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The Importance of the M Word

After her own bad experience with the menopause, Katie Taylor founded The Latte Lounge to support other women. Katie came in to talk to me about the importance of the topic. With an estimated 1 in 6 women in the workforce now aged 50 and over and 1 in 5 leaving employment because of menopause symptoms it’s critical that HR and diversity and inclusion practitioners are aware of the challenges women face.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon. Future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hey there, thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of the inclusive growth show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today we’re going to be talking about the menopause at work. It’s something that has come up fairly recently with many of my clients talking about how the menopause affects people whilst at work, and what employers should be doing to better support employees. And just before we recorded this interview, I actually saw an article in the Times, and the headline was called businesses fail to deal with menopause. I’m just want to read a snippet of the article before we meet Katie Taylor, my guest for today, and the article said that the majority of British businesses are failing to deal with menopause in the workplace. According to new research, just one in five employers considers menopausal symptoms during performance reviews of female staff, while only a quarter have a menopause policy at all, a study conducted by the Law Firm Irwin Mitchell.

Toby Mildon: So the study of HR Leaders revealed that most companies lack training for managers on this area, and they’re not confident that their female employees can talk freely about menopause. Irwin Mitchell said that the lack of policy action will make it harder for businesses to attract new employees, and warns that it could result in discrimination claims in the future. Noting that there has been the significant rise in the number of employment tribunals where menopause is mentioned in the past two or three years. So it’s gonna be an interesting topic, and I want to open this up by saying that I think I might be suffering from a little bit of imposter syndrome, because the menopause is not an area that I’ve really explored much. I’m a 40-year-old guy. I have very little experience in menopause, so Katie is going to enlighten me and hopefully enlighten you as well as we listen to our conversation today, and I’d said that if I get anything wrong, if I get any terminology wrong, Katie is perfectly within her rights to put me right. So Katie, thank you ever so much for joining me today. It’s lovely to see you.

Katie Taylor: Oh, pleasure, thank you for having me on.

Toby Mildon: So, Katie, can we just begin by you telling us a bit more about who you are, what your kind of story is and what led you to creating Latte Lounge, your organisation?

Katie Taylor: Yeah, sure. So I’m 53-years-old now. But 10 years ago, from the age of 43-47, I was suffering at the time with a whole host of very different debilitating symptoms. Yeah, I’m a mom of four kids, but I was always very capable, I was working in marketing for a charity, I loved my job, I had a great supportive husband, great kids, lovely supportive friends network. So there was no reason for me to be unhappy in my life. And yet, over this four-year period, I started feeling very depressed and teary, I suffered from anxiety, I suffered from aching joints, heart palpitations and a terrible brain fog where I just felt like I was walking in sticky trickle and forgetting words, and it was a really sort of strange out of body experience where I just didn’t feel connected with the outside world and my own emotions. And I kept going back and forward to various GPs and doctors and specialists, and every time they said I was suffering from depression and I was offered anti-depressants. And now I’m a doctor’s daughter, my father is a breast cancer professor.

Katie Taylor: So I’ve been brought up to sort of question and analyze. I’ve seen myself as a fairly well-educated woman, and I kept saying to the doctors, “Look, there is no reason for me being depressed, I don’t believe this is right.” But eventually, I just couldn’t cope at work. I was staring at budgets, which just looked like a foreign language to me. I was surviving on about two hours sleep a night, because I also have insomnia, I didn’t have hot flashes and I was still having periods. So there was at no point when I went to any of these doctors, did they say this was anything to do with my hormones. I eventually left my job because I just couldn’t function and I became a shell of a woman. I spent most of my days sleeping on the couch, I suffered from extreme exhaustion, and I thought I was going mad, I was also… As well as being sent to psychiatrists, I went to see someone that specialized in early onset dementia, which was very, very frightening. Eventually, it was my father after four years. So by then I was about 47, who said, “Look, I’m convinced this is your hormones.” And he sent me to see a gynecologist who he worked with, who specialized in menopause. And with half an hour of her discussing my symptoms, she said, “Well, this is classic Perimenopause.” And to me, this was a light bulb moment.

