Lisa McCandless 3

According to the British Menopause Society, 45% of women feel that menopausal symptoms had a negative impact on their work, and 47% who needed to take a day off felt they couldn’t tell their employer the real reason.

Menopause remains a taboo subject that many women and men feel uncomfortable discussing generally, let alone in the workplace. Today, on World Menopause Day, it’s important that we take time to call out the effects it can have on women in their careers and look at how we can better support those who are going through it.

Only last month, there was a news story about a female office manager who received compensation after her line manager told her she used the menopause as an ‘excuse for anything.’ Many will have been shocked by this manager’s outdated attitude, but others likely thought it sounded familiar. This situation won’t be unique and to address these attitudes, we need to encourage businesses to have open and honest conversations about menopause and perimenopause and the impact these changes have on half the country’s workforce.

At Premier Foods, we have been working hard to encourage open conversations around menopause. One of our most successful initiatives was the brainchild of a colleague at one of our manufacturing sites, who asked our Inclusion and Diversity Team for a safe space to talk about the often misunderstood life change when she started to experience her own difficulties. I’m so proud of her for speaking up, and that we had created a work environment which supported her in doing so.

The result is our ‘Menopause Cafes’, informal meetings held online once a month, where colleagues share experiences, offer support to each other and are occasionally joined by guest speakers. We also make an effort to invite and include male colleagues and we know some have appreciated the additional insight, not only into what their colleagues are dealing with but also their partners at home. It’s not just our older colleagues who dial in either, there’s plenty of interest from younger parts of the workforce who want to know what to expect.

Crucially, our Menopause Cafes don’t operate in a vacuum. They are one output of a new Employee Resource Group dedicated to gender issues, and we also now have six self-styled Menopause Warriors who keep the conversations going in their day-to-day roles. The group has just presented its “Menopause Monologues” to a roomful of industry leaders at a Diversity in Grocery live event, hopefully inspiring other businesses to do more in an effort to break through the taboo around menopause.

The success of the cafes is partly down to having colleague buy-in, allowing the initiative to evolve organically rather than having a shape and structure imposed on it by the business. Other tips I’d share are to ensure no group feels left out – there has to be the potential to accommodate all ages and genders. And don’t forget how general internal communications channels can keep the conversation going, whether on platforms like Yammer or in regular newsletters.

We know at least one colleague who was considering resigning because of losing confidence in her abilities has been supported to stay on. The cafes helped her realise her symptoms were likely down to the perimenopause and then she was able to work out what support she needed to carry on with the job she wanted to do. I’m sure there will be similar stories in the future, but we know there is much more to do across the country as a whole.

One billion women worldwide will be going through the menopause in the next decade. We must continue to normalise the fact of menopause at work through open dialogue, tailored policies, and empathetic leadership. Women’s careers can play a much more significant role later in their lives. They deserve workplaces ready to support them through all of life’s natural transitions, and businesses will benefit in turn by retaining experienced talent.

About the author

Lisa McCandless, Culture and Engagement Business Partner at Premier Foods.

For further menopause support, click here.

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