Senior women speak up: Make menopause part of the conversation at work

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Health and wellbeing are very important to us at Eton Bridge Partners, as we always look for ways that we can better support our colleagues.

Following on from our recent webinar with Lauren Chiren, “Demystifying Menopause at Work”, Executive Search Partner Katrina Stewart spoke to one of the participants, Claire Timmins, HR Director at Ipsos MORI. Claire was candid about her own personal experience, and the ways that Ipsos MORI are leading the menopause conversation by providing initiatives that are designed to support their colleagues during menopause.

“We just didn’t feel on top of our game”

Around 4 years ago, several senior female leaders at Ipsos MORI began talking about the menopause, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

“There were three of us that started to talk about menopause, then other people joined us, until there were about half a dozen of us, all sharing our knowledge about what we were doing personally to help ourselves. We knew about the Liz Earle podcast and through Liz we discovered the work of Dr Louise Newson.” Dr Newson is the UK’s leading authority on menopause, and often helps women who have challenging menopause symptoms, but who are finding it difficult to get help from their GP (which is sadly a common occurrence- although this is changing now).

“Our main symptoms were sleep disturbance, brain fog, anxiety and generally feeling ‘meh’; we probably weren’t aware of the 36 total symptoms’ that we could have been suffering. But that was enough for us to feel that we were struggling. We all just felt that we weren’t on top of our game. Some of us were even considering changing our working situation to accommodate the symptoms. This is when we knew that we had to create a culture where women felt empowered to talk about their symptoms and feel heard so that they could continue to work effectively.”

Menopause initiatives

As a result of this informal menopause group, Ipsos MORI have gone on to develop several initiatives and are now one of the UK’s leading menopause-savvy employers.

Some of the initiatives include:

  • The publication of a menopause information booklet – including key information about the menopause and where to go for support.
  • A menopause support group – where people feel able to share their experiences with discussion facilitated by an Ipsos MORI female Board member.
  • A menopause panel discussion and speaker events – which bust myths about the menopause, encourage employees to share experiences and provide exercise and nutrition advice.
  • The development of a menopause policy – which includes 10 days paid leave for menopause symptoms.
  • Various menopause events to build awareness and encourage an open and constructive conversation.

An incredible response

The response to the initiative has been remarkable, from both men and women.

“I had lots of responses, many of them saying how useful it was and how it has helped them understand and support their own wives or family members.

And because many of us are going through it, we do talk about it quite openly, and with our male colleagues too who are supporting their partners.

In fact, we’re running an event tomorrow about menopause where we are welcoming all members of staff.”

A personal account

Claire went on to share her own personal experience of how she has empowered her own menopause.

“I went to see my GP a couple of years ago because I wasn’t feeling myself. My symptoms included anxiety, brain fog and low mood. So, I went to see the GP who said it was either anxiety or perimenopause. I was fortunate to see a GP who was only a few years older than me who had experience with the menopause, but many don’t. I had heard that getting a diagnosis was difficult, so I went along with my NICE guidelines. The GP suggested that I had blood tests, which determined that my oestrogen levels were low. As a result, I went on HRT which alleviated, and then eliminated all my symptoms. I am now an advocate for HRT.

“Also, during lockdown, I took the opportunity to rethink nutrition and exercise. I now realise that I wasn’t eating enough, and this meant that I would eat rubbish food all evening. I now eat good nutritious food and do lots of strength-based training, rather than hours of hard work at the gym. As a result, I’m slimmer than I was before I had my kids and I’ve got bags more confidence!”

Go to your GP first

While employers have a duty to help women continue their career during menopause, women are encouraged to visit their GP if they’re struggling with symptoms. But as Claire said, one of the reasons that Ipsos MORI developed these initiatives was in response to the varied care many colleagues had received from their GP. Claire shared her tips for anyone who is going to their GP about menopause symptoms.

“The consultation is only ten minutes so make sure you:

  • Go armed with the NICE guidelines.
  • Know what your rights are.
  • Know that a blood test can’t diagnose menopause; use a menopause symptom tracker assess how you are feeling against the many different symptoms of menopause.

We are also trying to get the point across that menopause isn’t diagnosed with a single test, like many other conditions. It is about how you feel.”

Providing support for women before, during and after menopause

Ipsos MORI wants to ensure all its employees are able to enjoy and thrive in their working environment, no matter the stage of life and will continue to do what it can to create a safe and comfortable place to work.

“For some, the symptoms of menopause can be complex and the majority of people suffer these in silence, but this has to stop.  We need to be talking about the very real impact the menopause can have on people, both in the workplace and in their private lives, and empowering them to take that support when they need it. People at this life stage have a wealth of experience and knowledge and are enormously valuable to our business and we want to support our staff, so they continue to have successful and fulfilling careers.

With 5 million women aged 45-60 currently in work, and potentially considering leaving work due to menopausal symptoms, this could be a ticking time bomb for an already skills strapped employment market. Therefore, employers have to do everything they can to support their female staff.

It is encouraging to see how Ipsos MORI are leading the charge in the menopause conversation, and we hope this will encourage other employers to follow suit. A focus on the wellbeing of all staff members helps employers to attract and retain talent, while helping colleagues to continue to feel like they’re working to their potential. Something that everyone can get on board with!

Thank you, Claire, for your valuable and thought-provoking insights!