Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Health Science

Schools and Centres

Health Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Helen Parker

Second Supervisor

Dr Sue van Leeuwen


The majority of women will experience perimenopausal symptoms (Hickey, Davis & Sturdee, 2005; MacLennan, 2009) with an estimated 20% of those experiencing severe symptoms (Hickey et al., 2005). Many of these symptoms have the potential to directly or indirectly affect work performance including hot flushes and night sweats which are experienced by 85% of perimenopausal women (Baldo, Schneider, & Slyter, 2003). Symptoms may begin several years before the cessation of menstruation and may last well into old age (MacLennan, 2009).

This research sought to explore the perceived impact of perimenopausal symptoms on women in leadership roles: how they managed symptoms; the factors that influenced their decisions regarding treatment options and their recommendations for women in similar circumstances. Information was gathered through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 17 female leaders. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) was employed to identify salient themes from the transcribed narrative. Four superordinate themes were identified:

- Distraction, disruption, discomfort and distress

- Soldiering on or taking control

- Keeping up appearances

- It’s lonely at the top

Participants reported that contending with the demands associated with a leadership role while experiencing perimenopausal symptoms was often distracting and for some, a source of physical and emotional distress which had the capacity to undermine confidence and work performance. Many reported feeling isolated because of the demands and status associated with their work. This isolation often restricted opportunities to gather and share information about symptoms with other women.

The findings provide valuable insights into the experiences of a unique group of women. These insights inform further research and guide interventions and strategies that may assist women in leadership who may be experiencing perimenopausal symptoms.

In particular, the findings of this study indicate that women leaders and the health professionals from whom they seek advice and support are often ill-informed about the onset, nature and management of perimenopausal symptoms. Interventions that provide information and support in a timely and sensitive manner will benefit all perimenopausal women and particularly those in demanding leadership roles.


This thesis is submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Health Science of The University of Notre Dame Australia