only woman in the room was usually the secretary bringing coffee. Even saleswomen weren’t encouraged to travel with salesmen – it was thought that women might create a compromising situation. My generation of women felt grateful for the chance to work alongside men and grew our careers by blending in, with a closet full of dark suits. We hid anything that reminded male colleagues that we were different.

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I have now been in the corporate world for 40 years and have experienced it all – from casting couch mentors to distrust or outright aggression. Yes, and I was told as a single woman I didn’t have the same salary needs as my married colleagues.

The facts about women in the workplace

Here are the facts: Women are not mini-men.

We have different roles, and we need to create a work environment that enables women to both guide their families forward while accomplishing work and career goals.

Women have demands on our bodies and our time that are unique to us, whether we are dealing with pregnancy, miscarriage, breastfeeding or menopause. Half the population deals with these issues and are fearful and ashamed to ask for consideration or accommodations.

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Too often, “hormonal issues” are described in a derogatory or mocking way, implying the woman is less capable of sound decisions or is weak. In my career, I went to work after miscarriages because I was concerned about my job if I didn’t. I needed to show I was no different from my male colleagues.

I am so grateful this is no longer necessary, but we haven’t come far enough.

The fact remains that women are leaving the labor force in large numbers and in higher percentages than men, and we as a country cannot afford this loss.

A better workplace for women

The workplace culture our daughters and granddaughters are stepping into looks different now because of those of us who have come before them. Therefore, let’s address the final hurdle working women of my generation are facing: the hidden topic of menopause.

Menopause occurs when women are most likely to move into top leadership positions, with up to 20% of the U.S workforce affected by menopause symptoms. Yet, in a survey conducted by Biote – which specializes in preventive medicine, including hormone therapy – we found almost 90% had not talked to their employer or manager even though almost 1 in 5 had quit or considered quitting their job due to dealing with menopause symptoms.

We need to normalize this natural stage of life. We need to include menopause information in the school curriculum. We need to ensure medical colleges and residencies incorporate menopause education in training. We need to increase clinical studies of women’s health. We need to let women know their symptoms have natural causes, that treatments like hormone replacement therapy exist, and that we can change this last workplace equality barrier.

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For menopause, a natural stage of life, to be stigmatized is unacceptable.

Let’s start supporting women in the workplace throughout all their life phases. When women need accommodations, let’s make those conversations easy and the adjustments routine.

Let’s keep having these difficult conversations with our employers and our colleagues so that it becomes commonplace to provide the necessary answers. Let’s continue to move forward so that our daughters, and our granddaughters, can enter any stage of their life informed, prepared and proud.

Terry Weber is CEO of Biote. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women still face barriers in the workplace for being themselves.