Written by Emma Flaxman, Marketing, Wellbeing & DEI Partner at PHD UK.
The sad truth
When it comes to menopause, it’s not a subject most of us are familiar with – and don’t presume I’m only talking about men. Even though most of us women are aware we will go through it at some point, it appears many of us don’t fully understand what occurs when menopause starts, even those who are already perimenopausal. (Perimenopause: the stage just before menopause begins).
Considering every person who is born female – excluding those who’ve had their ovaries removed – will go through menopause at some stage, its exceptionally sad to learn that many of us (including myself) did not fully understand what happens when menopause occurs or the 30+ symptoms and side effects menopause can afflict on our bodies and brains. In fact, the hormonal upheaval that a woman goes through has been described as the same intensity as being a teenager!
In the workplace, these symptoms can impact our confidence, our ability to perform at our best and even affect the relationships we have with the people around us. Sadly, many capable and highly experienced women end up leaving the workplace all together due to the lack of support and/or understanding when they go through this life stage, prematurely ending their hard-earned careers.
What has changed?
Although a lot more work in this area needs to be done, thankfully, big changes are already being made.
This week, PHD were lucky enough to welcome Landy Slattery and Sarah Honeyball from Channel 4. Joining them both was PHD’s Ambassador of our Age Positive Team, Vanessa Hales and panel host and PHD’s Head of People, Kirsten Oates, who held an intimate discussion on the subject of Menopause.
Landy, Creative Director of All 4, 4creative which involves looking after the marketing creative for Channel 4’s on-demand platform ALL 4, and is co-chair of 4women, the gender equality network at Channel 4. Sarah, Client Lead in the 4Sales team is the co-chair of Channel 4’s Employee Reps, is a trustee of C4’s pension scheme and has worked at C4 for 25 years.
Alongside Landy, 4Women includes Jane English and Navene Alim, all of whom were incremental on launching the media industry’s first menopause policy on World Menopause Day 2019 and a year on, made their policy public for anyone else to use. 4Women is one of a strong network of employee groups working towards equality and inclusivity at Channel 4.
Omnicom Media Group have also recently launched their own menopause policy and despite sharing a lot of information around menopause during a whole week of women’s health month, the conversations around the topic still remain quiet.
As one of the key figures to launch C4’s Menopause policy, Landy shared with us her own experience of going through the menopause and how it impacted her ability to do her job and make decisions – something that forms a key part of her role. Without the knowledge that it was in fact the effects of menopause, it understandably had a significant impact on her confidence. Landy said “How can we learn we’re in it when women don’t even talk to other women about it?”. Once Landy started to open up, the women around her became more supportive and welcomed her to this new club with open arms.
She raises a great point. At a time when it feels like women are supporting each other more than ever, this should now start to be the norm. As Co-Chair of our mental health team and now Wellbeing partner at PHD, I’ve had similar experiences with the subject of mental illness. If there is a stigma attached to talking about it, people just won’t. When it comes to menopause, Landy talked about her own’s mother’s experience with menopause. Many of us in the room were aware our mothers were going through it, but how many of us talked to them in detail about what they were going through? How did affect them? How could have supported them more had we known?
As a woman with two sisters, who will all one day soon go through this in our own lives, it did make me realise I have to this day still not asked my own mum enough questions about her experience.
Vanessa, who has now gone through the menopause and is now out the other side shared how hard it was to go through it in silence at work. Feeling uncomfortable to openly discuss it can make going through it so much more difficult and stated “no woman should go through this alone”. It can be an incredible lonely time.
Due to this, Vanessa had to use online resources to get through it and said in particular how much she heavily replied on the website Meg’s Menopause. Sarah also shared some great resources on where to read up on what we’re going through or will go through. I’ve shared these resources at the end of this piece in the hopes they may help others.
Vanessa also offered support to anyone in the agency who needs it and told them to reach out to her. Women all over could take note and offer similar support in their own workplaces and networks.
In her story, Vanessa shared how she had to creative with her symptoms in order to get an appointment. She was eventually referred to the gynaecology department at Lewisham Hospital as the symptoms and pain she was experiencing were ignored by her GP.
During the discussion, there was a focus on medication. Menopause is a time when our estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a treatment to relieve symptoms of the menopause. It replaces hormones that are at a lower level as you approach the menopause.
I was recently told by a friend who was in the throws of menopause “Get on the HRT as soon as possible!”. However, getting your hands on this medication may not be as easy as you think. With a lack of supplies across the UK and specifically even less in certain areas, women have struggled to get hold of it.
When it comes to prescriptions themselves, Kirsten mentioned the cost of it – an additional £40 a month – which doesn’t make it even affordable to all. Only this morning on BBC Breakfast, Mariella and Dr Nighat Arif GP talked about how access to HRT is now fast becoming a socio-economic problem with some women having to make a decision between HRT or feeding them families.
If the lack of product or the cost of it isn’t enough, Sarah who started going through perimenopause at work before the launch of the policy and is still going through it now, shared how her own GP told her that she didn’t need HRT until her menstruation stops. Luckily for Sarah, she was able to speak to a private specialist who informed her this was not in fact the case and supported her through it.
This isn’t really surprising when you learn that researchers conduct five times as many studies into erectile dysfunction (ED) as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), despite only around 19% of men suffering from ED and 90% cent of women experiencing symptoms of PMS!
If our own GPs are not well informed on this topic, it means it’s even more important for us all to do our own research and support the women in our networks.
Sadly, not everyone has access to private medical care and Joanne Adelman, one of our PHDers in Manchester, openly spoke about her experience with the NHS. Many women take the birth control pill to help with hormonal changes in their bodies. The hormones in the Pill control the ovaries and the uterus and change the way the body works -mainly preventing pregnancy. Joanne told us how her GP took her off the pill before she felt ready as the side effects from coming off it were unbearable. Joanne had to fight several times in an attempt to get this decision changed. She went as far as asking for a hysterectomy before they finally decided to prescribe HRT.
The negative side effects of menopause are not the only things we need to be aware of. HRT can come with its own side effects. According to the NHS, headaches, feeling sick, indigestion and abdominal pain are just a few.
Kirsten went on to bravely share with the room how being put on the wrong form of HRT resulted in her suffering greatly with her mental health at work and until she found out the cause, was left fearing she was gravely unwell.
So what now?
Landy, Sarah, Jane and Navene at C4 have paved the way for the marketing and media industry as a whole. Open, frank discussions like the panel chat at PHD are a great way to educate and keep this conversation going in the workplace. This is important not only to women who unknowingly are already experiencing symptoms and those who are yet to experience them, but for our male colleagues, so they can better understand us, their wives, their mothers and help educate our children.
So read up, educate yourself, educate those around you and let’s keep talking.
Additional Recommended Resources from the panel