The advertising industry doesn’t have a strong track record when it comes to marketing to older women. If not completely absent from communications, older women are often used to reinforce negative stereotypes that further perpetuate the stigmas women face daily. A read thread runs between the lack of older women in creative workplaces and the ongoing failure to reflect their lived experiences in the work.
The pandemic served as a unique moment in our collective history to reset and rebuild the workplace for the better. Now is the time to think differently, challenge the status quo and help to create a place where older women aren’t aged out to allow them to bring their lived experiences and creativity to work. One such significant lived experience that remains misrepresented and misunderstood is the Menopause.
To mark World Menopause Day, in the latest episode of BITE Talks, Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director, Creativebrief sat down with Melissa Robertson, CEO at Dark Horses and an advocate for gender equality who has written openly and honestly about her challenging menopausal symptoms, while symultaneously helping to make the industry a better place for Menopausal women by writing an open sourced Menopause policy.
World Menopause Day is an event that has happened 12 times since 2011, yet the stigma around the menopause holds as strong as ever. “It’s a topic I’ve banged on about for years, arguably in somewhat of an echo chamber,” says Robertson, as she shares her hope that this year’s World Menopause Day will gain further reach.
Robertson launched her Menopause Mandate back in May and is backed by patrons and supporters including celebs like Davina McCall, medical experts, nutritionists, health care lawyers and more. “It’s a coalition of campaigners to revolutionise the support and advice women receive from both the health service and wider society” she explains, “Fundamentally it’s about reform, education and support. We want to make menopause a protected characteristic at work under the equality act.”
“Menopausal women expected to put up and shut up… 50% of the world are going to go through it and the other 50% are going to be working with, married to or parented by these women. We have to make menopause an issue that people give a shit about.”
Melissa Robertson, CEO at Dark Horses
At current, information around menopause is limited. Anecodotally Robertson’s experiences of getting HRT for menopause has been a struggle. “I had to go to six different chemists” she says “I was told in June that I have an appointment in January.” While 50% of the population will experience menopause, many medial courses don’t include menopause which leads to around 25% of women being misdiagnosed and given anti-depressents.
“Menopausal women are expected to put up and shut up.” says Robertson. “It can even be something of an office joke but 50% of the world are going to go through it and the other 50% are going to be working with, married to or parented by these women. We have to make menopause an issue that people give a shit about.”
“Bloomberg conducted a study that suggested more than 900,000 women left their jobs as result of menopausal symptoms. That’s 10% of women feeling they have no choice but to leave.”
Melissa Robertson, CEO at Dark Horses
The squeamishness around age and change means that people don’t talk openly and people going through the menopause are isolated. “I don’t think I could do my job if I hadn’t been open and honest and said that I was struggling.” says Robertson. “I felt like I was losing my mind, had irrational anxiety. For me the most challenging symptom was and still is what I describe as word holes… I try to grab the words but I just can’t find them.” For Robertson, being open about these symptoms is the difference between colleagues understanding and struggling alone.
Creative leadership gap
The lack of representation of older women in advertising on screen is paralleled by a lack of women in leadership. “Bloomberg conducted a study that suggested more than 900,000 women left their jobs as result of menopausal symptoms. That’s 10% of women feeling they have no choice but to leave.” explains Robertson.
After being disproportionately affected by the pandemic and suffering a cost of living crisis that has seen the price of childcare soar, many women are left feeling unsupported, squeezed out of the industry. “The gender pay gap looks to be in decline but if you look behind the numbers – full time workers under 40 the gap was under 3% but post 40 the gap leaps to over 12%” says Robertson.
Still women look to the top and don’t see themselves in leadership positions. Representation is so important as if you can see it you can believe it – hence the influx in uptake of girls playing football after the success of the Lionesses at the Euros.
“The work place will be better with more gender parity at the top. Women’s brains, voices and influence are vitally important in the world of business” says Robertson, “women are good bosses, they create great work environments, give a shit about people, progression, mental health, culture and have good business acumen too. Organisaitons with 50% or higher female leadership are more likely to outperform their competitors.”
“The work place will be better with more gender parity at the top. Women’s brains, voices and influence are vitally important in the world of business”
Melissa Robertson, CEO at Dark Horses
Moving from awareness to action
Beyond awareness and education Robertson is calling for business to implement action in the form of menopause policys, all businesses not just those made up of older women. “It goes back to that other 50%, even if you don’t have women in your business (which is awful!) you are going to be dealing with women in some capacity” she says.
In her own journey in creating policy Robertson shared that researching the topic was an arduous task which is why she has chosen to make her policy open source, sharing her research meaning people don’t have to start from scratch..
“85% of the industry still dont have one [a menopause policy] in place” she contines, “ and to my annoyance most policies were written for women which misses the point. They aren’t enough for supporting how women might feel – it needs to be for everybody. Supporting, empathising and acting on it. It can’t just be for women, it has to be for everyone.”
Policy is a great place to start but eduction, training and open discussion is the only way to fully break stigmas and build understanding around the menopause. Robertson explains that this kind of open discourses helps her colleagues to understand its OK to jump in and help her if she’s lost a word in a word hole, for her, “it isn’t inappropriate to leap in with a word, it’s not mansplaining, it stops the game of articulate.”
Calling for men and young women to help support, Robertson stresses that “the most important thing you can do is spread the word. Positive conversations are happening in predominantly female forums and platforms… this wont happen if it happens in an echo chamber.”
To instigate real change and create an inclusive workplace for women, everybody needs to be involved and more honest open conversations have to be had. Older women have life experiences, creativity, skills and business knowledge that are being overlooked, which is in turn creating stereotyped and ineffective work. At this unique moment to rebuild the workplace for the better, the industry has an opportunity to do things differently and break down taboos once and for all.
You can read more about Dark Horse’s Menopause policy (and steal it for your own business) here.