Senior legal managers speak out on menopause challenges

Menopause Matters (l-r): Helen Burness, Silvia Van den Bruel, Lucie Allen, Lisa James (crouching), Kate Gaskell, Lucinda Case and Jane Clemetson

Women with senior management roles in the legal world have spoken out on how the menopause has affected them in the workplace in a bid to build a new movement.

#MenopauseMatters is a collaborative effort by several women who have launched a guide and are hoping to create momentum on the issue.

Lucie Allen, managing director at training provider BARBRI Global, whose description of bleeding during a board meeting was the catalyst for the guide, described menopause as a natural part of life which remained “a taboo subject in many workplaces”.

Ms Allen said Seven Things You Need to Know About Menopause in the Workplace sought to break down barriers and “provide both women and employers with the tools they need to navigate this transition with support”.

She said in the guide: “Now in my mid-40s I am entering an unknown perimenopausal phase, causing experiences that I am not prepared for.”

She described how she was in a board meeting, the type of meeting “you really need to concentrate in”, when she had to rush to the toilet and “noticed with horror that I had flooded and bled through my knickers, trousers and down my legs”, leaving her feeling “overwhelmed and unsure of what to do”.

Ms Allen returned to the meeting “only to find a blood-soaked chair” and had to ask the man next to her for help in getting another.

“It struck me that we need to do more and do better at sharing these experiences to let people know they are not alone, to help ensure employers are best prepared to support employees and to keep the conversation going.”

After Ms Allen posted details of the board meeting incident on LinkedIn, eight women came together to form the informal group.

Among them is Silvia Van den Bruel, marketing and business development director at class action specialists Hausfeld. She said in the guide that her “menopause years” were marked by hot flushes and sleep deprivation, which was “to a lesser extent” still the case today.

“As soon as my head hit the pillow, I would be wide awake often till 2 or 3am.”

She went on: “You have no option but to drag yourself out of bed and into the office, completely and utterly exhausted.

“I have always worked for firms where I had a heavy workload and did long hours. A lot of my projects have deadlines, are urgent or given to me last minute.

“Combined with a constant lack of sleep, this resulted in a high level of stress, no time to exercise, weight gain and at one stage, severe alopecia – all while I kept calm and carried on!”

She told Legal Futures that all of the women had contributed in their personal capacities and in their own time, using their networks and contacts to create awareness. The plan is “to continue the conversation”.

The guide aims to “focus on the practical rather than the medical impact” of menopause and sets out how employers can help.

Among the actions it recommends are for women to become their “team/department/firm menopause champion” or volunteer to be a “menopause mentor”.

They are encouraged to lead by example “by openly discussing menopause and its impact” and to organise a menopause-focused event, at which healthcare professionals or experts can speak to staff on the topic.

Sarah Carnegie, legal director at an international NGO, said in the guide: “Brain fog, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings and mysterious aches and pains.

“These have been some of my most common symptoms over recent years, and I mean years. I remain in the perimenopause phase (as I have not ceased to have a period for 12 months) and have no idea when it will end.”

She said it was “common for women to leave work at this point in their lives because it becomes too much, and support networks are often lacking in male dominated, aggressive professions”.

Sophie Cameron, a solicitor and consultant knowledge lawyer, commented in the guide: “The statistics are stark: menopausal women are the fastest growing section of the UK workforce and a there has been a spike in the number of women aged 45-55 leaving the workplace at a critical point in their careers so this really is an equalities issue.

“Some of the hidden symptoms of menopause such as reduced confidence and increased anxiety can be particularly difficult for those used to functioning at a high level in the workplace and employers should be open to educating themselves and providing support.”

In 2020, the Law Society, in conjunction with healthcare support business Peppy, issued guidance on experiencing menopause in the legal profession and more than 200 people attended a virtual launch at which female solicitors undergoing it expressed concern about the impact it could have on meeting their billing targets.

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