Dr Louise Pendry of Exeter University talks to Ceri Wheeldon of Fab after Fifty about positive and constructive ways to manage the menopause in the workplace, based on her experience of setting up a menopause cafe, and putting together a menopause guidance policy for her own workplace.
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Dr Louise Pendry can be contacted via her university email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview with Dr Louise Pendry on Managing the Menopause in the Workplace and the Benefits of a Menopause Cafe
[00:01:08] Hello. And today, I’m so pleased to have with me my guest, Dr. Louis Pendry, who is a senior lecturer in psychology at Exeter University, and who specializes in stereotyping and prejudice. Hello, Louise, and welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:23] Hello and thank you very much for having me.
[00:01:26] Can you expand a little bit on the sort of a study that you do and the lectures that you give,
[00:01:34] Well, over the years, I have been looking at a general topic of stereotyping and prejudice, and it was the subject of my p_h_d_ many years ago. Now I’m looking at when people stereotype, why they stereotype and how to overcome stereotyping. And over the years, I’ve done that looking at lots of different stereotype groups. So things to do with gender, ethnicity, age to some extent. But I think it’s only in the last few years as I’ve got older myself that I’ve started to focus in a little bit more specifically on the issues around ageism and age stereotyping. And I think because I’ve just recently hit 50 myself, it’s just become a topic of interest to me at a personal level as well as at an academic level. So now I’ve refined my teaching somewhat and then I’m moving more towards teaching a little bit more on the issues around getting older and the positives, the negatives around getting older and what we can all do to age positively and well, I suppose. And just understanding that the issues that my students who are only age 18 are facing already with a negative view of an age that they’ve kind of grown up in internalized over many years. And that’s the sort of dialogue that I want to have with them right now.
[00:02:40] And I guess in many respects, menopause fits into that, doesn’t it? Especially with the menopause, women being the fastest growing demographic in the workplace and on menopause is something which we experience as we age.
[00:02:52] Definitely. So we find ourselves in a kind of double whammy where we are getting older, which we all do. And we are. Some of us, not all of us are experiencing some changes that go along with menopause. And sometimes that can affect the way that we feel about the way that we’re doing our job and just wanting to do the best job that we can. Just wanting to understand ways that we can manage that transition to make it as positive as we can, both for ourselves and the organizations within which we work and our colleagues. Really.
[00:03:20] How did you specifically get involved in the menopause initiative at your university?
[00:03:25] Well, I think I was just doing a lot of reading, as I generally do, and I just started to think about how great my employer is in terms of its family friendly policies. When I had my kids, it was fantastic in terms of part time working and just making adjustments for having kids. And it’s absolutely brilliant. And it just dawned on me that when it came to this phase of my life, I would have had a fairly positive experience myself. I haven’t had too many issues. But nonetheless, just looking around at what support was available until very recently, we didn’t seem to have very much in the way of a policy or guidance information to help women and also those who are working alongside women manage this transition in their lives. So what happened was I just wrote a letter to the provost at my university to that effect, just said how great we are at the younger and what can we do to look after the women who are getting towards menopause, and of the workforce and managing their transition through that so that they can be continue to be as amazing and productive as they have been thus far. As I say, not not everyone’s going to have any issues anyway, but for those who do, certain adjustments can make life much more simple. And so that was the conversation got me in front of the head of H.R. and working with them, we were able to craft a guidance policy which has been in place for over a year now. And it’s spawned a lot of interest and a lot more positivity, I think, around the topic of menopause in my organization, because I guess that we do have the stress and the menopause.
[00:04:56] It’s something that’s purely natural, isn’t it? And it’s not negative for everybody, is it? Not everybody experiences severe symptoms.
