I was delighted to be invited out to our beautiful Easter Bush Campus at Roslin this week to deliver a session on the hot topic of menopause. We talked about feeling the rage and laughed about losing your nouns. Thank you to everyone who came along.
If you would like to organise a session like this for your dept, here’s the blurb:
Please join us at this workshop to discuss why menopause is a workplace issue. One in ten women in the UK who worked during the menopause say they have left a job due to their symptoms. Are we at risk of losing some of our best staff at a time when they have the most wisdom and organisational knowledge? How can we adapt to ensure that all our colleagues have the support they need? Is this another leak in the pipeline for women in STEM? At this workshop we will look at best practice guidance from professional bodies and trade unions and think about how University of Edinburgh can respond. Your input and ideas are invaluable. Melissa Highton is a senior manager in Information Services Group (ISG) , she works with her leadership teams to ensure that workplaces are inclusive, and together we can tackle this ‘last taboo’. She will join us to discuss well-being, plans, policies and implications of hybrid working. By the end of the workshop we hope to have some actionable suggestions to take forward.
Feedback from the organisers:
“thanks for taking the time to come out to Easter Bush and share this information directly with us, in such an informative and engaging way…I think the participant numbers we got were an early indication to us that the topic was of deep interest to the staff on campus – but more significantly the discussion in the groups, and the enthusiasm that there should be follow up activities, is a further indication of how important this topic is to so many people.”
On World Menopause Day (October 18th) I’ll be leading a workshop in University of Edinburgh to discuss why menopause is a workplace issue.
One in ten women in the UK who worked during the menopause say they have left a job due to their symptoms. Are we at risk of losing some of our best staff at a time when they have the most wisdom and organisational knowledge? How can we adapt to ensure that all our colleagues have the support they need? Is this another leak in the pipeline for women in STEM?
At this workshop we will look at best practice guidance from professional bodies and trade unions and think about how University of Edinburgh can respond. Your input and ideas are invaluable. We must work with leadership teams to ensure that workplaces are inclusive, and together we can tackle this ‘last taboo’. We must discuss well-being, plans, policies and implications of hybrid working and come up with some actionable suggestions to take forward.
When I first began thinking about menopause as a workplace issue, I was struck by the data gap. We do not know how much of an impact it has because we do not gather data properly. Days off work when you have menopause are often sporadic, here and there when you are having a bad time of it. Managers can take a good guess at the number of staff who may be experiencing menopause by looking at sex and age data, but without a specific category in absence reporting women may be choosing a variety of categories in their absence reporting such as ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, ‘mental health’ ‘hip leg, foot, shoulders, neck pain’ etc so we are not getting a full picture of where to target support.
When I first raised this I was told to ‘wait for P&M, it’ll be better then’. I waited, but when P&M launched despite there being categories for ‘pregnancy’ and ‘menstrual related illness’, there was still no sign of ‘menopause’. Not enough middle-aged women in the data team perhaps.
Anyway, after a bit of gentle reminding, I can report that P&M now includes a category for menopause! It’s listed under ‘S’ of course.
But we will need to help women feel confident that letting their employer know is a good thing to do, and that is a bigger question.
You’ll remember that in the hot, hot offices of ISG on campus we had a bit of discussion about menopause. It was quite ‘the talk of the Steamie’ after I presented about it at the ISG all-staff meeting in Gordon Aikman Lecture theatre.
I’ll be presenting about it again at the upcoming Advance HE EDI conference in the Spring. I’m also presenting about ‘tempered radicals’, but that’s a different story. Or perhaps not if it is all about heat.
In order to be up to date though we’d have to be thinking as employers about the different experience for menopausal women of working from home. During Covid, but perhaps for longer by choice.
Mary reminded me to update my thinking.
Working from home may infact be the best thing to happen to menopausal women as we now have choice, flexibiity and control over the temperature, number of cushions and our layers of clothing.
There was some evidence previously that working from an office while female and menopausal was so horrible that we lost women from our workforce at just the moment that they are at their most wise. Perhaps now we will be able to keep them.
When talking about the lack of women in digital technology, the focus tends to be on engaging the interest of girls and supporting women to become qualified in relevant areas. Without change within the industry itself, however, the women who pursue digital technology qualifications will still not remain in or be attracted to the sector.