Katie Taylor: I’ve never heard of the word Perimenopause. She explained it was because my estrogen levels were on the floor, and that we have estrogen receptors all over our body, and that’s why I was suffering from all these different symptoms. She prescribed hormone replacement therapy for me, which replaces your natural hormones. A lot of people know it as HRT, and within about three to four weeks, I felt like my old self, a new woman. I felt very angry at my four years of lost life, and that I’d have to give up my much loved job, and that night of my diagnosis, I came home and sat on my bed crying with relief that I wasn’t going mad, but also I was sort of frustrated that this had happened. So I turned to Facebook to see if there was anyone else talking about this, and I couldn’t find any groups that we’re talking about women’s health issues over the age of 40. So I set up the group, and I called it the Latte Lounge, because I wanted it to feel like a sort of coffee shop, online coffee shop where women would come and talk to their friends, or obviously people online that didn’t know about all things mid-life menopause. So that’s sort of how the Facebook group started. And then what I realized very quickly was within 24 hours, I had a 1000 member requests and I thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m not alone.

Toby Mildon: Alone.

Katie Taylor: Yeah, [chuckle] this is, this is crazy, this is happening to lots of other women, so I thought I needed to sort of build a website and put together a medical advisory team who could really support, inform and signpost these women with all their questions about perimenopause and menopause, and also all their other mid-life health and well-being issues that they came to us to talk about.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, that’s amazing. And I mean, it sounds like an incredibly challenging and difficult period, and so, obviously, you work with a lot of individuals and you work with a lot of organisations now, what are the top challenges that you’re seeing employers facing when supporting people at work experiencing the menopause?

Katie Taylor: Yeah, well, I’ll give you some sort of statistics which will put everything into perspective, menopausal women are now the fastest growing segment of the workforce, it’s estimated that around one in six people in employment are now women over 50. Menopause and perimenopause is really affecting women in the workplace. 14 million working days are lost in the UK because of menopause and perimenopause, and six in 10 menopausal women say it has a negative impact on their work, and research has shown that one in five women have left their job like I did because of it, and also like me, on average, women are visiting their doctors anywhere from three up to 10 to a dozen times, to speak about their symptoms, and this obviously results in additional sick leave from work, and causes a lot of anxiety and stress, not just in the workplace, but at home. So it’s really, really important for businesses to address this, and that’s why I’m very passionate about supporting employers and people going through the menopause in the workplace. So if there are businesses looking for guidance on how to increase awareness in the workplace, we always say a really good way to start is to break down the taboos.

Katie Taylor: You’re saying you’re a 40-year-old man and you have this impostor syndrome, there’s no reason why you should know about this, and there lies the problem, menopause and perimenopause was never taught at school, so we were taught about giving birth or stopping from getting pregnant, and then you would sort of hear nothing, you might hear about menopause, but boys, young boys and children, it wouldn’t be of interest. So we’ve grown up with no knowledge of this period between 40 and 50, add to that the fact that there is no mandatory menopause training at medical school, and you’ve got doctors coming out of medical school with almost zero knowledge themselves. The only thing really that they’ve been taught is that menopause is hot flashes and a year since your last period, but nobody talks about the 10 years before when your hormone levels fluctuate or plummet and they can cause these symptoms. So you’re up against so much already. So empowering businesses to improve employee retention, it’s win-win for everyone, and it will remove barriers to women progressing in their careers, it will reduce sickness levels, it will reduce employment tribunals, so women are being discriminated at work because of their symptoms, it will boost productivity, and it’ll foster a more inclusive and open workplace culture, and make women feel happier and more engaged at work.

Katie Taylor: And there are lots of ways we suggest to employers that they can support women, so we can help with things like awareness events, where you might do some impersonal virtual panels or small group discussions, and what that does is break down the taboos, it informs and educates not just employers, but the employees, and hopefully their wider family too. And we can support with policy development, menopause guidance, providing tool kits, things like menopause resources, and lots of sort of… Well, we provide menopause for managers, like tailored information and training sessions for line managers, so there’s lots you can do and we can help internal comm support as well roll out policies and resources.