[00:05:04] Absolutely not. It certainly isn’t the case that all women are going to have problems. Many women sail through it and many women have slight symptoms and manage them perfectly well without any kind of adjustments being made. There will be some, however, for whom it is slightly more of an adjustment. Some of the symptoms are a little bit problematic in the day to day life. But as I say, that doesn’t mean that they can’t have adjustments made that are going to make that their lots much more comfortable and much more they’re just going to be as productive as they have always been. A little bit of careful thought, I suppose, in terms of managing that work situation on what are the sorts of issues that can affect women at work. So I think there are many things. Menopause, unfortunately, I gets very bad press. There are lots of different symptoms that come up if you just Google it. But issues around self-confidence, self-esteem, the more physical symptoms of hot flushes, which can be quite debilitating and embarrassing to deal with when you’re sitting in a meeting, for example, and understanding how to get through those moments. But just. Just more generally, just a sense in which there are symptoms around depression, for example, that that can correlate with with going through menopause, just a lack of confidence and just a sense in which your body is changing and you don’t necessarily understand all the things that are going on. It can just be quite disorientating, I suppose. And just feeling that you have no one to talk to, especially in a workplace organization, can be quite, quite challenging. I think for many women.
[00:06:34] And in terms of adjustments that can be made to help support those who are affected through the workplace, what sorts of adjustments? I’ll be talking about lots of adjustments to have the university made, for instance.
[00:06:46] Well, I think they’re done on a case by case basis. So what often happens is women will have an appointment with occupational health and talk about the different issues that they are experiencing. It may not actually be necessarily menopause per say that brings them in front of occupational health with issues. But the symptoms may be consistent with a menopausal explanation and it can just be adjustments, too. For example, understanding the need to have access to drinking water and shower facilities for those who are having a hot flushes, being able to leave meetings if they have a hot flush without giving an explanation that they’re feeling uncomfortable. If they are in one of the sectors of the university that had uniform requirements, making sure that the uniform is fit for purpose in terms of not made from synthetic fibers that can aggravate hot sweats, for example. And then more generally, I suppose there are things around adjustments to working patterns. So it could be that stuff. You don’t necessarily have access to flexible working because not all of us do can have conversations about adjustments to their working patterns. So that, for example, if sleeping, which is often an issue that correlates with knock on effects of concentration, these sorts of things can be managed perhaps the slightly later start time and or later end time. So none of these things are necessarily going to impact on other people in the organization, but they are things that can make a massive difference for women who are experience experiencing some of those symptoms.
[00:08:12] Now, I would imagine that for some women, it’s very difficult to actually start that conversation.
[00:08:18] Yes, it is. And I absolutely understand that as somebody who is, I think, quite woke when it comes to menopausal issues. I still would think it’s not necessarily that easy to just start a conversation with your line manager if you’re having problems, not least because sometimes our line managers are younger than us. There might be a gender difference as well, which which we feel is awkward. And that’s not also forget that those who who would do report to may not have that much knowledge and experience themselves of dealing with these sorts of issues. And so for them, it’s a very uncomfortable conversation that rightly or wrongly, they may shy away from also because they don’t have the knowledge or the skills to actually advise in these situations. And they feel a little bit disempowered, I suppose, because it’s it’s out of their normal remit of the things that they’re generally dealing with. So for all of these reasons that can make women themselves and managers shy away from these conversations, because what kind of kind of words are going to be opened up, I suppose? How is it going to be managed once that conversation is had? But also, I think for women who fear that it somehow portrays them as less.
[00:09:23] And that’s something that I would be very keen to dispel, the notion that this is in any way trying to disempower women. And to say that they are not able to cope in their day to day work. It is simply about making recognizing that some adjustments may be beneficial to allow women to continue to be as productive as she has been up to that point. But these conversations, nonetheless, are very difficult to broach. So it’s I think one of the things that really makes a difference is, as we’ve now got in my university, a growing sense of a supportive environment around this issue, where you can raise this topic and know that there are people that you can talk to. If there are issues, you may find that your initial conversation doesn’t necessarily go that well. But there are people that you can refer people to to have conversations, to get things back on track. I suppose so not feeling that the first conversation that you have is all that’s going to happen, knowing that there is a network of support across the university for these sorts of issues.
[00:10:23] How did you put that network of support in place and how do you make women aware that that network exists?
