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Cutting ties with the taboo around the menopause

Katie Edwards, Managing Partner at Publicis•Poke on why the creative industries, along with others, urgently need to address the deafening silence around the menopause.

Katie Edwards, Publicis•Poke

Managing Partner

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We are working on many initiatives that can improve the lives of women working in our industry but for me, our new menopause policy that launched last week has been particularly poignant. It brought up all these feelings. Will people think I’m going through the menopause? I am not, but why does that matter? There was almost a sense of shame, connected to age I think, about something I’m passionate to drive support for. And I feel bad, for feeling bad. Crazy, right?

After all it’s not that I or others would be ashamed or find it especially taboo or difficult to talk about at home or in our private lives. Every minor sweat and my mates are all googling wildly. But in the workplace, this surely non-controversial topic is not something many women feel comfortable discussing even for those like myself who want to change the tune.

There remains a taboo around the menopause in the workplace despite the fact it’ll affect every woman at some point in their lives. And this matters a lot as the menopause is an experience that leads to three out of five working women saying it has a negative impact on them at work, according to the CIPD.

Our industry, along with others, urgently needs to address the deafening silence around the menopause.

Nearly 60% of women considered leaving or actually left the industry during the pandemic.

Katie Edwards

Conversation as a catalyst for support

That’s why we see changing the conversation around the menopause as important as, if not more than, the tangible measures we are implementing because unless the conversation becomes normalised, it’s unlikely we’ll see take up of support made available. This is why Publicis•Poke wants to cut ties with the taboo around the menopause and get people talking.

But conversation remains stubbornly far from the industry narrative. Part of the challenge is that our industry is overwhelmingly, well, young. The latest IPA census found in 2019 that 48.8% of people employed in the industry are 30 or under while only 6.3% are aged 50 or over, the age when the menopause most usually kicks in. The next census coming soon is unlikely to be drastically different.

It’s fantastic that we have so much young talent coming into our industry. However, as things stand, the age imbalance is not fertile ground on which meaningful or comfortable conversations can flourish, simply because it doesn’t affect most people in advertising businesses. And consequently, this is also not reflected on our screens or in the work we produce.

I’m sure many people can engage empathetically on an intellectual level with the issues, but most people’s personal and professional experiences are far removed from the menopause. Symptoms that affect someone’s work like sleeplessness, hot flushes, memory loss or poor concentration, headaches, muscle and joint pains, depression and anxiety might even feel foreign to many young people.

Stopping the (senior) female talent exodus

That has a knock-on effect elsewhere in the business. A lot of people initiative policies understandably skew towards this younger demographic in our industry as they’re dominant in the workforce. But that leaves older women’s needs to slip through the net.

It’s a double-edged sword where the conditions do not allow the right conversations to happen and therefore the right policies to come through. That contributes to the poor retention of female talent in our industry. There is a visible exodus of female talent from our industry that begins at the mid-level and gathers more momentum higher up the career ladder; women occupy 59.5% of junior roles but only 34% of C-suite roles. Alarmingly yet so unsurprisingly, 85% of the part-time roles in our industry are occupied by women, as the IPA’s 2019 Census revealed.

It can be harder for women to do the late nights or boss those networking opportunities that help drive forward a career when, as has been well-documented throughout the pandemic, the responsibilities of child-raising or caring for elder relatives fall disproportionately on them.

No wonder, then, that nearly 60% of women considered leaving or actually left the industry during the pandemic according to research released this week from LinkedIn. This staggering figure is the highest figure of any industry surveyed. LinkedIn also surveyed 20,000 people, a very significant number of people that should not be fobbed off lightly.

If you’re going to build brilliantly creative ads representative of society then we need to be businesses that represent society at large too.

Katie Edwards

Tackling the menopause is part of a bigger picture

Clearly an enormous amount of work remains to be done to provide the support needed not only for the industry to retain its female talent but also to attract it back as well.

That means we also need to see the negative impact of the menopause in the context of the bigger picture where, from the age of 30, women face a succession of burdens that exclude them from professional opportunities, and which inhibit their career progress. In this sense, women experience one episode of exclusion after another.

This is why we want to have a policy that specifically provides tangible support, including flexible working, temperature control, occupational health and employee assistance, alongside encouraging positive conversation around it as well as a broader package of support that keeps female talent in our industry.

It’s not just the right thing to do, either. It impacts the creative work we deliver. How often do you see a representation of an older woman who isn’t pissing their pants or suffering from constipation? Not very often, I’d say. If you’re going to build brilliantly creative ads representative of society then we need to be businesses that represent society at large too.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t only about race and gender, but all facets of inclusion and how they interlink culturally and institutionally. But first, we need to foster an honest conversation. As usual Fleabag nailed it. Watch this and let’s talk!

Illustration©Maria Alconada Brooks

Guest Author

Katie Edwards, Publicis•Poke

Managing Partner,

About

Katie Edwards is Managing Partner of Publicis•Poke. She took on the Role of Managing Partner in May 2019 when Publicis London, where she was Head of Account Management, became part of the newly founded agency Publicis•Poke. She has over 20 years’ experience leading award-winning campaigns for global brands such as P&G, Pernod Ricard, Nestle, L’Oreal, Tourism Ireland, Nissan and Motorola. On top of her role on the executive board at Publicis•Poke and running her client businesses, she has a wider role driving far-reaching and transformational change to challenge inequality in all its forms. Prior to joining the Publicis Groupe family Katie spent time at Ogilvy, Redbee Media and TBWA.

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