It's time to change the change

Open-source menopause policy

At the end of last year, I was described as ‘rare as unicorn tears’. Ok, maybe it wasn’t about me specifically, but it was how Jane Evans (founder of Uninvisibility and co-author of “Invisible to Invaluable. Unleashing the Power of Midlife Women”) described the devastatingly low number of women over 50 in our industry.

It begs the question of why everyone is working so hard to bring young women into the industry, and then spectacularly failing them every step of the way. Until eventually, around the time of the menopause, they just give up to plough their own furrow, because they’ve just had enough of the apathy, ignorance, and incompassion. 

This isn’t just an assertion of desertion, it’s a validated fact of the matter, and most clearly summarised in a startling piece of research that Bloomberg undertook in 2019 and released last year, showing that over 900,000 women left their jobs ‘as a result of menopausal symptoms.’ 

This isn’t down to women getting a bit hot and flustered in a few meetings and throwing the towel in. Menopausal symptoms are wide-ranging, from the physical - sweats, flushes, chills, headaches, palpitations, bladder issues, muscle pain; to the psychological - memory loss, insomnia, lowered libido, changes to taste and smell, bloating and weight gain, numbness, pins & needles, skin-crawling; to the mental - anxiety, depression, mood swings.

Frankly, it’s exhausting, and even more so when faced with so little understanding. Of all the stigmas and taboos, this seems to be one that people just markdown as a fact of life, one that we just have to get over or get out. There is so little in place to arm organisations with the understanding and processes to help employees navigate it in a humane and empowering way. 

But why wouldn’t we want to collectively fight to keep an army of intelligent, experienced women who know their shit and bring so much into the workplace? We can’t afford to lose them. It’s time to change the change.
We need to make it ok to talk about the symptoms, challenges, and personal experiences. It shouldn’t require wonderful bosses with natural empathy, EQ and progressive thinking to plough their own furrow. It shouldn’t need to be ‘discussed with HR and the board’ (code for: pop it on the shelf until we are forced to address it). Come on. It’s not that difficult. It doesn’t need to be agonised about, but it does need to be actioned.

And thankfully, I work at an agency where, despite their youth and enviable distance from menopause, I couldn’t have been met with more kindness and support. I realised that I was going to struggle to meaningfully head up an agency if I constantly lived in fear of what might have seemed like inexplicable wobbles, driven by my regular, but ever-changing symptoms. I’ve always preferred to be open, and I put the odd toe in the water to see if they were horrified if I mentioned the menopause. But they weren’t, so I did. I explained about my word holes, insomnia and anxiety, the numbness and aching, and instead of recoiling, they leaned in. And I'd created a number of coping techniques, from a 'glossary' of oft-lost words in the front of my notebook, to prepping colleagues to dive in when I’m floundering - and it has definitely helped.

It led to us being more proactive as an agency. Last year, Dark Horses released an Open Source Menopause Policy. It was well researched, informed and checked by some of the best in the business, and made to be easily (maybe even enjoyably) digestible. It is entirely open and available to all, with an invitation to adapt and flex it to suit every business. In the policy, we delve into the science behind menopause but it also explains symptoms and the way in which women struggle in everyday life when going through it. 

I understand that the idea of being open about menopause can be daunting to companies and business leaders. We are used to clear boundaries and perhaps this steps outside what is the familiar level of expertise and comfort zone. 

That is why the policy has been created specifically for businesses to adapt and use in a way that suits them. Whether this is taking the policy on board and applying it to staff training, using the variety of research provided, or creating workshops that educate and engage in equal measure.

Here are some baby steps to just show, as an organisation, that this matters:

  • Read the open-source policy and associated reading materials
  • Adapt it to suit your business (but don’t fill it with additional unnecessary guff or qualifications that undermine your sincerity)
  • Share it with staff
  • Appoint a menopause champion (they don’t have to be in HR, and they don’t even - shock/horror - have to be a woman; they just have to be knowledgable, empathetic and supportive)
  • Carry out some simple and free SurveyMonkey-style research to get additional (and anonymous) insight into how people feel
  • Run some workshops
  • Feed it all back into your policy, company behaviours and training programmes