[00:10:30] Well, we are very good at advertising. We have a Web site, obviously offering information is on our university Web site and it’s part of our positive work environment agenda to make sure that, you know, the health and well-being of all our staff are supported. So it’s if if employers are looking to incorporate this, it can be part of an existing work environment that they probably got there anyway. That’s trying to make make the work environment more positive for all of their staff. So we advertise on our website. We also have a mailing list of interested women who are mainly because we set up a menopause cafe, which I think we’re gonna be talking about later. Women who want to take part in a regular get together or women just to talk about some of the topics around this issue in a very safe, safe space. And we have been also have that as well. So the other thing that we do is we advertise regularly in our staff newsletter as well, which goes out when it goes that week. So we pop the pop things in there as and when. Just to keep it visible, I suppose. And we also have done a couple of events at our staff festival where we have tried to have conversations with women around managing menopause in the workplace and how to have a positive menopause with positive menopause experience at work. So we’re just we’re just trying to keep it visible and to promote it wherever we can. And I suppose I’m the go to person on all the mailing lists and contact points. So, yeah, we’ve we just basically have to keep keep chipping away and keeping it visible, keeping higher up the agenda so that it’s not just lost off the bottom. It matters it really matters that we’re supporting our women at this stage in their lives.
[00:12:10] And you mentioned that the Menopause Cafe, which I think is a great name. What is the menopause cafe?
[00:12:17] So I Googled this when I was first trying to find out support that we can do on campus and the menopause cafe can take place anywhere, really. But it’s essentially just a group of people who get together. It’s not necessarily just women. It can be anybody who is affected by this issue. So it could be friends or colleagues, for example, who want to find out a little bit more. And it is just getting people together regularly in a very safe, respectful and primarily confidential space. I think that that’s something that is very important, where it’s open to everyone, regardless of gender or age. And it’s not a gender led. So it’s not something where we’re trying to push a particular point of view. It’s just a place for people to get together. Could bring along a drink if they want to. And within our university, I will always be presenting and perhaps somebody also from H.R. who can help advise on any employment related issues. But it isn’t the place to have an agenda to push stuff. So I suppose what I do that’s slightly different from the traditional menopause cafe is I do, however, offer information and advice and research. Books and things that I found interesting because I read a lot in this area, so I will talk about some of those sorts of issues.
[00:13:28] And also we have something within our own university, which is an amazing opportunity where we often mindfulness for men managing menopause and we talk about some of the women’s experiences of that. And when the next courses are running and just how they can get involved in that sort of thing. So it is a general thing. It’s not supposed to be pushing anything in particular, but I have modified it slightly so that we can make it do a little bit more. I would aspire in the future, perhaps to have visting speakers once in a while. Well, if budget allows so that we can get doctors in, for example, who’ve got attitudes and advice to give on lifestyle changes that could be made to support menopause and those sorts of things, because it’s not necessarily all about medicine, HRT or that’s obviously a solution for many women as well. So it’s just about the space where we can have women get together. I think the bottom line is it’s a chance for women in my organization, many of whom haven’t got together before. Now we’re all making new friends as part of this group to share our experiences or tips on how we cope with some of the symptoms and just offer advice in a nonjudgmental way, I suppose.
[00:14:30] What sorts of things to women who come along? What’s the things they raise in the Menopause Cafe?
[00:14:37] I think one of the things that they were raising initially was the first thing they said is, oh, my goodness, thank goodness this is now existing. I never felt I had anybody I could talk to. I was embarrassed. I felt awkward. I felt somehow like I was failing in my job because I was experiencing some of these symptoms and I should just be able to get on with it. So one of the things is just that they raise is just not having felt that they had a voice in the past. And now this has given them a voice. So that’s that’s quite helpful. I think they’re also mindful of just needing to. Share experiences and to build build in a positive way on how to make the space in their lives better. Because I think it’s not it’s not a doom and gloom merchants here. You know, as I say, we’ve talked about the fact that not everybody women has it badly. Some women just sail through. But just having a kind of agent victim mindset, I suppose. And so that’s the sort of things that we talk about. And the women who come say they like being given some tools and some some some things to think about, I suppose. Well, they may not have actually thought about it very much before and just felt very abandoned and isolated.
[00:15:46] I guess in extreme cases, you do have a small percentage, but still a percentage nonetheless, of women who feel they can’t manage their symptoms and actually leave work that they prematurely really, especially in the environment. We’re all expected to work now until we reach 66 or 67.