Toby Mildon: That’s great, and I think, yeah, your dog was concurring with you in the background. [chuckle]

Katie Taylor: Oh, screw me. Can you hear that? Ugh.

Toby Mildon: But it’s okay. It’s fine, it’s fine. So you were saying that obviously a good place to start is raising awareness. I mean, quite often I talk to my clients about how we embed diversity and inclusion into the organisation, so it’s a part of the furniture, so to speak. Is there anything that employers should be doing to kind of get more support into the way that they work, their processes and systems and policies, and that kind of thing?

Katie Taylor: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a really good thing to have a policy, and not because it’s a tick box thing, but just so that when employees join an organisation or existing employees know what support there is in place, we always suggest having menopause ambassadors, sort of dedicated personnel who people know they can go to discuss these things, and also some employers would be happier to just suggest some resources and some support groups perhaps off-site, so we do a lot of business-to-business support where we will do a group, say, Zoom session where we will take a group of women from an organisation and support them with things like how to recognize your symptoms, how to speak to your doctor, how to speak to your employer, how to ask for perhaps changes in your working environment. So it could be something depending on what women’s individual symptoms are, if they are experiencing hot flashes, for example, maybe having a fan at the desk, sitting by a window, having shorter meetings, so toilet breaks where they can cool down and especially if the brain fog is setting in that kind of thing.

Katie Taylor: And if they are working where they’re wearing certain uniforms which are uncomfortable, perhaps changing uniform, or take that kind of thing, working from home, flexible working, especially when you’re, like I was, you’re suffering with insomnia, sometimes it’s incredibly hard to drag yourself into work when you’ve had very little sleep.

Toby Mildon: And presumably, if people are taking time off to go to medical appointments and things like that, the employer needs to make sure that somebody isn’t detrimentally affected by that, so not expecting employees to use holiday time to go to those appointments, making sure that their performance management at work is not affected just because they’ve had to take time to go off to
various appointments, that kind of thing.

Katie Taylor: Absolutely, and I think a good employer will understand that, and it’s a wider issue and it’s not just women’s health, it’s men’s health as well. I mean, I’ve got a 25-year-old daughter who is absolutely terrified of asking for time off, she’s been putting off a doctor’s appointment now for probably about a month, and it’s crazy and women suffer with all sorts of issues. I unfortunately suffered from a miscarriage in my very first job. Instead of sort of having some time off to deal with that, I dragged myself into work straight away the next day. And now I know, I think times have changed, and that was probably over 25 years ago now, but I think having set times or not set times, just conversations where it’s okay to take some time off to go and see a doctor. But I think if you get in there ahead of the game and employers show support and understanding about perimenopause and menopause from day one, hopefully they won’t need time off because they’ll be able to get sorted, which is why I do what I do, I don’t want anyone to spend four years looking for answers, I could have actually been completely sorted in day one, had my doctor and had my employer known what was going on.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. When employers get it right, and they’re supporting their people experiencing the menopause in the right way, what do they stand to gain and benefit from being such a supportive employer?

Katie Taylor: Well, I think, obviously happiness, you’re improving your employee retention, you’re gonna keep key talents. I mean, we’re talking about women from their 40s, maybe up until sort of 60, but I think the sort of peak 45-55 is when things seem to be the worst. And this is core talent, this is key talent, these are people who have had possibly 25, 30 years of experience, and to suddenly lose them when they are at the peak of their careers is crazy. So if you can improve employee retention, help women progress up their careers in the way that they should, you’re reducing that sort of sickness levels, there’s no risk of tribunals, and you’re just, as I said, fostering a happier, more engaged workforce. So it’s win-win for everyone. And every time you lose a key piece of talent, you’ve got that expense of having to recruit someone new and train them up again, it’s a no-brainer, in my opinion.

