Today’s World Menopause Day and last week’s Baby Loss Awareness Week are just two recent opportunities that brands and their PR agencies in the UK have used to highlight the need to support women through reproductive health-related issues.
In fact, such matters are increasingly being addressed all year round – both in campaigns and in PRWeek UK op-eds.
Within the past two years, Hope&Glory’s Jo Carr, VMLY&Rx’s Claire Gillis, Woodrow’s Lakshmi Narayan and Dark Horses’ Melissa Robertson are among those who have called for the comms industry to take action via the medium of the PRWeek comment piece – but have their voices been heard?
Recent positive developments would suggest perhaps they have.
Hill+Knowlton’s fertility policy
WPP’s H+K recently launched its fertility policy, offering up to 10 days of leave for people undertaking fertility treatment, more flexibility to attend medical appointments, and an extension of the agency’s mental health allies programme to include a ‘fertility buddy’.
H+K’s innovative policy was inspired by the experiences of its own staff, including director Gina MacCarthy who helped spearhead its development by sharing her own story.
“I’ve worked at H+K since 2006. In that time, I’ve spent seven years having invasive IVF treatment, I’ve experienced two miscarriages, had six unsuccessful treatment cycles, drained every last drop of savings and burdened myself with significant debt in the process,” writes MacCarthy in a H+K blog post.
MacCarthy says the experience left her “shrouded in self-imposed shame and stigma”, explaining: “I feared that judgement and career retribution would come with disclosure.”
The H+K director stresses the importance of infertility no longer being a social taboo, advocating for a “fully inclusive workplace culture”.
Lem-uhn’s menstrual leave policy
PR agency Lem-uhn has also announced a move to give extra time off for women who require it.
The new policy entitles employees to an additional 10 days of paid personal paid leave per year for menstruation, menopause discomfort or in the event of a miscarriage, in addition to existing sick leave entitlements.
We've launched a menstrual policy as part of our continued mission to create a more positive workplace.— Lem-uhn (@Lemuhn_) October 11, 2022
A natural part of life for half the population shouldn’t be a cause for worry at work. Our policy hopes to ingrain our ethos into our culture as we grow.
Read more below pic.twitter.com/rq0oB4CHzj
The policy reads: “Experiences of menstruation and menopause can be very debilitating, yet we have been enculturated to mask their existence in the workplace, at schools and at home. This policy supports employees in their ability to adequately self-care during their period and menopause, while not being penalised by having to deplete their sick leave. Periods and menopause are not a sickness after all.”
Founder and managing director Riannon Palmer says: “Since we launched, I’ve taken it for granted that employees would feel comfortable to take sick leave if they were experiencing severe period pain, or choose to work from home if that would be more comfortable for them. However, I realised that without an official policy in place employees might feel like they aren’t able to do this.
“I started my career in a male-dominated team and it always felt awkward having to hide a tampon to go to the toilet on your period, which definitely shouldn't be the case for something so natural.”
PRCA’s call for Pregnancy Loss Pledge support
The PRCA has signed the Miscarriage Association’s Pregnancy Loss Pledge, and is urging the rest of the PR industry to support staff through the distress of miscarriage.
Today we're calling on members and the broader industry to do more to support colleagues dealing with pregnancy loss.— PRCA (@PRCA_HQ) October 13, 2022
We're proud to have signed @MiscarriageA's Pregnancy Loss Pledge and urge others to follow.
More from @rennamarkson & @vin_kd: https://t.co/m2X6TPMATu #BLAW pic.twitter.com/X7zOdDaUd5
The pledge requires employers to support staff who suffer baby loss by creating an open environment for discussion, ensuring staff can take the time off to grieve, and being “empathetic, responsive and flexible” to the needs of those experiencing pregnancy loss.
PRCA head of engagement Vin Kaur says: “Between 2020 and 2021 I suffered two miscarriages seven months apart. They were the hardest moments I have ever had to endure in my life.
“I was fortunate to receive the support and care I needed from colleagues but it’s not the same for everyone. I would urge employers to sign up to the pledge and provide support to those who need it.”
Ketchum’s IVF and assisted conception policy
Ketchum says it has made efforts to implement progressive women’s health policies, including a new rule to provide time off and support concerning IVF and other assisted conception treatment.
