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How and why PR must talk about the menopause

Around 13 million people are currently peri- or menopausal in the UK, which adds up to one-third of the UK female population  - so it is important that all organisations are aware of how they can support women through, what is likely to be, a challenging time. The PR industry in particular has a duty to educate others, as well as properly care for its own people.

The PR industry is failing women

Riannon Palmer, founder of Lem-uhn PR Agency: “The majority (64%) of PR professionals are women. However, the PR industry is doing little to accommodate their menstrual cycles. Our industry has long been known for failing to look after employee wellbeing with 91% of PRs experiencing poor mental health in the past year. When it comes to menopause it’s no different. Almost half (44%) of those who have periods experience three or more severe symptoms of the menopause. Without adjustments at work, this can lead to detrimental consequences. One in ten (10%) menopausal people who are or have been employed during menopause have left their job due to their symptoms revealed by the Menopause And The Workplace report.”

Policies must be put in place

Riannon Palmer: “Although the PR industry is predominantly female when it comes to senior positions, men dominate the industry. The industry can’t let the number of senior women in PR drop due to not accommodating something that affects half of the world. Many agencies have returned to a less flexible structure which means those needing more flexibility feel awkward about asking for accommodations. The PR industry needs an overhaul. But menopause is just the tip of the iceberg. It needs to become a more positive industry to ensure it can keep attracting and retaining top talent. We’ve made a step towards this with our feel-good PR ethos. One of our measures to create a better type of agency was launching a menstrual leave policy last year. It allows our employees to take up to 10 days of leave due to severe menopause or period symptoms, or following pregnancy loss.”

Create a more open work culture

Ellie Glason, managing director of research and insights agency Perspectus Global: “PR is dominated by women and all women will go through the menopause - whatever form it might take. So talking about the menopause, and creating a work culture that promotes openness, understanding and support, is vital.

“After the Government rejected the Women and Equalities Committee’s recommendations on the menopause back in January, initiatives such as introducing menopause leave and appointing menopause ambassadors are voluntary - but forward-thinking PR companies will be embracing such measures (and would be mad not to given the very tight labour market).

“We are currently working on a report into the menopause at work, which reveals that nearly half (49%) of women aged 45 plus would not feel comfortable talking to a line manager about menopausal symptoms. This must change - in PR and in the wider world of work.”

Communication is key

Kirsty Leighton, founder of agency Milk and Honey PR: “I’ve been enjoying the full throes of menopause for a couple of years now and talk about it to anyone that will listen!

“In our agency we are all encouraged to share what is going on with each of us so others can support. Everyone I know going though peri- or post-menopause seems to experience it differently. For me it is lack of energy, dark thoughts, poor sleep, feeling weepy. I tell my team what is going on so they know my reaction is my hormones not them. I have found HRT and anti-depressants very helpful. But this stage lasts 10-12 years so it is not something I can just sweep under the carpet.

“Communicating with my friends, family and colleagues makes it easier and more transparent for all of us.”

Let’s keep the conversation flowing

Kate Usher, menopause and gender equity consultant: “Menopause is a fact of female life. All women go through it, it’ll be unique to each of us and because of the nature of it everyone around us will experience it too. If we want to break the taboos and bias that surround this phase in life, support brilliant women to continue with their hard-fought for careers then it should be something we are all talking about, women and men.

“We are seeing far too many women step back from their ambitions or leave work altogether because of their symptoms and a lack of open conversation. Our organisations, communities and society as a whole, need more women to take their place in positions of influence. To do this we need to talk and continue talking about menopause.”

Rebecca McLeod director of communications agency Jack & Grace: “Thankfully, the menopause is having a bit of a moment. It could be my age, or the company I keep, but the conversation has leaked out of the margins and into the mainstream. And thank goodness for that. It turns out women have jobs and we aren’t going anywhere once we hit 45.

“It definitely wasn’t talked about when I started work in the last millennium, but something has shifted because I mentioned the menopause in my first week at Jack & Grace and I haven’t stopped since.

“I’m lucky I work for a progressive company with a menopause policy, but I believe real change happens in the everyday conversations we all have. So let’s talk about the menopause, and not stop until we all have a menopause policy and proper measures in place to support women at work.”

Support groups are essential

Ilona Hitel, MD at agency CommsCo: “PR is still an industry heavily staffed by females, so yes, absolutely, there should be an awareness of menopause issues within businesses, both in-house and agency.

“Menopause symptoms can range from physical to cognitive, but half of the battle is being able to talk about it in office environments, and openly discuss what is hindering performance.

“There are not enough experienced women in PR and this is probably one of the reasons why. I’m delighted that the issues have become so much more in the open than before, to change the opportunities presented to females later in their careers. I think support groups between women are essential for us to learn from one another. The menopause can take you by surprise and there is no one size suits all, every case is individual, and it can be a frightening time. I myself benefited greatly from hearing from other women in the sector.”

