How Tarmac is supporting colleagues experiencing menopause

World Menopause Awareness Month and International Women’s Day (IWD) are ideal opportunities to encourage colleagues to talk about matters affecting life in today’s workplace.

To learn more about how establishing a menopause employee community and formal policy has benefitted the Tarmac business, I invited Kate Jones, Head of Communications & Corporate Affairs, to share their story.

Tarmac launched its menopause policy as part of Menopause Awareness Month back in 2022.

The policy was created with colleague feedback and includes accompanying guidance for both line managers and employees, with an action plan template.

Together the resources are designed to help everyone have a productive, supportive conversation about their needs during menopause and any reasonable adjustments that may be required during this time.

We asked Kate to explain more about how Tarmac is supporting colleagues around menopause.

Further reading via All Things IC: Podcast episode with Sue Palfrey – How to support colleagues experiencing perimenopause and menopause.

I’ll hand you over…

Kate Jones, how Tarmac is supporting colleagues experiencing menopause

How Tarmac is supporting colleagues experiencing menopause

How did you come to provide colleagues with a space to talk about menopause? 
The menopause employee community came about in response to colleagues saying it was a conversation they wanted to have, which initially started in the Female Voice employee community. You could call this our ‘sister’ community and it has nearly 300 members – both those who identify as women and allies who want to support women in the workplace.

Female Voice was one of the original communities we set up based on data from our inclusion and diversity survey and in total, we now have 11 employee resource groups (or employee communities as we call them) at Tarmac.

Find out more: Being candid with Amrit Nijjar.

Female Voice is an open community where all sorts of conversations relating to women in the workplace happen, and the Menopause employee community sits alongside that as a closed support group.

Colleagues are welcome to join if they themselves are currently experiencing menopause, are perimenopausal or if it’s likely to happen to them in the not-too-distant future.

It’s a smaller group than some of our other ERGs, with just over 100 members. Membership grows regularly as colleagues respond to an event that we’re running, such as one of our regular Teams coffee mornings, or an article that we publish. Or they might hear somebody else talking about the employee community. We are small but mighty in the level of support we give each other, sharing experiences and coping strategies for all aspects of menopause.

At Tarmac, amongst the 10 ERGs, we have two that are closed. One is the Menopause employee community and then we also have a private LGBTQ+ employee community for colleagues who identify. They are companion groups to the open communities; safe spaces for people to talk through their own lived experiences and share some of what they’re going through with people who can understand and empathise.

Were there any roadblocks you had to overcome in establishing the ERG?
The first challenge we had was our IT infrastructure within Tarmac. Three years ago, we didn’t have an online place where these employee communities could ‘live’ until we replaced our ageing intranet with a more modern platform. Right from the start of the intranet project, making sure we were creating something that would enable us to host ERGs and allow people to collaborate was a key priority.

These online employee communities work in a similar way to groups on other social media channels such as Facebook. Colleagues can see who the other members are as well as post, like and comment on each other’s posts.

It’s not ideal because other companies in the construction sector, the intranet doesn’t reach everyone. Tarmac has employees who are working in offices and connected to the IT infrastructure, as well as employees who work on site, in the frontline of our operations and aren’t online. These colleagues don’t have email addresses, they don’t have access to SharePoint or to our Intranet. This infrastructure challenge is something that we’re working to address.

We do make sure that our colleagues can join the virtual events via an MS Teams link and it’s possible to do this from a personal device. But the fact remains that most of the support activity takes place online, and you can currently only join with a company email address.

I think the other challenge is cultural. Together, we are working to make Tarmac a more inclusive workplace. It’s somewhere that traditionally has been male dominated with the challenges that can have from an attraction and retention perspective.

These employee communities are very much part of demonstrating that everyone can work in the construction industry and specifically feel like they belong at Tarmac.

They are set up to help colleagues find each other and with sponsorship from a senior level so that those leaders learn by hearing conversations that they may not otherwise hear. Changing culture is an ongoing challenge, it’s about how comfortable our colleagues feel sharing their experiences within the workplace to help us get better.

What was the initial reaction from colleagues? 
I think because menopause isn’t discussed more widely, it’s a difficult subject to open up about. You’re talking about emotional upheaval. You’re talking about potentially embarrassing and highly personal physical symptoms. That’s why we created this employee community as a closed group so that members felt they could interact with others who would recognise and emphasise with their experience.

It’s challenging to talk about these topics at work, whether they’re menopause related or whether it’s general anxiety or other mental health issues.

One of the things that our colleagues told us was they didn’t know how to talk to their managers about what was happening. There was fear around how it might be received. Would they be penalised if they suddenly found themselves unable to do their job in the same way they could before experiencing these symptoms?

We listened to feedback from the members about how the business might address this; what they asked for, as well as the support that was available through the employee community, was for a policy. They wanted to see tangible action.

We launched the menopause policy in October 2022 as part of our activity during Menopause Awareness Week. It sets out how Tarmac will support an employee during this time of their career. Alongside the policy are several guides. There is a manager guide, an employee guide with an accompanying template to help colleagues have those conversations with their managers.

It gives a structure for that conversation, and helps the employee identify any temporary adjustments that might be needed whilst they’re going through what is a temporary life phase.

At the launch event, as Chair of the Menopause employee community, I talked about my own experience. I think it’s worth saying here that there is no one-size-fits-all. Some women won’t be affected to the degree that others will be by the menopause.

An HR colleague then introduced the policy and talked through what it covered, how people could use it and the support materials. We also asked a senior manager from the operational business to come and talk about his experience, which helped other male colleagues consider the subject and get advice on how they might support women in their team or indeed their wives or partners.

How do you think having this ERG has business benefits for Tarmac?
When I was describing my experience during the launch event, there were comments in the Chat from colleagues saying, “I thought it was just me” or “I’m in tears listening to you because that’s what’s happened to me”. This ERG stops our colleagues from feeling isolated or alone by offering relatable experiences and practical advice.

We have a high number of our employees who are going or will go through the menopause. While operation roles on site are male dominated, if we look at our support functions there are more women. More women are joining the operational business, though, and it’s something we need to prepare for.

Attracting and (importantly) retaining more female employees is key to us achieving our inclusion and diversity ambitions, and having a menopause policy in place will help us do that. There are worrying statistics showing that women can leave the workplace because of their menopausal symptoms. Losing that experience and knowledge has the potential to negatively impact the success of our business.

What I hope we’re doing with this new policy and employee community is helping women to make temporary adjustments whilst they navigate this phase of their life and come out the other side.

Post author: Kate Jones.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights Kate. She’s kindly offered to share their policy, so if you have any queries and would like to get in touch with Kate, you can find her via LinkedIn.

First published on the All Things IC blog 20 October 2023.

Candid Comms featuring Sue Palfrey

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