It’s time to talk

Written by: Camilla Alexander is content and copywriter at Penna
Published on: 16 Mar 2023

Imagine: You’ve just landed an interview for your dream role. You’ve got the passion, the right skills and experience, and you’re well prepared. Then, midway through answering a question, your mind goes blank. You’re suddenly lost for words, and you struggle to recover. Brain fog. This is just one of the possible symptoms people may experience when going through menopause.

Menopause is diagnosed after you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual cycle and typically happens in your 40s and 50s. But it’s far from being as simple as that. For some, symptoms may also be brought on early by hormonal treatment – for example in breast cancer. In the months or years leading up to menopause (perimenopause), you might experience a number of signs.

The symptoms can vary wildly in severity and impacts individuals in different ways. From hot flushes and headaches to anxiety and low self-esteem. There are many symptoms that can make menopausal people feel they don’t have the ability to apply for roles they could thrive in. And sometimes, they’re discounted at interview stage because of it.

Penna wants to address this issue and be part of the change needed to not only empower menopausal people to apply for the roles they want, but also to improve recruitment practices so they’re given the right support.

To help do this, Penna’s director of local government and public sector executive search, Dawar Hashmi, gathered a group of senior leaders from the public sector to come up with some potential solutions. And it was agreed that education and understanding is seriously lacking.

Tinu Olowe, director of HR and OD at Enfield LBC, believes that before we implement new policies and practices, we’ve got to get back to basics: ‘You’ve got to let employees know that as an organisation, you recognise there’s an issue and you’re there to support. Not just the individuals going through menopause, but their managers too.’

Interim HR director at Central Bedfordshire Council, Caroline Nugent, shared her personal experience: ‘When I was going through the worst of my symptoms, I’d look at a pen and couldn’t remember what it was called. Now, why would I go through the recruitment for a senior role, and potentially feel humiliated, when I can’t even remember what a pen’s called? And that’s the effect menopause can have on you.’

So, how do we ensure people going through menopause are applying in the first place? Emily Nice, assistant director – HR and OD at Sutton LBC, says more can be done with recruitment advertising: ‘If every job advert said “you may need reasonable adjustments, whether that’s for a disability or a major life event – like menopause – and we want to provide those adjustments for you”, I think it would make a massive difference to people who might otherwise discount themselves.’

Chief people and transformation officer at the Government of Jersey, Mark Grimley, doesn’t use the term ‘reasonable adjustments’: ‘At Jersey, we use the term “conditions for success” to describe the support we provide for people. I believe we need to do whatever is necessary to get the best out of an individual. But we don’t want a blanket solution for everyone either. Having an assumed approach means there will inevitably come a time when someone will still be at a disadvantage.’

And when it comes to the interview, should we think about an overhaul of the process altogether? Amanda Harcus, deputy chief people officer at the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, thinks it’s time we figure out if the current interview format is still fit for purpose: ‘We’re trying to get the best candidates with the right experience, but more importantly, we want to hear about a person’s values and passions, and their motivation for applying. Finding and starting a new job is a life transition – the same as becoming a parent or buying a home. So, we should be thinking about how we can support someone through that.’

And Mr Hashmi believes agencies recruiting for organisations have a massive part to play in ensuring every candidate is given a chance to succeed: ‘Local authorities don’t just hire us to find candidates, they trust our professional judgement. So, we’re in a privileged position to help guide the process, whether that’s ensuring candidates can bring notes to an interview or that questions are not worded in a way that might trip them up.’

It’s clear there’s a lot to navigate, and there’s no quick fix. But menopausal people are the fastest growing group in the workforce. So, if we want to avoid missing out on talented leaders, we’ve got to provide the best possible experience and environment for them. And it all starts with discussions like this one. 

Camilla Alexander is content and copywriter at Penna