In typical Startups style, we wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day with a note to business owners everywhere – menopause isn’t going away, ever.
Every woman experiences it, and last year 23% of women who had been unwell as a result of menopause left their jobs. So you can either adapt your business to create a more menopause friendly working environment or face losing some of your most experienced and productive employees.
But what is the best way to support female employees going through menopause? Find out everything you need to know in this article with expert insight from Andrea Berchowitz, co-founder of digital health platform Vira Health.
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It is becoming increasingly clear that the days of viewing menopause as a taboo subject are over. Women want to feel comfortable and reassured that, if they so choose, they can talk about their menopause symptoms openly in the workplace – without judgement.
Recent Eventbrite stats emphasise this shift in thinking, with the ticketing platform seeing attendance in ‘menopause in the workplace’ events increase by 450% over the last three years.
Business owners and execs are waking up to the fact that work policies and menopause specific employee support are vital to a businesses success.
As menopause support apps like Vira Health’s Stella begin to emerge, businesses will find it harder to keep some of their best female employees unless they offer these incentives.
It’s important to keep hold of your best employees, particularly when the impacts of increasing female employment rates in the UK have resulted in a 6% (£135 billion) increase in GDP per annum.
The surveys and stats don’t lie. If you aren’t offering menopause support, more women are likely to take time off work to deal with their symptoms.
A recent survey by the TUC confirmed that 35% of respondents had taken annual leave or rest days because of their symptoms. Whilst 44% of respondents who had taken sickness absence due to menopause had not told their manager the real reason for their absence.
According to Andrea at Vira Health, productivity will increase because women are feeling better as they are more supported, so they’re bringing their best selves to work.
The productivity levels of senior level women compared to men are highlighted in McKinsey & Company’s annual ‘Women in the Workplace’ report, in which women are twice as likely to dedicate time to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work and are 15% more likely to help make sure team member workloads are manageable.
We interviewed Andrea Berchowitz, founder of Vira Health, in-depth about the practical things businesses can do to create a menopause friendly work environment.
We also discussed Vira Health’s trailblazing support app Stella, and how Andrea has succeeded in the tech space as a female founder.
Startups: I wanted to start by asking you what can SMEs be doing to raise awareness and support a menopause friendly work culture. And in particular, how do small businesses with male-dominated senior leadership teams best approach the conversation?
Andrea: There’s definitely some proactivity that a small business can do to indicate that they care, and they’re trying to be supportive without breaking the bank.
If you’re a business that requires your employees to wear uniforms, for example, give a bit of consideration about the cut or fit of the fabric. Tesco is a prime example of a company that has changed its uniforms to make them more comfortable for its employees. I know they are not an SME but what a considerate thing to do!
Also, having fans round the office is a great idea no matter what the season. One of the symptoms of menopause is hot flushes, so this would really help.
If you can, think seriously about implementing flexible working, which I’m sure we all learned a great deal about during COVID.
Make sure that your staff know they can ask for help or request time off, that they are confident you can provide flexibility. Can I take that call from home? Can I move my desk away from the radiator? Those sorts of things really do matter.
Startups: What policies should small businesses be looking to implement – and can you recommend any resources for business owners to help them do this? It would be great to hear about Vira Health’s resources and, of course, its app Stella…
Andrea: We usually say that just having a policy in place certainly isn’t enough, you really need to implement it.
Whether that’s money, willingness or whatever it is, creating a company-wide menopause policy forces a conversation that’s incredibly important.
In terms of the Stella app, we built it for the workplace because women are experiencing menopause in incredibly unique ways. So what I would deal with in terms of symptoms is very different from what another woman would deal with.
What the Stella app does is it caters/adapts/flexes to a woman’s specific symptoms, allowing any workplace to provide this huge menopause support platform that can work effectively for so many different women.
So for example, if one woman is dealing with troubles sleeping and hot flushes whilst another is dealing with anxiety and weight gain as symptoms of menopause, the Stella app will ensure they both get the help they need.
That is the great thing about Stella and digital therapy.
Private, personalised, individual support is really important.
I think a lot of businesses are trying to figure out what to do when it comes to offering menopause support and it can be expensive. And so we’ve really tried to price Stella in a way that is accessible to as many businesses as possible.
Watch the video below to see how the Stella app works:
Startups: What are the tangible benefits of creating a menopause friendly work culture?
Andrea: To be really crass about the benefits, you get three things. You get increased productivity because women are feeling better because they are more supported, so they’re bringing their best selves to work.
You get a decrease in absenteeism, as a number of surveys conducted in recent years have shown that women are missing work due to menopause symptoms.
And then you also increase retention of women employees. Surveys show that women are opting out of promotions or retiring early due to menopause related issues.
