Deborah Garlick is CEO of Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, one of the UK’s largest, fastest growing communities for women and the author of Menopause: The Change for the Better.
She sat down with BIE Research Director and ED&I Lead, Eoin Canty, to discuss her enterprising work helping organisations UK-wide become menopause-friendly, how perceptions have changed over that time, the work still to be done, and some best practices for inclusive companies to follow.
Focusing on menopause is not something I ever thought I would do. It was a most unusual change in my career. My background is in corporate, with decades spent in large organisations like E.ON and Boots. In 2013, I launched Henpicked, a website for women who weren’t born yesterday, with some of my colleagues from Boots.
Back then, whenever we’d publish anything about menopause we’d see our traffic spike. Out of curiosity, we pulled the community together and asked them questions about menopause. We wanted to know what they wanted to know. And it was a lot.
Back then, menopause was one of those taboo subjects, and the knowledge just wasn’t there. We didn’t know the ages, stages, and symptoms of menopause. That’s how it all began for me – I started working in this area because of the community.
I thought that employers should be interested in this topic. After all, menopause can get in the way of wellbeing and D&I. So I thought they should know the facts. That’s what led me to launch Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace in 2016. We offer training for companies looking to improve their offerings for their employees, bring about cultural change, and develop best policies and practices.
It’s been really encouraging. I organised the first Menopause in the Workplace conference in 2016. It was the first one worldwide and we managed to attract big businesses. They came in wondering what they were doing there, but they left thinking that this was an issue they should do something about. And many of the companies that came to that first conference are still out there pioneering, making change and encouraging others to join them. They’re huge allies of menopause. Today we’re in contact with thousands of employers both the public and private sectors, supporting them, and helping them support others.
More and more companies are waking up to the need to support their employees through this life stage, the effects of which can impact men as well as women In fact, there are four key reasons companies should and do take action on menopause:
Yes, but I think it’s important to say that we’re on a journey when it comes to menopause. Things are improving, but we’re not where we want to be yet. Back in 2016, we couldn’t find a company policy on menopause in the UK. In 2019, the CIPD said 1 in 10 employers were taking action, and this year it’s more like 3 in 10. It’s remarkable progress in a short amount of time.
That being said, even though things are better, there are still individuals out there who feel vulnerable and disadvantaged in the workplace during menopause. Broaching this topic can be a real struggle. It’s been a taboo subject, and it’s still sensitive. But the more you talk about it, the more people join in, and the more normal the conversation becomes.
The issue is that it’s hard to start a conversation when you don’t know what’s going on – I know that from experience. If someone had looked at what I was experiencing and diagnosed me from the get-go, it would have saved me a lot of struggling and spared me from going through what was one of the worst years of my life.
I’d encourage them to keep a diary of their symptoms, whether physical or psychological, and track how they feel. It can be therapeutic to do, as well as deeply beneficial, because it gives you a clearer picture of what’s going on for you. And read up on menopause – it might be that, or it might not, but having the information and understanding what’s going on for you allows you to have a different conversation with your healthcare practitioner. And getting a diagnosis allows you to have a real, productive conversation with your employer about the support you might require.
Firstly, the thing to appreciate is that menopause is not a minority issue. Women make up almost 51% of the overall population, and the female employment rate is 72% in the UK as of December 2021. Menopause is a biological fact for women, so it’s an issue that impacts a huge number of people, either directly or through their relationships.
Having laid those foundations, there are several key steps employers can take.
I’d love to see more employers putting “menopause friendly” in their job ads, like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Kings Lynn did in 2021. It sends such an important message. And, after all, in today’s market, with the shrinking talent pool, if you were a female candidate shopping around, which job would you go for? The one silent on menopause, or the one that reassures you that you will be supported through that major life event that can happen to women, sometimes as early as their 20s and 30s?
One day, we’ll get to a point where we know about the symptoms of menopause, we know what to do to support people through it, and we’ll just do it. It won’t disrupt careers or lives anymore. We’re not there yet, but every time I see the statistics and I see the progress we’re making, I think it's a happy day.
For more information on menopause on the workplace, including useful resources, please read our article, Older workers and the workplace: menopause.