[00:16:02] Yes. And I think it’s never, never a better time than to get these sorts of issues on the agenda for that very reason, because we are working longer and we women want to work longer. And we don’t necessarily need to have any adjustments at all. But minor adjustments can make a huge difference and can stop the kind of exodus that has been shown in research that, you know, quite a number of women who are really struggling to leave their employment because they don’t feel that they are supported and they can’t manage their symptoms. So anything that we could do to mitigate that is vitally important in the context where we are expected and needing to work that much longer, keeping us in the workforce and keeping us healthy and happy within the workforce in a positive way. It’s got to be a good thing.
[00:16:45] There’s also maybe many women don’t equate the symptoms that they’re experiencing with the menopause and they might not understand why they’re feeling the way they do. You mentioned symptoms such as depression and fatigue through lack of sleep, but it’s an opportunity to be open and realize they are not alone. Other women are also experiencing it. It makes sense to them. And then they know that’s something they can to do, that can do things which can be constructive to resolve the working situation, to help them.
[00:17:13] Definitely. I think just realizing that there is a commonality of experience here, although everyone’s experience is so unique, some some recurring things are coming out in our discussions that we’re having. And just realizing that it doesn’t it isn’t always menopause. That’s because some of these symptoms are bunched together into menopause because they are consistent with it. But it may not always be. But just understanding that it could be that there are things that we can do that might help, because I think also talking about changes in the workplace and adjustments, that’s only a part of it. Obviously, we can take control from for many other things. So there are lifestyle dietary changes that we can make that have been shown to really impact on on our health as we get older more generally and also specifically related to menopause, too. So conversations around that can can really be very beneficial, I think, to make women feel a little bit more like they have some say in the process, because you can feel quite powerless when these sorts of things are going on. And that’s not necessarily the case.And
[00:18:10] also today, I guess there is far more information available on the topic. There was perhaps in our mother’s generation. There are things online. And so many more books out there and so many more support groups which our mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t have had the benefit of.
[00:18:25] No, I think, you know, my mum would have just got on with it and talked to talked about hot flushes and went very quiet on everything else. And there was just something that you just had to put up and shut up, basically. There is a downside, which is that I think so much so much is out there that there can be a quite a negative portrayal if you Google menopause. It does seem quite negative. And I think that’s not necessarily everyone’s experience. And as I say, there are so many things that can mitigate some of the things that do happen anyway. So knowledge can be a good thing, but it can be a double edged sword if it’s if it’s creating a sort of perception of it being a really negative experience for everyone, that’s just not true. So even if it is somewhat negative for some women, there are things that can be done. So knowledge can be power, but it can also be a little bit. It can it can skew perceptions about how bad it is. And I wouldn’t want it to be that menopause got the badge as being this, you know. Well, all the stereotypes that exist around potentially that it’s just, you know, crazy woman time of life. Absolutely not. So you have to be measured and use appropriate information when we’re doing our searches for information on how to manage menopause, not get caught up in the kind of not very not very positive media articles that you sometimes read about women losing their minds and things like that. I think there is a more balanced picture out there.
[00:19:42] I know that. I think they’ve been very careful as well, that we don’t scaremonger in terms of employment opportunities here because people already perceive that there is ageism in the recruitment process. And we don’t want to give employers another opportunity to perhaps be unconsciously biased against recruiting women over 50 or promoting women over 50 because so many women have already experienced a gender bias that concerns the childbearing years. Or she may leave to have a baby. Let’s not. Bring her on board, and the last thing we want to do now is actually create an environment where people think we can’t recruit her because she is of menopausal age, she may need time off or we may have to adjust her working patterns accordingly. Let’s not do that. I think we have to be I think we, too, have to be so careful that this is presented in a constructive and positive way.
[00:20:31] Definitely. And I think when you have those conversations with your employer, it should definitely be that that should be the constructive way that you mentioned is absolutely the way to do it. So it’s not you don’t if you have an issue and you want to talk to your employer, you’re not going to just have a rant about how awful life is. You’re going to offer constructive solutions about what you could do that will do what your employer could do to make life better. And in the context of women not getting on or perception, they won’t be employed with them in later life because they’re of a menopausal age. I think we have to just change that taboo that basically says that menopause is always a negative thing and that it can it can be mitigated. It definitely can be mitigated. No, it’s no reason to not employ someone.
