None of my friends were experiencing this and my mother had died a few years earlier, so I had no one close to discuss it with. In fact it was three years before my GP would confirm my symptoms as the menopause. At work, my manager was a woman younger than me, and I did not feel comfortable discussing it with her. The reality was that I really struggled at work because my mind was often foggy and hot flushes came from nowhere, which made me feel very self-conscious and uncomfortable. In hindsight, it would have been so much easier if I could have had a conversation and some understanding from my manager.’
This is how one of our administrators described the challenges she faced at work while going through the menopause. She shared her story as part of a staff conference where the business hosted a daily one hour online event over the course of a week attended by the whole company. The objective was to open up the conversation about all aspects of diversity and inclusion, with each day focused on a different element of diversity awareness – including mental health, gender, disability, ethnicity, and age. Each hour included a pre-recorded video of someone’s own lived experience, a presentation about the challenges and issues they have faced, and a panel discussion about how different challenges can be overcome. The week was entirely hosted by staff from within the business, involving 30 different employees over the week (out of a business of 150). Despite the restrictions of COVID the event bought the whole business closer together. Collectively hearing the unedited personal lived experiences of colleagues from a broad cross section of the group meant we all felt the intimacy of their stories and could not fail to empathise with everyone involved.
Feedback from the week was astonishing, with many individuals stating how proud they felt working for a company willing to have these open conversations, how connected they felt to their colleagues and how it had sparked a real passion to embrace an inclusive culture. Participants appreciated the opportunity to have a platform to share their stories and receive acknowledgement from their colleagues about the challenges they have faced. Most importantly, it has established a culture of inclusion where staff are much more willing to celebrate difference and challenge historical ways of working.
Following this event, we also noticed that although the gender split of our middle managers is 50/50, they were often inadvertently becoming a blocker to supporting women’s progress in the business, usually through lack of knowledge or not joining the dots on how their actions are perceived. To address this, we have implemented monthly manager networks to discuss and agree best practice around our management techniques through a diversity and inclusion lens.
Last month we covered menopause, collectively we watched videos about the challenges of menopause in the workplace and discussed best practice of how we could support employees going through the menopause. We concluded the need to keep an open mind and avoid making assumptions about someone’s condition or how it may be affecting their ability to do their job. We also felt the need to treat every employee as an individual because menopause symptoms can vary hugely from person to person. From a practical perspective, we acknowledged the need to make physical adjustments, such as providing a fan, or education content on the intranet, but also changes such as offering a more flexible working arrangement.
For the majority of our managers, both men and women, this was the first time they had ever discussed or even considered the impact of menopause in the workplace. For many, the conversation was awkward but, within the hour, we were all sharing our own experiences and stories of our mothers and partners. We have a long way to go, but starting the journey to normalise the menopause conversation within the business should help our colleagues become more comfortable discussing their challenges with their manager and agreeing a flexible structure to support them through this period.
Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire and author of Inclusive Culture: Leading Change Across Organisations and Industries