It also has a menopause policy, which sets out the rights of women experiencing symptoms while working at Ketchum, and it recently formed a partnership with the Comeback Community to help parents transition back to work during and after maternity, adoption, surrogacy or shared parental leave.
Deputy chief executive Sera Holland tells PRWeek: “While the industry has certainly moved on in terms of policy, there's still work to be done on the conversation if we really want to see meaningful change.
“In a competitive talent market like this one, those who aren't pushing beyond the basics will find it impacts attraction and retention, not only for those who a policy may impact, but for all those who understand that inclusion in this area is a bellwether for a company's culture full stop."
She adds that there is “no excuse for not having appropriate and inclusive policy”, when such a variety of organisations are “open sourcing best practice”.
Ogilvy’s menopause friendly workplace accreditation
Ogilvy has been officially named as a menopause friendly workplace by menopause awareness organisation Henpicked.
The agency offers support services including access to private health cover to help those experiencing symptoms, agency-wide educational sessions to reduce stigma and encourage open discussion, and line management training to enable managers to best support members of their team going through menopause.
The business also runs regular peer-to-peer community session for members of the team to share their experiences of menopause and speak with leading experts in the field to understand how they can support themselves and others around them.
Lansons being named as a Best Workplace for Women
Back in July, Lansons was ranked as the 41st Best Workplace for Women in the UK, judged by Great Place to Work according to employee feedback.
“Probably our greatest achievement is to have an inclusive culture where people can be themselves,” says Tony Langham, executive chair of Lansons. “If I had to sum it up, I’d say it’s a ‘woke wonderland’ and I’m proud of that.”
“This year we’ve modernised our maternity policies and – while we’ve always been good on a case-by-case basis – we have more to do on stated policy on wider women's health issues including menopause, menstruation, and fertility treatments. More transparent company-wide policies are planned in these areas.”
“On a general basis, the PR industry talks more than it does,” he adds, saying: “What’s the point of setting up your own company if you don’t make it a great place to work? The world doesn’t need more agencies, it just needs better ones.”
How to be a better supporter of female employees’ health
“The communications industry is overwhelmingly female,” says Jenny Saft, chief executive and co-founder of fertility benefits platform Apryl. “This means that many of the health issues that specifically impact women – perinatal health, PCOS, fertility issues, miscarriages, the menopause – will be experienced by over half the communications workforce at some point in their lives.
“It’s important to recognise that offering inclusive women's health benefits isn’t just about offering a budget for fertility treatments, or extra days off. It’s about going deeper with additional support and cultural changes that help women understand and manage their health over the long term, and eradicating any stigma.
“Empowering women to access confidential expertise for their health needs when they need it – fertility experts if experiencing fertility problems, for example, or menopause support and advice–- not only helps to reduce stress, anxiety and absenteeism in employees, but can also help companies attract top talent and retain staff for longer.
“The final piece of the puzzle is communicating your health benefits policy effectively to employees, something communications professionals will know how to do better than most. It’s all well and good offering the world, but if you don’t communicate your policy effectively to employees, you’re not going to notice its impact.”
Andrea Hartley, chief executive of Skating Panda, who helped launch The Menopause Charity and worked with Dr Louise Newson at the time of the first Davina McCall menopause documentary, said: “It's not enough to just launch a policy. Policies need action and lived experience – they need to be part of the working culture.
We think conversations about the menopause are only just getting started. Our Strategy Director John explains.— Skating Panda (@SkatingPanda) May 27, 2021
There’s so much to debunk and unravel! @TheMenoCharity #OwnYourMenopause pic.twitter.com/zYBgJ9B4Vr
“They shouldn't be simply imposed but consultative. For example, at Skating Panda, we have an open forum on this and consult employees one on one as we make handbook changes, which contributes to a normalisation of otherwise stigmatised matters. A listening culture is key, as well as ensuring both men and women in senior leadership are talking about women's health – whatever the specific topic is – and are decisive at the right moments.
“And why is this important? It develops an economically sustainable and inclusive workforce. It appeals to new talent in a competitive marketplace, increases productivity and employee wellbeing.
“Menopause policies specifically help retain senior female leaders who are the peak of their career wisdom, knowledge and expertise.”