Voices

‘Sweaty hugs of solidarity’

Melissa Robertson, CEO, Dark Horses, on what now is the time to change ‘the change’ and break the silence surrounding the menopause

Melissa Robertson, Dark Horses

CEO

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I didn’t really set out to become some kind of tub-thumping menopause champion, but in publicly talking about the impact the menopause has had on me, and how I’m trying to deal with it in work, it felt as if a number of nerves had been touched.

A 2019 survey, released in May this year, revealed that over 900,000 women had quit their jobs as a result of menopausal symptoms. And if we don’t create the understanding, support and action to help prevent this kind of mass exodus, workplaces will be all the poorer for it. The gender pay gap will be exacerbated, diversity will be stunted, and we’ll be missing out on a load of highly experienced, brilliant women.

When there are up to 15.5 million women experiencing varying stages of menopausal transition for anything between two and twelve years, it’s too many people, and goes on for too long to be ignored or marginalised.

I reckon I’ve probably had a range of differing menopausal symptoms for around four years now. But it was only in the last nine months that some of them really ramped up and made me genuinely terrified that I was going to seriously mess up my job, or at the very least, regularly humiliate myself. Because everyone has heard about the ‘classic’ symptoms - the hot flushes and the night sweats. But did you know that there are dozens of other potential physical symptoms, from numb fingers to itchy skin, a burning tongue to aching joints, headaches to heart palpitations? And that’s before you get to the more psychological ones - the brain fog and missing words, the anxiety and diminishing self-esteem.

When there are up to 15.5 million women experiencing varying stages of menopausal transition for anything between two and twelve years, it’s too many people, and goes on for too long to be ignored or marginalised.

Melissa Robertson, CEO, Dark Horses

I realised that I would become paralysed by fear if I didn’t tell people about it. So, tentatively, I started dropping the ‘M bomb’ more frequently. As I scrambled for a word, instead of feeling traumatised and panicky, I would explain that it was one of the symptoms. And do you know what? It was brilliant. No-one looked appalled, embarrassed or confused. They just went with it, and in many cases, wanted to understand more.

So I then went a step further and wrote about it, publishing an article in Campaign about how it felt, along with some coping mechanics. And I have been completely dumbfounded by the wave of positive responses, thankfully not only from menopausal or postmenopausal women, but also from younger women and a healthy dose of men too.

They fall into a number of ‘buckets’ across a spectrum of compassion, recognition and action:

Validation

“It perfectly articulated my last couple of years... the itchy skin being a particular source of torment.”

“MINDSTORM ... that is the most poignant description of one of the symptoms... afflictions of menopause I've ever heard.”

“I also feel as though I’m losing my mind and living inside a hormonal washing machine.”

“It's a bitch. Everything you describe, + dry vag.”

Oh the ‘huge holes in the vocab’! And the names - I watched Mamma Mia 2 with my daughter recently and couldn’t remember Meryl Streep’s name until the credits rolled, at which point I randomly shouted it at the top of my voice.”

“I felt like there was no one who understood and increasingly like a mad old woman completely out of place in a working environment where I had always felt so confident. I was emotionally incontinent and it was awful.”

“I actually thought I was dying. Everything hurt all the time. I have days where I literally pull myself through them, ending up on the sofa so exhausted I think I might actually have to sleep for the rest of the week. And for someone who has always placed huge trust in her brain, it often lets me down.”

“The brainfog and mindsoup is real and devastating. More support and understanding is needed.”

Frustration

“It’s hard to face up to in an industry that values youth”

“I’ve heard it talked about as The Silent Career Killer. Up the ladder in your 40s then feeling dreadful for 5 years at the critical next stage.”

“I personally hid my memory loss, even from my husband. I was so frightened.”

Solidarity

“Sweaty hugs of solidarity!”

“As a husband who found many a book in the fridge and wiped away multiple Olympic swimming pools of tears every time a puppy appeared on TV, I’m totally supportive of normalising talking about menopause at home as well as every other damn place. It can only benefit everyone open-minded enough to want to care. It was damn confusing for myself and the kids too, but made such a difference when we got better at spotting the moments that needed support... or humour (or occasionally chocolate). That openness should be available at work too. It needs to be part of every company's stated values and culture. Is there such a thing as a menopause ally? ???? And for what it’s worth, the fridge books have stopped now. Shame. It was quite interesting.”

“We men forget this kind of thing all the time (and we aren't menopausal... just inconsiderate). It needs to be normalised - now! (It will be coming to this home in a not too distant future - now I at least know what to look out for.)”

Galvaniser

“I cannot tell you how much I needed this.”

"Let’s be vocal about it! I’m menopausal!”

“If we share your stories, we change the narrative around menopause.”

“Let’s start owning how this story is told.”

“Breaking down the taboo so people can talk to their colleagues about it if that is what they are going through is so important. ”

“The change is quite literally coming and it’s long overdue. Our generation of women have the opportunity to rewrite the story on this forever.”

Off the back of all of this, I’ve spent the last couple of months researching as much as I can about the menopause - how hormones work, why it all happens, and what we can collectively do to confront it and change how the world of business deals with it. It’s time to start preventing such a mass exodus and retain a more substantial layer of experienced and talented women in our industry. It feels as if we’re ready, there’s the appetite, and a bit of a groundswell. It’s time to change the change.

Guest Author

Melissa Robertson, Dark Horses

CEO,

About

Melissa Robertson is the CEO at creative agency Dark Horses. In her career Melissa has worked with some of the biggest and most recognisable names in the industry, starting at Grey London before joining Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy as Managing Director. She has worked on big campaigns, small campaigns, created brands from scratch and consulted on some of the UK's biggest businesses as well as running training and leadership workshops.