BBC Sunday Politics - University of Leicester Menopause Policy

Posted by pm357 at May 11, 2018 11:55 AM |
BBC Sunday Politics interviewed University of Leicester staff to find out how their menopause research helped shape a government report and led to the University of Leicester becoming the first University in the UK with a menopause policy.
BBC Sunday Politics - University of Leicester Menopause Policy

BBC filming Andrea Davies

Dr Andrea Davies is the academic lead for the Menopause Policy initiative at University of Leicester, and co-author of the 2017 Department of Education global evidence report on menopause transition and economic participation. She is an Associate Professor in marketing and consumption in the School of Business and continues to work with Dr Vanessa Beck (University of Bristol) and Professor Jo Brewis (The Open University) former University of Leicester colleagues and fellow co-authors on the government report to extend their recommendations made in their report into workplaces, including a large scale survey on Menopause at Work with TUC education this summer.

She was interviewed by the BBC's Sunday Politics show, along with research and HR colleagues, about her menopause research and the impact this has had at the University of Leicester and further afield. You can watch the episode here on Sunday 13 May or on the BBC iPlayer. She explains her work further:

What have you been researching and how did the BBC get interested in your work?

We have worked closely with Deborah Garlick from Henpicked to develop the University of Leicester Menopause Policy and even before the publication of the government report we were sharing our research insights concerning menopause transition and the workplace with her. Our government report published in 2017 on menopause transition and economic participation and how we have actioned this on home soil at the University plus our working partnership with Deborah that attracted the BBC’s attention. Not only were four academics at the School of Business the authors of the global evidence review on menopause and women's economic participation but we also are the first University in the UK with a menopause policy. Alongside this are several other firsts that Deborah has supported to bring menopause awareness and workplace initiatives into being, including the first utilities and energy companies E.On. and Severn Trent. Much of this work has also been supported by our report.

The BBC story focuses on how Leicester and several East Midlands companies have been leading the way on menopause and the workplace. The region is really pushing the agenda on menopause and is pioneering a transformation in workplace cultures around gender and age.

Dean of the School of Business, Professor Zoe Radnor paid for the initial policy work at the University of Leicester from her Dean’s Fund, with full support from the University Leadership Team. Implementing the main recommendations from our government report on what employers can do speaks directly to one of the strategic commitments of the University to put academic research into practice. As the first University in the UK to have a menopause at work policy we are an example of what can be done in practice. Our policy is available for other employers to view and we will be providing regular updates.

Sue Fish, an MBA alumna from Leicester and recently retired Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, was also a member of the team who developed the UoL Menopause Policy. She championed a menopause policy in Nottinghamshire Police and was delighted to be back at the School of Business to share her insights and experience.

What were your key messages for the BBC?

The piece focuses on gender equality in the workplace and leadership on this. Menopause is the focus and how the East Midlands are taking the lead.

Menopause transition is not problematic for all women. However, 25% women experience symptoms that are serious and have a significant impact on their lives. Symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia, anxiety and poor concentration can impact work but our report shows that the workplace can also make symptoms worse.

Other key messages are that 8 out of 10 women will be in work as they transition to menopause This is an emerging demographic situation as women of 50 and over are the fastest growing group in employment and are often in senior positions. It can therefore be costly for employers to ignore menopause. If it remains taboo and is not openly discussed and supported at work  there are potential productivity and performance losses but we know that many employers prioritise their moral and ethical responsibility concerning staff health and wellbeing. Menopause transition begins mid forties for women generally, with menopause achieved at 51. For a minority of women menopause can happen before they are 40 years old, sometimes due to other medical treatments. Awareness and employers support needs to recognise women in their forties and over, and also be aware that it can be earlier, making it all the more important that women who are in menopause transition are acknowledged becuase common cultural expectations are that this is an older age issue.

Employers can make reasonably inexpensive adjustments that can help to reduce symptoms such as providing temperature controls, cool water to drink, natural light and adequate access to sanitary facilities. Uniforms and workwear can be a major concern for women that have not been considered from the perspective of menopause. Wicking technology or something similar can help with reducing the experience of and associated anxiety and embarrassment of hot flushes at work.

Similarly, absence reporting that identifies menopause specifically is not current HR practice and we advocate changing this so to recognise menopause rather than hide it away. It also means that absence due to menopause can be treated as an ongoing concern rather than separate periods of sickness absence. This could enable more advanced initiatives including annual leave banks.

These important examples of workplace initiatives were talked about with the BBC but what we also stressed in the filming and which similarly is stressed in the government report and University Menopause Policy is that a supportive organisational culture around menopause is critical.  This is why we have been working to get conversations started around menopause at the University of Leicester, by increasing awareness of what menopause is and what the symptoms may include and in so doing start to remove the taboo around it.

This means that manager and staff training around menopause is also vital and the BBC were interested in our 'let's talk menopause ....removing the taboo' positioning. We also spoke extensively about how many people tell us that they know very little about menopause symptoms and are surprised by the range of symptoms. Our work and the University of Leicester policy is a way to change this forever. It is also for this reason that we stressed to the BBC that menopause likely impacts everyone, regardless of age or gender. This is why we say 'menopause is not a women's only issue' at the University or elsewhere. With awareness and knowledge  everyone is more confident to start conversations around menopause, whether that be as a friend, work colleague or line manager, or outside of work with partners, siblings and parents.

Professor Jo Brewis (co-author on the government report and now working at The Open University) shared her personal journey through menopause and explained how changing the culture around menopause, getting conversations going and the University of Leicester policy launch has so positively changed her experiences. The supportive and open culture around menopause at work she knows from her own experience makes a dramatic difference.

