Imagine this: 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, mid-way through answering a question, your mind goes blank. You’re suddenly lost for words, and you freeze, struggling to recover.
Brain fog. This is just one of the possible symptoms people may experience when going through menopause. In fact, it affects around two-thirds of menopausal and perimenopausal people. The first hormone level to drop is usually progesterone, which can lead to irritability, mood swings and sleep disturbance. All of which can affect the brain’s ability to function optimally.
So, what is menopause? In short, it’s the time in a person’s life that marks the end of their menstrual cycle. 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 you experience from peri- to post-menopause can vary wildly in severity and impacts individuals in many 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 opportunity and support.
To help do this, Director of Local Government & Public Sector Executive Search, Dawar Hashmi gathered a group of senior leaders from the public sector to come up with some potential solutions. And what was agreed, first and foremost, was that education and understanding around menopause is seriously lacking.
Tinu Olowe, Director of HR and Organisational Design at London Borough of Enfield believes that before we implement new policies and recruitment practices, we’ve got to get back to basics: “You’ve got to take it back to the foundation and let employees know that as an organisation, you recognise there’s an issue, that you understand people’s experiences are different and that you’re there to support. Not just the individuals going through menopause, but their managers too.”
As of September 2020, menopause was added to the secondary school curriculum, which means that future generations will have a better understanding, and hopefully less shame around being open about it. But what about those in the workforce now?
Interim HR Director at Central Bedfordshire, 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 executive role, and potentially feel humiliated, when I can’t even remember what a pen is called? And that’s the effect menopause can have on you.
We’re only just starting the conversation, but menopause is constantly impacting so many people. It would be interesting to see how many people in the 45-55 age bracket don’t make it through the interview process, because I don’t think there’s been a real analysis on it.”
So, how do we ensure people going through menopause are applying in the first place? Diversity and Inclusion is a focus for most organisations these days. And candidates are more interested in finding a working environment where they’ll feel safe and supported. But is enough being done for those who experience menopause?
Emily Nice, Assistant Director – HR and Organisational Development at Sutton Council says more can be done with recruitment advertising: “If every job ad 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. Please do talk to us at the point you apply’, I think it would make a massive difference to people who might have otherwise discounted themselves because they’re concerned about how their symptoms might impact them.”
This sparked further discussion around recruitment practices and what ‘reasonable adjustments’ in recruitment really means. Chief People and Transformation Officer at the Government of Jersey, Mark Grimley doesn’t use the term: “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 to have a blanket solution for everyone either. Having an assumed approach means that there will inevitably come a time when someone will still be at a disadvantage.”
And when it comes to the interview, should we be incorporating specific new practices such as providing questions beforehand or eliminating large panels? Or 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 local authority interview format is still fit for purpose:
“We’re trying to get the best candidates and find out about their portfolio of skills and experience. But more importantly, we want to know about a person’s values and passions, about who they really are, and their motivation for going for the role. Finding and starting a new job is a life transition – the same as getting married, becoming a parent, or buying your own home. So, we should be thinking about how we can support someone through that.”
And Dawar believes agencies recruiting for organisations have a massive part to play in advising on the process and ensuring they’re giving every candidate a chance to succeed: “Local authorities don’t just hire us to find candidates, they trust our professional judgement. So, we’re in a really privileged position to help guide the process, whether that’s ensuring candidates can bring notes along to an interview or that the questions are not worded in a way that will ultimately trip them up.”
Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust’s Director of Employee Experience, Lorraine Hammond agreed: “It’s about recruiters building relationships with candidates and doing the best to set them up for success. Interviews aren’t, and shouldn’t be, interrogations. They’re a chance to get to know someone, and we should ensure the process reflects that.”
It’s clear that there’s a lot to navigate, and there’s no quick fix. But recruiting the right people for senior roles in local government is vital. 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.