In May 2021 I avidly tuned in to Channel 4 much talked about Davina McCall’s “Sex, myths and the Menopause” along with my friends who are mostly around my age. Menopause was something we were starting to talk about in our friendship group, floundering in the dark, could it be? What does it mean? Are we just going mad?
Davina didn’t disappoint and duly turned on the spotlight and swiftly answered our questions as well as opening Pandora’s box to plenty more (a follow on documentary aired last night co-incidentally). Fast forward a year later and many conversations are starting to take place so when I saw that PlaceShapers Diverse Voices were holding a session on menopause and the workplace I was extremely interested to see more on what was happening professionally amongst our peers. I was curious to how popular the session would be as it is still an uncomfortable subject for many.
It was a really welcome surprise that 50 men and women joined the workshop! I soon discovered that Davina has actually started a much bigger snowball effect than just my group of friends as both speakers said that that documentary spring-boarded them to either getting help individually or for their organisation. Caroline Parr from Community Gateway Housing Association and Amanda Knowles, Head of Development at Connexus, absolutely blew us away with their honesty, their personal difficulties and triumphs on their menopausal journey and how they are making a difference in the workplace. Mainly by talking about the elusive ‘M’ word.
So why is the menopause so taboo when it will affect absolutely everyone, and how can we change this, especially in the workplace? As Caroline says “it’s not just a women’s thing it’s a people’s thing”
Matthew Walker, PlaceShapers Chair, welcomed the participants and speakers and was pleased at the representation of men joining the group. “It’s really important as half the workforce are going to go physically through this with a significant impact on the other half. My wife has gone through it so I now have a much better understanding, but colleagues and employees as a whole just don’t talk about the menopause. We need to change the trend.”
Matthew introduced Caroline Parr who provided some amazing insight into what Community Gateway Housing Association are doing towards improving their culture to embrace this ‘people thing’. “Our journey with menopause and the workplace started last year. As an organisation we have a great wellbeing offer so wanted to provide more support. Statistics say that 1 in 8 women have left their jobs when suffering from the menopause, so this is also a retention issue, so we needed to know better how we could be supporting them.
A few facts; 3 in 4 women experience symptoms and 1 in 4 experience extreme symptoms. There are over 34 recognised symptoms that women cope with, with more being discovered all of the time.
When we did some staff identity profiling we found that there were potentially 100 women in our workforce that were either going through peri-menopause or menopause.
So we as an organisation decided to get the accreditation and become a Menopause Friendly employer. We have been working with Henpicked and already have implemented a policy, are changing our culture so people talk about the menopause and we are providing training to our managers. “
Caroline then went on to tell us her moving story with the menopause.
“I was 32 when I was told I can’t have children and that I should expect that I would start the peri-menopause stage. I didn’t realise what that meant so when I started to lose confidence, experiencing anxiety and OCD and imposter syndrome I got to point of ‘checking out’ of my job as I honestly thought I was going mad. And I love my job. Luckily I had a good GP who identified these as symptoms of the menopause and started me on HRT, which changed my life!”
Matthew then introduced Amanda Knowles to share her experience with the menopause journey.
“I have no idea when it started as it was going on for years before I realised that I was suffering from symptoms of the menopause. Headaches, sleeplessness, brain fog, aching joints and lots of crying. This all coincided with changes at work so I thought it was stress with work. So I was trying to look capable feeling a sense of misery. If I could have afforded it, I would have given up my job. Then I started to get the more ‘normal’ symptoms such as night sweats, painful breasts etc so I started to realise what it could be and then when I saw Davina’s documentary everything made sense. So armed with my knowledge I went to my GP expecting a battle, but he was really supportive and put me straight onto HRT.
I am now Amanda version 2.0 and feel amazing, more confident, lost weight and have my life back on track.”
Amanda and Caroline both caveated that the experiences are unique to every woman and sometimes HRT isn’t the solution for some and comes with its own risks. They both encouraged anyone seeking help to go to their GP and ask for a blood test to investigate further.
Summarising their insightful hours session are some of the quick wins and attitudes to start the baby steps of change to this cultural shift:
- Provide sanitary kits in the staff bathrooms and in company vehicles, which include wet wipes and deodorants for hot flushes/sweats.
- For women that wear a uniform make sure you always order extra and that the fabric is breathable.
- Provide desk fans in the office.
- Assign designated support groups.
- Flexibility to work from home, sleeplessness is a common symptom
- Awareness! It’s a cultural thing so people need to start to talk about it and make talking about the menopause acceptable.
And finally, “give yourself permission that it is ok to be not ok”
Vicky Kate, BCHA