Mind fog, memory lapses, anxiety, hot flashes, chills, insomnia, itching, numbness, joint pain, headaches, changes to taste and smell, heart palpitations and hair loss. This sounds like a list of symptoms for some hellish illness, but it is actually a (not exhaustive) list of possible menopause symptoms. I have to admit that I, like many others, wasn’t aware of the extent of them.
The truth is, that menopause and its impact are barely addressed, despite affecting half of the population. It’s a pretty difficult period of life for many women, and it’s affecting goals around female leadership due to the sheer volume that feel compelled to leave work for health reasons. A recent Menopause and Workplace report from the Fawcett Society and Channel 4 revealed that one in 10 women has left work because of menopause symptoms, even more have had to reduce hours and more women have not applied for promotions they may well have deserved.
When you look at the roster of senior women in the ad industry compared with women at the junior levels, there’s a clear falling away as you move up the ladder. Women face various challenges throughout their careers including period pain, returning to work from maternity, child-rearing while working, sexism in the workplace and then – another hurdle – menopause.
That’s why I’m really proud to be steering Wacl’s committee focused on menopause as part of our Women’s Health Hero initiative, and launching our open-source menopause policy today.
Nishma Robb, the 101st president of Wacl aims to build momentum behind Wacl’s “50% CEO campaign”, which is pushing to have half of the chief executive roles in the industry filled by women by 2045. Currently, only 30% of CEO roles in advertising and communications businesses are held by women. When she asked me to lead our menopause committee and deliver an industry-wide policy, I was honoured – if not a little nervous.
Why? Menopause may be gaining more traction as a topic du jour, but advocating for policy change is a step that asks businesses to commit time, money and resources. These are things that are difficult, especially in an era where inflationary pressures are making most in our industry even more cautious than usual about giving away those three things.
For me, the role means bringing to life why people who aren’t midlife women need to care about this issue. Our key goal isn’t to launch an open-source menopause policy, it’s to get businesses to sign up to it. As such, we wanted to make sure that men bought into supporting midlife women that they work with – and were up for talking about this once taboo subject.
But we need to standardise so women can succeed in this industry. Wacl’s policy includes commitments to offering flexible working, such as early office leaving time to avoid the (hot) rush hour on public transport, welcoming a relaxed dress code that embraces looser fabrics, the option to turn the camera off on calls when not feeling comfortable, paid sick leave for menopause symptoms, a cool working environment and provision of a desk fan – and more.
We are asking just three things of ad industry leaders:
Download the policy
Adapt and adopt the policy
Educate your managers about menopause and supporting midlife women in their teams
Number three is critical here. It’s easy to say: “We have a policy” but actually investing in how people are managed in their day-to-day roles is essential to workplace happiness, and the ability of women to feel empowered to take the options provided to them by the policy. I am proud to say that we are doing so at EssenceMediacom. It works – 40% of the senior women who took part in a trial menopause coaching programme we ran have since been promoted.
Many of these changes are small concessions that make an immeasurable difference to women’s experiences at work.
It’s important to note that a lot of businesses in our industry have already taken action in this space – plenty have either implemented or plan to announce menopause policies within their organisations. In fact, it was Melissa Robertson, chief executive of Dark Horses who drafted the brilliant policy we adapted ours from. To those businesses that already have fantastic policies in place, our concern is around awareness. The Advertising Association 2023 All in Census found that a pretty astounding 64% in our industry simply “don’t know” whether their company has a menopause policy. So whether it’s adopting the policy or better-educating managers and wider staff, there’s work to be done on empowering midlife women in the workplace.
And so, on World Menopause Day, we ask all leaders in our industry to read our policy or re-read their existing policy, and start taking steps to action it within their organisation.
Kate Rowlinson is chief executive of EssenceMediacom UK, and