By: Christina Torrealba (she/her), Graduate Student in Community Health and Epidemiology
Let’s break the bias on the silence and create space for celebration, sharing of experiences and discovery of new ways of doing and knowing that support all employees. Let’s break the bias on menopause in the workplace. Let’s break the bias on mental health. Let’s break the bias in the way we communicate, in the language we use. Let’s break the bias in our communities, in our schools and in our offices.
March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD), and this year’s theme is #BreaktheBias. To learn a bit more about what it means to break the bias in the workplace and academia, I chatted with Director of the Office of Community Partnerships and Global Health, Shawna O’Hearn.
One of the missions of the #BreaktheBias campaign is to imagine a gender equal world, free from bias and stereotypes, which emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion. As Shawna says, in order to break the biases that women experience daily, everyone has to do their part. In January 2017, Dalhousie Medicine started the Diversity in Leadership initiative in order to understand the barriers in place for women advancing into leadership positions. Spearheaded by Dr. David Anderson, Dean of Medicine, the initiative consists of a nine-member task force which evaluates current representation of diverse groups in leadership roles, and considers how to best enhance diversity in leadership through changes in policies and practices.
“This work continues to understand and remove systemic barriers to leadership,” says Shawna, “encouraging more diverse approaches to leadership and broadening this definition could inspire people who don’t see themselves as leaders to take a second look.”
Another one of the missions of IWD is to create inclusive work cultures where women and non-binary peoples’ careers and achievements thrive, emphasizing the importance of supporting people experiencing menopause in the workplace. As part of her PhD research, Shawna has been examining women’s experiences with the transition to menopause in the work environment. As Shawna says, “menopause is rarely a topic of discussion in the workplace – even though half of the world’s population experiences or will experience this transition.”
Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 and can last between seven and 14 years. During this time, people experiencing menopause are often taking on additional responsibilities at work and at home – entering into leadership and management roles, and/or taking on additional caregiver responsibilities for aging family members. “Millions of postmenopausal women are coming into management and top leadership roles while experiencing symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment,” explains Shawna.
So, how do we #BreaktheBias in the workplace? “Creating a fully inclusive and diverse workforce is essential while also championing opportunities for safe dialogue to create supportive work environments so every team member can be their best self at work throughout this transition,” says Shawna.
In addition to presenting at Dalhousie’s Workplace Wellness Day in February 2022, Shawna is also leading a Menopause Support Group through Human Resources. To learn more about International Women’s Day 2022, and how you can help #BreaktheBias, visit the official IWD website.