The ‘leaky pipeline’ is definitely a thing so we must think about ways in which we can create a more inclusive and attractive work culture where women aspire to stay. Business-wise it make sense to retain valuable, experienced staff rather than having to train new staff.
Do we know what older women in the workplace want? do we ever ask them?
When we take an intersectional approach to recognising that people’s identities and social positions at work – particularly in the technology industry – are shaped by multiple and interconnected factors. We have to pay attention to how long people have been working and where they are in their careers.
We are a big recruiter, with a high turnover and a lot of innovation, so we need to attract and retain talent. We advertise placements and returnerships via Equate Scotland. We also need to explore how age and length of time in the organisation influence staff engagement.
RETAINING WOMEN IN WORK
In ISG we monitor the age profile of our staff, and because of course, we want to retain in our organisation, or in the sector as many women as we can, we invest in training and development including, personal development for women. We have a number of visible examples of Positive Action Measures which include:
Personal development programmes
We have coaching programmes and mentoring for women- we take part in the Aurora and Connections programmes and we run specific ‘Renew You’ and ‘Speak up‘ personal development programmes for women. The participants on these courses seem to find them valuable and so it seems like a good investment, but I don’t have any actual data for evaluating impact.
We have run sessions specifically about the impact that feminist mangers ( with Prof Fiona MacKay) can make and about how promotions and annual reviews work. We have data on who gets sent on leadership programmes.
Raising awareness and widening discussions
We organise events and discussion on topics which raise awareness of gender issues in the workplace such as gendered communications, inclusive language, shared parental leave and menopause. Menopause is an intersectional issue of gender, health and age and it is an important issue for managers and service teams. For many women it is experienced as a double or triple whammy, coming as it does just at the time when your children are teenagers, your parents are elderly and you have just made it back from a career break. We are figuring out how to promote a menopause -friendly workplace.
One of the first steps is to make sure everyone has access to fans to cool down. The aim is to normalise and destigmatise the use of fans- but it has to be said this is not such a great challenge as we work in one of the hottest buildings in Edinburgh!
The next step will be to gather some actual data about how many work days are lost because menopause symptoms go unreported and to think of ways to bring that number down.
We need to do more in really under-represented areas though, to think about how to involve more women in AV, VR, IoT and GIS.
Universal design in technology
There are moments in the workplace when you may suspect it has not been designed with you in mind. As a technology provider we can promote universal solutions ( such as how to wear a radio microphone pack with a dress) and disaggregate our data by gender and age where ever we can.
Recognise and rectify historical wrongs
Those of us who have been around for a while have heard the stories of historical wrongs. We can do things now to help our institutions to address some of that history , such as the degrees finally given to the Edinburgh Seven.
Professional and skills development
I have anecdotal information that middle-aged women are the group least likely to attend ( or be chosen for) new skills training in tech. We are very aware that we have a large group of women who have already chosen to work in information services, who could develop skills more specifically in data science, so we have been running ‘Developing Your Data Skills’ Programme for staff and students at University of Edinburgh this year.
The programme has been very successful and we have now had more than 130 learners on course. It wasn’t targetted exclusively at women, but we managed to attract 65 % women to participate. We have designed the course to fit with participants’ busy working lives and thought specifically about how to attract mid-career learners to upskill in this area. Since our staff live and work in Edinburgh and the region, I think this can be seen as part of the investment we are making in retraining and upskilling in data skills for the city. We have evaluated the programme and gathered feedback, so we will be able to report on the ISG KPIs.
We have pretty good flexible working arrangements and policies in ISG. It is not clear though whether they are consistently applied.
Developing male allies
We know that male allies are a big part of the success of any equality and diversity initiative. At ISG we have a Fathers Network which provides a space to discuss the experiences of the fathers in our teams who juggle work and family responsibilities. We are also working with CIPD to develop a new personal development course for men. This will focus on emotional intelligence at work and the challenges faced by men in managing workplace expectations in relation to their roles. It is important to acknowledge some important intersections, and where men can see that they also face intersections of identity which may influence the experience of other men, then that can carry over to understanding what that may be for women.
We recently ran an excellent session on using inclusive language in recruitment. We spent some time thinking about the positive things we can say about the inclusive culture in ISG. One of the aspects of an inclusive culture can be seen in the extent to which we think about and talk about how our colleagues experience the workplace differently.