Toby Mildon: So the question that I ask everybody when they come on this show is, what does inclusive growth mean to you?

Katie Taylor: Inclusive growth, which for me, I obviously, I have to talk about the menopause, is breaking down the taboos and making it okay to talk about this in the workplace, and supporting women wholeheartedly to stay in their jobs. I’ve been campaigning now for six years with a colleague called Diane Danzebrink who set up the make menopause matter petition, and we’ve been going back and forward to Parliament asking for three key aims, and one of them is for all workplaces to have menopause policy in place. And also to have a mandatory menopause training for all medics, and for it to be on the school curriculum. In England, it now is on the school curriculum, which is fantastic, but if I could sort of say one thing in terms of inclusive growth is, if we could encourage every employer to, even if they don’t want to start with policy development, to start with awareness and just signing up to the idea of supporting their talent, then I think you’ve got a fantastic employer there and women will stay. And I must just say that menopause doesn’t obviously just affect women, that there’s the whole trans community as well, and I interviewed a very brilliant lady called Tania Glyde who set up a forum called Trans Menopause. She said to start using the word people more than women, so everybody who’s affected by menopause doesn’t feel excluded, because we want everyone just to get the right support.

Toby Mildon: That’s a really, really good point. And I’m glad you said that, because I hadn’t considered that at all, as I said, this is a very educational conversation for me, and that’s something that employers should be considering in the language that they use in any policy, it’s like when I was working at Deloitte and I was reviewing our parental policies, we rewrote our policies and we moved away from language like mothers and fathers to parents, ’cause recognizing that parents come in all shapes and sizes, and where families come in all shapes and sizes. So yeah, I think language is really important. Yeah.

Katie Taylor: Absolutely, and listen, I’m learning all the time as well, and I think what’s important is no one should be embarrassed, and bringing men into the conversation is absolutely vital, because there are obviously so many male employers, but our partners and our sons, I’ve got three young boys who now know more about menopause than most people, and I’m really proud of them, and I think their future partners will be delighted that they are fully aware, and I just think the more we talk about it, the more we break down these taboos, the more we will retain this key talent, as I said, and a happy, inclusive culture at work.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, it’s an important point to normalise the conversation, like we need to normalise other topics of diversity and inclusion within the workplace, and everybody needs to be part of the conversation, particularly those that are holding power and privilege within an organisation, because they really do affect the strategy and direction and culture of an organisation. So yeah, there’s loads to think about. I think I’ve taken away raising awareness to really get people thinking about this and normalising the conversation, as I just said, introducing a policy so that we can start to hard wire it into the organisation, and that’s probably a good place for organisations to start. I mean, so many organisations that I talk to haven’t even done that, so just focusing on those two things is probably a good starter for them.

Katie Taylor: Absolutely.

Toby Mildon: Before we go, I know that obviously, you do a lot to support individuals and organisations, if the person listening to our conversation right now needs to get in touch, wants to get further support and help from you, what should they do?

Katie Taylor: Well, they can look in our website, which is lattelounge.co.uk. If you’re suffering with symptoms yourself, I would first recommend that everyone downloads our Symptom Checklist, it’s a free downloadable checklist, because that is something that you can then take to your doctor’s appointment to discuss it. Often, doctors only have 10-minute appointments, and so they don’t always join the dots, so that’s a really good place to start. For employers, we offer a whole host of different offerings and resources to support employers with writing policies or creating awareness events, and providing resources, so they can email me at [email protected] and I’m really happy to discuss further any support they need.

Toby Mildon: That’s wonderful, and any clients that come to me that ask for support around supporting people with menopause at work, I will be sending them in your direction.

Katie Taylor: [chuckle] Thank you, Toby.

Toby Mildon: Katie, thank you ever so much for joining me today. It’s been a really interesting conversation, and I’ve learnt lots, and thank you for tuning into our conversation, hope you took some really interesting information and insights away that you can start applying to your own organisation, until the next time. I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. Until then, take care.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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