A leaked email to all staff reveals a surprising initiative
Given the turmoil in the financial, currency and energy markets, you would imagine the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy has been having a busy week.
It seems they have. An internal email leaked to UnHerd has revealed a rather unexpected priority within the department: how to get men to talk about the menopause. The BEIS’s Head of Intelligence sent an email to all staff:
What these sessions actually entail remains unclear, but the civil servant says that he wants to break the “taboo” around the subject. He goes on to thank “brave Menopause Working Group colleagues” who spoke “honestly and openly” about their experiences, despite the fact that it is a male leading the programme.
As a member of the Women Empowered Allies Working Group, the civil servant is still conscious of his own shortcomings as the ideal spokesperson on the topic of menopause:
It’s a difficult path, he admits, “but my fundamental learning point is that it’s always better to ask the question, or grapple with the issues of allyship, than to stay quiet for fear of getting it wrong”.
Many thanks to the department for their important work at this difficult time.
The email is reproduced in full below:
Let me begin with a couple of confessions. One is the fact that in many ways, I’m diversity kryptonite. I’m middle class, male and pale (though not quite stale – despite what my children tell me) and have benefitted from the following wind which comes from a private education. I’m also an erratic ally, who doesn’t always notice micro-behaviours that impact colleague’s careers. I sometimes fail to share the mental load with my partner, and I know there are blind spots in my understanding of how to be an ally (the unknown unknowns) that make me feel like an imposter.
Why am I telling you this? Firstly, because allyship isn’t about perfection – it’s about thoughtfulness and action, and it’s about being self-aware – understanding that your life experiences can be used to help colleagues, partners, family members to maximise their potential and help them to overcome challenges they might face. It’s something we can all do, if we want to, and it doesn’t demand time, but a change in the way we do things.
Sometimes small actions – adding in pronouns to your signature; sometimes big actions – like challenging misplaced assumptions or banter even when it feels awkward can make all the difference. These actions can ensure BEIS is a better place to work for all of us. In taking action, in choosing to do something differently, to deviate from the path previously travelled, one can fall foul of doubt. Even in drafting this blog I’ve deleted these lines multiple times for fear of mis-using language or making assumptions about how this might be read (and am sure I will do long after it’s published) but my fundamental learning point is that it’s always better to ask the question, or grapple with the issues of allyship, than to stay quiet for fear of getting it wrong.
In trying to give as good as I blog, I’ve been working closely with both Women Empowered and the Menopause Working Group to champion menopause awareness among male colleagues. At the start, it was hard for me to even say the word menopause out loud in meetings such is the taboo around the subject. In fact, given I’ve been a civil servant for 10 years and line-managed throughout this time, the fact that I’d never had a single conversation about the menopause, despite it being a major event in a woman’s life was pretty shocking.
Inspired by the launch of BEIS’s menopause policy, I set myself the task of running sessions on the “menopause for men” to make sure there was space to learn about the menopause (keep saying it out loud – it only gets easier) and what this means for women across the department. With thanks to some brave Menopause Working Group colleagues who honestly and openly talked about their experiences and some fellow allies – we discussed the issue and started to chip away at the taboos. It was eye-opening and we all left the meeting better equipped to be allies to colleagues (and friends and partners) going through the menopause. It’s a small start but shows the power of allyship to help increase awareness of issues and empower women across the department.
A BEIS spokesperson told UnHerd: “The blog is about supporting female work colleagues through the menopause. One 45 minute session, which was entirely voluntary to attend, was held over lunch time. This was done at no cost to the department.”