It is time to normalise the menopause

Fiona Scott, MD of Scott Media: “As a woman in PR in my late 50s I feel it's essential that menopause is spoken about authentically and with passion because it's integral to the lives of a large section of the population. Often, when many men of middle age are at the height of their achievements in life or business, women can face up to a decade of physical and mental health issues due to something they cannot help. This can make them very invisible and, frankly, overlooked across multiple sectors and markets. The more 'normal' we make menopause the more more mature women will feel valued, supported and seen as successful.”

Asking for help is a strength

Alex MacLaverty, group COO at comms agency Clarity: “We have found that the key to providing a supportive, inclusive environment is to try to cater for our teams' needs at every stage of life, from graduation to retirement. Whether it's facing the menopause or anything else, we need to talk about these issues and make them mainstream conversations within the agency regardless of age or sex. We must provide sympathetic policies around time off and allowances for specific needs within the office while also encouraging teams to engage with their managers. Asking for help should be considered a sign of strength, not a weakness.

“We now have policies covering everything from menopause to fertility treatment, menstrual health, supporting those transitioning or caring for older relatives - and plenty in between. Hopefully this empowers the team to see us as an agency where they can build their career no matter what life throws at them.”

PR has the power to change mindsets

Orla Graham, insights consultant at media monitoring agency CARMA: "PR occupies a unique space when it comes to taboo topics. PR isn’t just any old industry when it comes to challenging taboos and encouraging social progress. PR’s relationship with the media means it can - and should - play a leading role in raising awareness, engaging people and changing minds.

“There are so many ways to do this - sharing information and symptoms via experts/personal stories; challenging governments and trade bodies to improve working practices; lobbying for improved healthcare and training; showcasing the benefits of flexible working practices on talent retention and diversity, to name but a few. And to understand the impact of these strategies, PRs must analyse media for themes, commentators and audiences, measured against outcomes data like support/information inquiries, search interest, workplace surveys, awareness studies, parliamentary discussion, etc. Challenging the status quo isn’t easy, but PR can do it - and prove it, if they measure properly."

It is important to educate everyone

Jennifer Chapman, people director at communications agency The Pretty Green Group: “We will always support, but never define, our staff going through the menopause.

“The menopause conversation has been transformed in the last decade, with Davina and a host of influencers leading the charge, helping the health and wellbeing of millions of women. As it stands the medical profession are woefully under-educated with GPs receiving little training and NHS clinics numbers dwindling women struggling with symptoms invariably must do their own research.

“Without keeping the conversation going we cannot support and educate all our staff.

“Of 3,800 women polled by Dr Louise Newson, 99% said they felt their symptoms led to a negative impact on their career, a devastating stat that needs to change to stop amazing talent leaving the industry.

“There are positive and negative aspects of the menopause, but neither should define us. Women are more than their biology.”

We need honesty, dialogue and innovative solutions

Grace Tucker, senior account manager at PR agency The Media Foundry: “Women’s health is a topic that still goes widely unremarked. Research from menopause specialists Health & Her reveals that 10% of women leave the workforce for good as a result of menopause, whilst one in four consider leaving. Whilst some women experience no symptoms, for others it can be a debilitating experience and force women to leave well-established careers.

“In PR, thankfully we’re starting to see a shift, in no small part thanks to the rise in femtech which is transforming women’s health both in the workplace and at home. Syrona Health, for example, offers inclusive and diverse healthcare solutions for both men and women in the workplace, and is opening lines of honest communication for conditions like menopause, to eliminate stigma and empower women in work. Across industries we need to adopt the same approach: honesty, dialogue, and innovative solutions.”

Forget the stereotypes

Denise Rawls, interim head of comms, Endometriosis UK: “As the interim head of comms at a gynaecological health charity, of course I would say we need to talk more about the menopause. One thing that the PR industry, which as we know is predominantly female and young, should be aware of is that the menopause is not confined to its stereotypical age group; it can happen earlier or later, and some treatments for endometriosis involve inducing medical menopause.

“Endometriosis UK runs the Endometriosis Friendly Employer scheme and whilst a few mainly smaller PR and comms agencies have joined, we'd love to have more come on board and commit to busting taboos around menstrual health and to supporting colleagues with this common, often-ignored and sometimes-debilitating disease. Organisations recognising the needs of those with endometriosis, or indeed those experiencing menopause, are making a good business decision; by showing their people are valued and that they can expect support and reasonable adjustments, you are likely to have a more engaged workforce and more effective staff.”

One step you can take as a PR employer is to sign, and encourage your clients to sign, this pledge - one simple positive action that will help make sure those going through the menopause are better supported.

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