What do male leaders think of menopause awareness?
We always say that menopause is a topic everyone in an organisation needs to understand. Here, three male leaders give us their take on why they think menopause awareness is so important.
Cultural change at the MoD
Cultural change is needed first before open conversations about menopause at work can take place.
That’s the view of Lt General Rob Magowan, Deputy Commander UK Strategic Command.
“As leaders, it’s our job to create the right culture at work, one where people are happy to have open conversations, an empowered environment where people feel they can talk to their boss, or their boss’s boss. These are issues that are led from the top down. If you’re a closed leader or have a narrow focus, people aren’t going to come forward and share their experiences.
“When it’s clear there are certain subjects to discuss or conversations to be had, I know this isn’t going to happen overnight. It takes patience, understanding and trust to get there. Once you feel confident you have that, you can start to turn over stones.
“If leaders or managers know there are issues and choose to walk past them – or walk past them because they don’t know they exist – then that’s poor leadership.”
Leading by example
“Respected leaders can make a world of difference. If they feel comfortable saying ‘menopause’ and talking openly about it, others will follow. It’s about listening, understanding, humility – not telling people how it is, but responding to them and adapting. It’s being prepared to be agile, not preach from the rooftops.
“At the MoD, we’ve created a culture of inclusivity, and we want an environment where nobody feels they have to hide anything. Our D&I team introduced menopause into this equation. We were working on creating this culture, and realised we hadn’t spoken about menopause. And this was a problem. For me, it was reassuring that it was raised, and that those raising it felt comfortable enough to do so.”
“With 24,000 in the strategic command, it’s probably safe to say conversations about menopause with men in the room haven’t been a common occurrence. But we’re making headway. There’s still room for progression, though. I think we’d more readily have a conversation about race or gender. Personally, my first reaction when menopause was raised was one of surprise, because I hadn’t appreciated the challenges it could present.
“But now my approach is one of listening and being proactive. That’s why we launched our menopause awareness campaign, to embrace it and not hide it away.”
Bringing out the best
“If someone approaches you as a leader and says ‘this is an issue at work’ then you need to take that seriously. We have a responsibility to address these issues. If one of the challenges is menopause why would you not want to address that? Good leaders want to bring the best out of their people.
The Wavell Room (independent Defence blog) recently talked about their menopause campaign. Great work all round.
Southeastern: bringing menopause awareness on board
The Women in Rail Empowerment group (WIRE) was formed in late 2018, chaired by Natalie Leister. One of the first topics to be raised was menopause. It soon became clear there was real lack of awareness and people were often suffering in silence.
The following year, the organisation marked Menopause Awareness Month and National Inclusion Week by running a series of manager and colleague menopause awareness sessions. These were hugely well received, with lots of positive feedback. They also prompted a massive cultural shift in how menopause is perceived within the company.
Here’s Engineering Director Mark Johnson’s view on their menopause training.
“At Southeastern, we care about the health and wellbeing of our people. That’s why we believe all of us need to understand more about menopause and other hormonal transitions, so we can offer the right support.
“We know that menopause can affect us all – personally and professionally – and we want to help all our colleagues be the best they can be.
“Understanding menopause is important for everyone – men and women – whether they’re experiencing it themselves or providing support for a fellow colleague, family member or friend, and our passengers.
“Also, anyone can be affected by hormonal changes during their lives for a number of reasons, including puberty, pregnancy, fertility treatment, and some transgender people will have medical interventions. Hormone therapy following surgeries such as hysterectomies or as a treatment for certain illnesses can also bring about symptoms. These can affect people at home and at work.
“Menopause isn’t always an easy transition, but with the right support it can be much better. While everyone doesn’t experience symptoms, supporting those who do will improve their experience at work and in their personal lives.
“And understanding menopause also helps us understand other life stages, illnesses and conditions which could result in an individual experiencing symptoms as a result of hormonal changes. This is a lifeskill.
“We want everyone to feel comfortable talking this, never feeling that the subject is taboo or off limits, and know that at Southeastern, we want to help.
“With all of the above in mind, as well as the awareness sessions, we decided to create some comprehensive guidance for our colleagues and separate guidance for line managers. This explains in more detail about just what menopause is, what symptoms can be experienced and how they could affect someone at work.
“We took line managers through how to have a productive and confidential conversation, establishing the type of adjustments we might be able to offer. And we signposted a host of other resources which we knew could be helpful.”
Hampshire Constabulary: a force for change
Hampshire Constabulary began its journey of menopause support a few years back. But how does a traditionally male-dominated profession get this right?
Assistant Chief Constable Craig Dibdin gives the male’s eye view on the force’s focus on this subject.
“I’m a very strong advocate for valuing difference in its broadest sense. By this, I mean not just focusing on some protected characteristics. But knowing and understanding that people have different things going on in their lives at different times. What might not be significantly important to one person is the whole world to another.
“If we want to be an organisation that truly represents its community then we need to be prepared to really value and warmly welcome difference.
“The force at Hampshire is split roughly 60-40 men and women. But what we’ve learned through our training sessions is that while awareness is key for those experiencing it first hand, it’s something everyone needs to know about. It’s traditionally not something that men have felt comfortable talking about, myself included. And this has partly led me to understand the need for change.
“Some years ago, a female member of my unit had asked to be removed from a certain shift pattern due to menopausal symptoms. We could have readily moved her to other shifts. I know that my response then was a raised eyebrow. But I decided to speak to another colleague as a sounding board. A female colleague who would surely know?”
Awareness for everyone
“However, this colleague was the same age as me, mid 30s, and she had the same approach. A shrug and fobbing it off as not even being a ‘thing’. An incident which, looking back, massively highlights why we needed this kind of awareness training. I’m pleased to say I’ve learned and grown.
“It’s so important that we don’t make assumptions about other people’s personal experience. Even for those who have gone through menopause – their journey will be completely individual.
“While many men don’t know much about menopause, being a woman doesn’t mean knowing all about it, either. A colleague experienced unexpected early menopause, something she didn’t even know could happen. The implications of that kind of event in life are massive. It can have all sorts of ramifications, emotionally, physically and mentally.”
Leadership and listening
“To me, these are two really key areas. We want everyone to be more aware, but leaders are the ones who can make life-changing decisions. This is a big responsibility, and they need to be properly informed to make these decisions.
“We have a really good, active set of network groups, including Inspire, our women’s group. Our most recent addition is a men’s group. These networks communicate really well, asking and answering difficult questions and feeding back to leadership. All helping us, as an organisation, to be more supportive.
“Our networks are really accelerating the pace of change. We have a number of menopause advocates now, and our women’s network runs menopause cafés. Plus our line manager wellbeing training now features a module on menopause. Our networks know they have a voice and know they’ll be heard. It’s so important we know about these things if we want to be more inclusive.
“We ran some recent training sessions on International Women’s Day and World Menopause Day. The male attendance for these was 35% and 10% respectively. Not so long ago this would have been zero. These are great strides.
“To any organisations considering introducing menopause awareness, I’d say invest in a women’s network. Both in terms of resource and commitment from leadership. Crucially, be prepared to listen to what they have to say. Engage with them, and ask what the organisation do in terms of support.
“If they don’t raise menopause as an issue, don’t be afraid to come right out and ask: is there anything more we can do in relation to menopause?”
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