Burness Paull: embedding menopause support in the workplace
Law firm Burness Paull took a multi-faceted approach to their menopause support, introducing a whole range of initiatives and training.
Commercial law firm Burness Paull has offices in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, they have just under 500 staff and 69 partners. HR Business Partner Emma Smith explains their comprehensive approach to menopause support.
Luckily we had a strong two-fold business case for delivering this project and it had the support of senior leaders within the firm. Firstly, over 65% of our employees are women and over 40% of them are over 40, so the menopause is something which directly impacts the majority of our workforce. Offering support is simply the right thing to do.
Secondly, it is recognised within the sector that women are underrepresented at senior levels and given some of the evidence which suggests that many women consider leaving jobs or lose confidence in their own abilities as a result of the menopause, there is a potentially wider impact on gender equality and the gender pay gap.
Our overall objective was to create, embed and sustain a workplace culture that supports employees though menopause. This seems straightforward when you say it in one sentence, but a huge amount of work has gone into this initiative. We didn’t want just want to tick the training box and leave it there. We wanted to make sure we embedded a supportive culture and put a framework in place that would keep the conversation going.
Working with Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace, we came up with three goals.
Break down the taboos and reduce the stigma that surrounds menopause.
One of the biggest issues in the legal sector is disclosure, not just around menopause but around things like mental health. Law is not an easy profession: images of demanding clients, long hours and tight deadlines mean that many people are reluctant to put their hands up and say they struggling in case it makes them seem weak or less capable.
So for us, one of the main priorities was breaking down the stigma around menopause and getting everyone talking about it in an informed way. To do this we had to make sure that everyone, not just women were on board with this project. Ideally we want people to feel comfortable talking about menopause impacts them at work and getting the support they need to do their jobs well.
Raise awareness of menopause and give employees and managers the knowledge and confidence to discuss menopause at work.
We know that many women don’t even realise their symptoms are associated with the menopause. It was important to us that everyone could recognise the signs and symptoms of the menopause in themselves and others and understand the impact this might have in the workplace and at home.
We wanted to ensure that managers felt knowledgeable about how the menopause might impact an employee’s performance and be comfortable talking about it. With more and more cases ending in tribunal it’s also important that managers are aware of the employment law implications of not getting this right.
Put structures in place to keep the conversation going.
One of our most important goals was to ensure that we had a framework of policies, processes and training in place so that we could keep the conversation going and continue to be a menopause friendly workplace after the roll out of the initial project.
Launching the plan
We coincided our launch with World Menopause Day 2019, with lots of communication internally and externally on what we were planning to do and why it mattered.
To gauge attitudes about menopause at work, we conducted a survey and roundtables. There were a few key themes which came out: not labelling menopause as a women’s issue, a strong feeling that it should be an issues for everyone to understand, a sense menopause should be part of the wellbeing agenda, rather than a diversity and inclusion issue and also a strong appetite for training and access to support and resources. This gave us a solid platform to work from.
A robust review
To start with, we looked at all our existing policies, such as flexible working, absence, dress for your day and bullying and harassment. Even if you don’t produce specific menopause guidance, making small adjustments to existing policies can make a big difference. Things like the ability to work from home can really help someone who is struggling with insomnia and having an absence policy or absence guidance that recognises menopause can open up conversations and help women feel supported.
We also looked at our providers, including Occupational Health, Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and private medical providers. We were pleased to find they already had experts in place and our EAP even had a dedicated menopause toolkit which employees could access.
Training and guidance
Our request for volunteers to put themselves forward as champions received a good response. A range of people volunteered, from partners to business services to senior lawyers.
The training delivered by Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace was really engaging and included condensed training packs so that the champions could continue to run training sessions in the future. They are well advertised within the business and our colleagues can talk to them in confidence, they can provide advice on how to talk to managers or even act as go-between for colleagues who don’t feel comfortable talking to a manager.
We opted for menopause guidance, rather than a policy. This is a comprehensive document that includes all responsibilities, and signposts to other relevant policies, support providers and external sources. The guidance formed part of our new menopause hub, a dedicated intranet site with a wide range of information on it. This includes a video, symptoms tracker, factsheets, links to other documents and training decks for mini training sessions. There is also information on how to talk to your GP, which has had a huge amount of positive feedback – this is something people found they were struggling with.
Covid-19 means we’ve had to move our training online, but this has worked really well. Henpicked: Menopause in the Workplace delivered firm-wide training which covered all things menopause and was relevant for colleagues and managers. They also delivered a virtual masterclass on HRT which we were able to extend to parents and partners, one of the only silver linings of the pandemic!
We’re planning to relaunch our survey to measure our progress and find out how attitudes and knowledge have changed. Anecdotal feedback has been fantastic and a lot of male managers and partners have thanked us for the training.
We hope to introduce virtual menopause cafés/support groups across all our offices. We hope to have some role models who will talk openly about the difference the project has made to them and the training is now part of our induction process, so anyone coming into the business knows we’re menopause friendly.
We’re also planning some menopause yoga and wellbeing sessions in November.
Menopause is now part of our regular events calendar, and we celebrate World Menopause Day and signpost our support on International Women’s Day.
I’m so glad we did this. So many people have thanked us, it’s really been incredible and the narrative around menopause has definitely changed for the better.
Emma Smith is an HR Business Partner at Burness Paull.