As a leader, we have certain responsibilities, and one of those is making a difference.
Sometimes, all it takes is to listen and really hear what your colleagues are saying no matter how difficult, uncomfortable and embarrassing. As a leader my job is to make a difference through my leadership.
As Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police I listened to my officers and staff, and made time to really hear what they were saying – however challenging.
One of the issues I heard about was the impact that menopause was having on a number of women in the workplace. For several it meant that they had chosen to leave the organisation because their symptoms were so severe, or they felt unable to discuss with their line manager, or they had done so and had been not taken seriously or with any empathy or action.
For all organisations, not least in the public sector, the most valuable asset is your workforce. Approximately 85% of the Nottinghamshire Police’s £190 million budget is spent on people. The cost of absence or indeed people leaving the workplace is high, with the cost of recruiting and training a new colleague estimated at £30,000. That is without considering the skills, experience, and investment in a colleague which could be lost.
This needs to be considered in the context that the average age for menopause may be 51 but a significant proportion of women start to experience menopausal symptoms in their 40s, a smaller but still significant number in their 30s and some as early as their 20s or even their teens.
So, what did we do in Nottinghamshire Police? I established a working group of staff helped to formulate a policy on menopause, which was formally adopted in January 2017. Nottinghamshire Police also ran a seminar to raise knowledge and awareness for men and women. In doing this, we became the first police force in the country to develop such a policy and practice.
Such pioneering work always requires reflection and consideration of learning, so here’s mine:
- Should have booked Henpicked to organise and host our seminar. The quality of Deborah and her team and philosophy of “describe don’t prescribe” would have added even more value.
- Further improve internal communication and awareness. For example, running a seminar(s) for line managers, as despite the practical guidance and top tips within the policy, only those that were interested read and applied it.
- Further communication and activities for the whole organisation could have been even stronger and more consistent to embed it better. For example, hosting menopause cafés or developing a network of menopause supporters similar to first-contact advisers for grievance.
- Utilise the benefits of coaching, which there is a commitment to in Nottinghamshire Police, as part of the interventions to support menopausal women and their line managers. As a coach myself I know the benefit that coaching brings to organisations as well as individuals.
- Being aware that menopause can start in a woman’s teens or 20s would have helped tailor some of the communications. The majority of attendees at the conference were women in their late 40s and 50s for whom menopause was a very live issue. Targeting pre-menopausal women to provide education and information would have been beneficial.
- Having the data to benchmark the difference the policy made I thought was a big gap, but on reflection the complexity of the nature of symptoms and the fact menopause is not an illness meant that in trying to do so I would have been trying to do the unachievable.