Has your work had the impact you hoped (or better)?

It has been an extraordinary experience – changing us as researchers along the way. It has become a political project for us: we have been much busier than we expected and that has been fantastic. We have done invited presentations for organisations including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Leicester Occupational Health Nurses Group, we have done radio and TV interviews and TV and had extensive media coverage as well as writing our own pieces for forums like The Conversation and Employee Benefits. We were invited to join the Women’s Business Council ‘Staying On Action Group’ that was formed last year, and co-developed a toolkit with them. Jo Brewis also went on film for the Women’s Business Council giving a quick overview of reasons why employers need to take menopause seriously. We have been approached for our advice, we have had many, many conversations and we have developed new collaborative ventures with other researchers and practitioners who are interested in the menopause from a range of angles

How have the menopause cafes been received?

Really really well. We held the first University of Menopause Café in March to coincide with International Women’s Day. It was well attended and there were some fantastic conversations over cups of tea and coffee. People came from across the University, and it wasn’t just women which was great. Experiences were shared and compared, questions asked, and some just listened and then shared what they had learnt about menopause. I am passionate about the  Menopause Cafes and can see how they really will move conversations around menopause forward, in a relaxed setting. This is one of the ways we are normalising menopause here at University of Leicester. Setting up the first café also lead to new connections with the team at Leicester Conference Services who have generously sponsored the catering for our events, and I have been talking to Heather Reid about menopause transition and how it might impact staff and colleagues she works with, particularly those with uniforms or working in hot kitchens.

What’s next?

At the University there will be management training on menopause as part of a suite of priority issues in human resource management and staff well-being coming online in Autumn 2019.

We have established a Menopause Research Network connecting academics and leaders in the private, public and third sectors. We have an article coming out in the Journal of Occupational Health and Work that summarises our key research findings and several case studies and is co-written with Deborah Garlick and Sue Fish.

We are working with TUC Education on a survey to examine the practices and experiences around menopause across workplaces in the UK.  This work is being led by Dr. Vanessa Beck at the University of Bristol. We will be distributing a link for the survey and it would be great if as many working people could fill it in and pass the link to their friends and colleagues. We want to get a really in-depth and detailed view across as many organizations as possible

We will continue working with Deborah Garlick of Henpicked and the employers she advises and we are also sharing our research and expertise with others also - for example,, and a company that is developing menopause related products.

We are writing up our work for several academic journals too, around the intersection of gendered bodies and the workplace, and menopause and the marketplace. We will keep you posted on those. We are also going to the World Menopause Conference in Toronto in June with our collaborators from West Midlands Police force and Dr Louise Newson after working with them to analyse some of their data on experiences of menopause at work.

We are continuing to work with Occupational Health Nurses sharing our menopause research with our next date in Shrewsbury in July. We are doing a Spotlight talk for RSPB and some webinars for the TUC this summer too. Our major next empirical steps are to evaluate the impacts of workplace menopause initiatives so to be able to evidence for other employers the various impacts doing so can bring. We have a lot of work to do!

Do you want the policy implemented across the UK?

A formal policy is not appropriate for all organisations, and while a policy was the right way to action the support for menopause at University of Leicester, for other organisations we know that best practice guidance has been very effective. We want to change the culture and attitude around menopause at work so there is no more taboo and to do this we would like to see all employers, large and small, being able to embrace a supportive menopause culture in their workplace.

One of our straplines is that menopause can be dealt with at work in the same way as pregnancy and maternity. This positions it not as an illness but as a normal part of a woman's life.  We want to normalise conversations around menopause at work, so as to make it an unremarkable topic.

At the University of Leicester, we operate through awareness and training. Awareness is contained in leaflets; online information about menopause including a great video that we also showed to the BBC team; and our 24 hour Employee Assistance Scheme which has a specialist page on menopause that the University Policy team have also helped to improve based on the research from the government report. This information gives details about what menopause is, the symptoms that some women experience, when menopause transition begins (usually mid-forties), the NICE guidelines on menopause and advice on approaching your GP in a prepared and confident way, and other lifestyle changes that have been shown to help with menopause transition. The emphasis is on impartial but comprehensive information, and visiting the GP where necessary.

We have run Menopause Roadshows across the University since November providing information and advice on the menopause policy.  Nicola Junkin organised these workshops it was great working with her to deliver the one hour sessions across campus. It gave us both the opportunity to see how the Policy was being understood and actioned by staff and line managers.

As a less formal way of sharing information and experiences around menopause we also hold monthly Menopause Cafes as an informal chat with tea and coffee to learn more from sharing menopause experiences or asking about menopause.

But action is where the menopause policy really effective. In the document there is information for line managers and employees on how to start conversations about menopause at work, and it provides clear examples of the support available via workplace changes that we know can help with menopause symptoms.  There are some useful checklists and also a form to record conversations and actions.  For some Occupational Health support may be an appropriate next step. Our OH team are extremely well informed on menopause and in fact Cathy Howells will be speaking at the Institute of Occupational Health in the summer.  Our policy is there for staff at University of Leicester but also for anyone who would like to look at it as an example, or to start their own conversations around menopause at their workplaces.

Will there be any more café sessions?

Absolutely, the next one is on 18 May in the Graduate Lounge in the Charles Wilson Building, and any staff member or student can book a place. What we know is that talking about menopause makes a huge difference and this is one of the reasons why we are doing the cafes. There is a dedicated menopause café page on the University website and the June and July dates are posted there too alongside more information about the menopause cafes themselves.