With women making up more than half of its workforce, Pinsent Masons tells Ashleigh Webber about how it is enabling open conversations about the menopause and its effects on confidence
The menopause is a part of life for most women and can have a significant impact on their confidence and performance at work.
Although many organisations have been successful in getting their people to open up about other traditionally “taboo” topics such as mental health, a level of stigma still surrounds the menopause, despite it affecting a vast proportion of the workforce.
“Nobody really talks about what the menopause is and what it’s like to experience it, but you suddenly turn 40 and it’s something you begin to worry about,” says Kate Dodd, a diversity and inclusion consultant at Pinsent Masons.
“It comes with symptoms including anxiety, depression and loss of confidence, and we were seeing women who had been flying high in their careers starting to falling out from the sky a bit. People would say they had spent their entire life pitching, appearing in court and delivering presentations, and suddenly they were crippled with fear and anxiety in a way they had never experienced before.
“These are also perimenopausal symptoms. We already know that women self-select out of law firms because of a whole variety of reasons from childcare to looking after their parents, and if we add into that perimenopause and menopause, then we really have got a massive problem.”
Without the firm realising, many women across Pinsent Masons, including those at senior level, were discussing the menopause amongst themselves. Once these informal support networks came to light the firm saw an opportunity to support this group further and open up conversations about the menopause across the entire organisation.
Its Fan Clubs were born. These informal groups involve colleagues at various levels of seniority and from across different departments getting together over coffee and cake to have open conversations about the menopause and support each other.
This year the initiative won the firm the People in Law Award for Best Health & Wellbeing Initiative among firms of over 750 employees.
Fan Club began with a group of employees in Edinburgh, who got together to support each other and break down the stigma that surrounds the topic.
“We had a real recipe for success. It came from discussions between people experiencing this in their everyday lives and people who had real decision-making powers,” says Dodd.
The firm’s Disability & Wellbeing Group (DWG) – an employee-led group which had collaborated with the firm’s HR team in developing a set of menopause guidelines for line managers – threw its weight behind the initiative in order to expand it into other office locations. The groups are open to all – including men who have an interest understanding the menopause and supporting colleagues and family members experiencing it – and are led by local volunteers.
The name “Fan Clubs” is a light-hearted reference to when the only form of support offered to women experiencing the menopause would be a fan left on their desk.
“It became a bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference back to the days when you said the word ‘menopause’ in a very hushed tone. It really resonated with us,” says Dodd.
To encourage other offices to set up Fan Clubs, the Edinburgh group and the DWG set up Fan Club landing pages within the firm’s intranet and prepared a “Getting Started” pack with guidance around using the menopause café model, how to advertise the Fan Club, budgetary requirements and the administrative support available. Fan Clubs have since been set up in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and London, with more than 40 employees engaged.
Some Fan Clubs have invited external speakers from their local networks along to the meetings, including an acupuncture specialist and a health specialist. This year, with in-person Fan Clubs not possible, events have moved online.
A recent webinar, which involved journalist and radio presenter Mariella Frostrup, was made available to the firm’s clients too in order to open up the conversation further.
“We didn’t want to have it as just a Pinsent Masons thing. Other organisations are starting to talk about menopause a bit more, but there’s a feeling that these conversations are just for women. No one is really talking about menopause in business, and particularly not in law,” says Dodd.
Men getting involved
Many men, including senior partners, joined the webinar along with their wives. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with men saying it helped them to acknowledge the symptoms their partners and colleagues had been experiencing.
The firm has also approached the topic from a mental health and wellbeing angle, says Dodd. “If we don’t recognise that menopause has a really significant impact on wellbeing and mental health, then we’re not supporting people properly at that time of their life and we are keeping it as taboo.
“We really looked at the affect it has on confidence. There’s also this idea of not being ‘seen’ anymore and the impact it has on women’s sense of worth and mental health.”
In response to the success Fan Clubs have had, Pinsent Masons is developing menopause training for line managers, looking specifically at how it can affect work performance and self-confidence.
The HR and benefits team has also been reviewing Pinsent Masons’ exit interviews and employee turnover statistics to identify where menopause may have played a part in a person’s decision to leave the firm, which it hopes will enable it to determine how this could be avoided in future.