With regard to organisational culture and openness to diversity Olsen and Martins offer a theory-driven framework for evaluating managerial and organisational approaches to diversity management (Olsen & Martins, 2012). They propose that organisational approach is particularly important to study because it is within the control of the organisation more explicitly than external society-level factors. The Olsen model aims to explore the ‘how’ and ‘why’ which underlie diversity management approaches in organisations and to link these to organisational outcomes. ‘Openness to diversity’ is defined as putting an emphasis on pro-diversity beliefs and attitudes and refers specifically to group members’ positive attention to dissimilarities (Lauring & Villesèche, 2017). Diversity programmes in the workplace are socially situated and the organisation provides the specific environmental context in which such initiatives will success, thrive or fail to a lesser or greater extent.
For me, as senior leader, this means that whenever there is a workplace issue, even if it is not a top priority for me personally I try to think about how it might impact other people and specifically whether there are any groups of colleagues who might be disproportionately affected, and whether there are voices which are unlikely to be heard. In the workplace we are all part of different groups. Those may be identity groups (e.g. age, gender, race, class, ethnicity) and/or organisational groups (job function or place within organisational hierarchy). While managers are an organisational group and members of the management group may be perceived as representative of that group by their staff, their own membership of one or more identity group will also influence how there are perceived or behave (Kossek & Zonia, 1993).
One of the workplace issues which particularly exercises the ISG staff who work in Argyle House is the heat. Colleagues want to see data, and they want to see action. When I think about the excessive heat in the office I know that this will disproportionately affect colleagues who are struggling to regulate their own body temperature, such as women who are experiencing hot flushes as the result of menopause. I also know that the voices of those experiencing menopause are often unheard and easily dismissed. Menopause is still a ‘taboo’ topic for many and we don’t gather good data to know what the impact really is on our organisation. A smart employer with an inclusive culture would attend to this. Women of a certain age are a large group in ISG.
Menopause is an intersectional issue of gender and age. For many women it comes as a double or triple whammy, coming as it does just at the time when your children are teenagers, your parents are elderly and you have just made it back from a career break. In an ‘aged hierarchical’ organisation like ours it may also come just at the time when you are consolidating leadership and management responsibilities. Three out of five (59%) working women between the ages of 45 and 55 who are experiencing menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work (CIPD, 2019) For these reasons it is a topic of interest for employers, unions and politicians. If you haven’t thought about menopause in the workplace before, or what it means to your practice as an inclusive manager I recommend a quick google search on ‘menopause in the workplace’.
Here’s the blurb for our upcoming PlayFair Steps event at University of Edinburgh Information Services. It’s part of the ISG ‘going through the change’ theme 😉
PlayFair Steps: Overheating and Stressed in the Workplace?
We know from our very first PlayFair Steps event that age is an important issue that affects employees at work in a variety of ways. Experiencing the menopause while working can be a double whammy bringing stress, sleepless nights and hot flushes which make it difficult to perform at your best and thrive at work. Recognising and understanding the causes of stress in the workplace and thinking about how we can best support our colleagues makes sense for leaders, managers, recruiters and customer facing service teams. All are welcome at this session to discuss and engage with how ISG can be a better place to work for all. This session is the starting point for ensuring ISG promotes a culture that is open to employees talking about health issues.
***Remember that all IS staff are welcome to any PlayFair Steps event, even if you do not know much about the topic under discussion. You are encouraged to use this space to ask questions and have meaningful discussions. As this working group meeting will be over the lunch hour, do feel free to bring your lunch.*** Booking link: https://www.events.ed.ac.uk/index.cfm?event=book&scheduleID=33941.
Olsen, Jesse E., & Martins, Luis L. (2012). Understanding organizational diversity management programs: A theoretical framework and directions for future research. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(8), 1168-1187. doi:10.1002/job.1792
Lauring, Jakob, & Villesèche, Florence. (2017). The Performance of Gender Diverse Teams: What Is the Relation between Diversity Attitudes and Degree of Diversity? European Management Review, 0(0). doi:10.1111/emre.12164
Kossek, Ellen, & Zonia, Susan. (1993). Assessing Diversity Climate: A Field Study of Reactions to Employer Efforts to Promote Diversity. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 14(1), 61-81.