[00:21:14] No. I was in a session just the last few days with somebody was saying they had somebody who said she couldn’t concentrate for nine hours a day anymore. She was a software developer and they said they had a situation where they had an outstanding individual. But to concentrate in that role, nine hours a day five days a week with too much. And so they had conversations internally and they decided they’d rather have peak performance for seven hours a day, and not so peak performance for nine hours a day. And so they had that discussion and she was happy to be paid less to work seven hours and not nine hours. And it would have been a relief. Yes. And they said her productivity didn’t even go down. So it was an adjustment. It was something that just one person couldn’t make the decision on. But it was HR in conjunction with line management, they made an adjustment and everybody won.
[00:22:06] Yes. And I think that’s an example of how done properly these sorts of adjustments can can be a win win situation. Definitely.
[00:22:15] So the menopause cafe then, how many organizations actually have them? Are there any stats on this? I think I read somewhere that one in 10 organizations are becoming more menopause aware. But I’m not sure that actually equates to holding a menopause cafe.
[00:22:27] I haven’t got any stats up to date. Stats on how many there are. The menopause cafe sites allows you to advertise that. But I don’t think everybody who runs a menopause cafe necessarily does. For example, we don’t always do that. So yeah, I think it’s growing, but I wouldn’t be able to give you a specific figure at the moment.
[00:22:47] But I guess the positive thing is that it’s been taken seriously and it’s been handled in a positive, constructive way. Overall, yes, I think so. I mean, I know people like HenPicked, they run menopause awareness workshops that large corporate. Yes. So they work very hard to get it onto the agenda as well.
[00:23:06] I think so. Credit to them that they really kept up the pressure as well. And whenever there’s any kind of major event, there’s that is the menopause week. I think in on the BBC breakfast time early this year, you know, they had a feature on their keeping it to the top of the agenda. Just not letting it slip and just making sure that people are aware there’s no there’s no shame about it. It shouldn’t be a taboo issue. And and what I like about henpecked is the way that they are constructive and offer solutions and getting getting organizations like that to come into the workforce and explain how it’s possible to make these changes in a positive way is, I think, instrumental, really instrumental in changing, shifting perceptions of how menopause is dealt with in the workplace they have actually contributed to the Fab after Fifty website as well on this , which has been really well received.
[00:23:56] Yes. Yes. All the questions, because one of the things we have is there is sort of legislation in place that you’re not supposed to be able to discriminate to get on the basis of age or all the other aspects as well. But yes, that isn’t always reflected in mindsets. We’re talking about the unconscious bias here as well, aren’t we? I am saying like these positive initiatives, like the HenPicked menopause in the workplace, the Menopause Cafes, the policy issue we are incorporating within your own institution, all these things help, don’t they?
[00:24:29] I think so. And it is about shifting a mindset and it’s without wanting to blame anybody. It’s just it’s the way the world has been for many, many years. Negative stereotypes about menopause as being some sort of uncertainty about this madness. As you know, since this phase of woman’s life where things go awry and we have all sorts of negative perceptions about it that we’ve internalized over the years, and that’s nobody’s fault. That’s just the way it has been portrayed as having a more positive perception of it and a more constructive perception of it is absolutely going to be the way forward.
[00:25:06] Well, thank you so much for sharing that with us today. Louise, if people want to find. What about the work that you do? How would they find out about it?
[00:25:15] I suppose they can always email me if you want to. If they Google the University of Exeter home page and just put in menopause, I’ll get our own guidance policy up there as well. And some of the things that we’re doing. So that’s something else that they could do. But yes, I welcome conversations. I’m very happy to get involved with any organizations that are thinking about implementing these sorts of solutions and menopause cafes as well. Because honestly, they have made such a huge difference to the women in my organization. We’ve got over 60 on the Menopause Cafe mailing list at the moment and quite a lot come to them. Not all of them come every time, but we get 15 to 20 coming. And the perception is that they want to keep running. And they just feel that we’ve finally got a policy starting to happen that’s going to make a difference to them moving forward. And so it’s a much more positive environment, I think, than it used to be with regards to menopause here. And that that’s for the good.
[00:26:17] Well, thank you so much for sharing that today. Louise, I think that’s helpful to many. And also perhaps any employers who are listening will perhaps get some insight as to how they can make their environment more menopause friendly as well. Okay. My pleasure. Thank you very much. Thank you so much.