And so I think the ability to support them is great for them and even better for your business because you get to reap the benefits of keeping them around!
Startups: I’ve been trying to educate myself more on the issues surrounding menopause, particularly by watching your TED talk, which is brilliant by the way, so insightful! During it, you speak about the important role women in their 40s/50s play in business. Why should SMEs look to hire women who are 50+? What do you think are the benefits that perhaps SMEs are unaware of or are overlooking?
Andrea: Massive commendation to you for wanting to learn more about menopause. I think that in some ways, this is exactly what we’re talking about. People want to do good by learning more and supporting their colleagues.
It is not that people don’t care about menopause. It is that they simply don’t know enough about it.
Study after study shows that diverse teams create better solutions.
Think about it, more diversity means your product speaks to more people, which is commercially sound. Diversity also means people enjoy working at your business, which in turn makes them more productive.
And so I think by accidentally (or purposely) cutting out this demographic of people in their 50s is a big mistake. You want age diversity, you want racial diversity and you want gender diversity – and all of that matters.
Startups: I get it, you want to cast your net as wide as possible to attract diverse, experienced talent! We’re currently researching the hiring crisis and how the 50+ demographic might solve a lot of SME’s problems. One recruiter’s hiring tip is not to use the phrase ‘fast paced’ in the job description. What are your thoughts on this?
Andrea: You know, we hire lots of people in this demographic. I mean, there’s one particular person I can use as an example, although I won’t mention her by name as I don’t want her to be embarrassed. But she is 52, and has two kids.
She used to work for us two days a week and just came on as a full-time employee working five days. And she is without a doubt the most ambitious person on our team. She is having this total second, third, fourth wave. She knows what she’s good at and she is soaring.
Not using the phrase ‘fast-paced’ in job descriptions, I think that’s wrong. There’s this huge wave of enthusiasm and excitement that comes at that point in someone’s life and even better, it’s on the back of like real expertise and lived experience.
And so, both women and men in this demographic, they’re definitely great for our business and I think they would be great for anyone’s business.
Startups: As part of International Women’s Day we are championing women who are ‘breaking the bias’ and excelling in male-dominated industries. You are doing just that with Vira Health, a healthtech business driven by AI, which is one of many industries dominated by male leadership. How do you believe you’ve succeeded in ‘breaking the bias’ and running a hugely successful company in the healthtech and AI space?
Andrea: At Vira Health, we have to fundraise for a topic that very few people who actually write the cheques for us have had experience with, which is a massive challenge in itself.
You’re pitching to a room full of men, and you’re trying to say, “let me explain this thing to you that maybe you’ve never heard of”. Obviously, in every funding situation, you have to explain your business idea, what the problem is, what your solution is, why it’s better than someone else’s idea.
But not only do we have to do all of this, but we also need to explain what menopause actually is, because a lot of them simply don’t know. I found in lots of our pitches in the beginning, a few minutes into the pitch they were lost and needed that background knowledge before we could move forward.
Our biases are built on our own experiences and we have to push ourselves to learn about other people’s experiences and put ourselves in their shoes.
And that’s what makes us all better. The investment community is no different. They have a huge role to play in breaking a lot of the biases in business.
Startups: What practical tips can you offer other female founders and entrepreneurs in the STEM/AI startup space? How can they succeed knowing what you know from your experience?
Andrea: Firstly I don’t think women are the problem or female founders are the problem. I think structurally the lack of diversity in the investor community is a bigger problem.
Every day I see a new advertisement for women to participate in founder mentorship, accelerator programmes, business classes and courses and webinars. But that is not what women founders need. They need money, they need the cheques.
And so my advice to female founders is always to just keep trying. Talking from my experience with Vira health, we knocked on so, so many doors during the fundraising process. So don’t give up, and figure out how to articulate your business idea in the best way other people can understand it.
The best defense against what is a biased funding environment is to create a great product that people love. However, I never want to underplay how hard it is for female founders. The odds are stacked up against them, especially in the tech sector.
Startups: From interviewing female and male founders during my time at Startups, I’ve really noticed that there are some big disparities when it comes to funding experiences.
Andrea: Exactly, I think it’s almost impossible to imagine what 1.1% actually looks like. I often say if someone would have said to me when we began our first funding round that in 2020 just 2% of funding was given to women, and in 2021 it was 1% – would I have embarked upon this journey?
But I would never want to dissuade women from starting great companies and moving forward because they should and they must. Women have such incredible ideas and there are so many great female founders in London alone.
Startups: Why is the funding gap, and the number of females in executive roles, so low and why has it been such a slow process to make changes?
Andrea: As I said earlier, role modelling really does matter. And so if you can’t see women in executive positions, it takes a lot to imagine that you could be in an executive position yourself in the future.
I also think that bias is a very real and big factor. Take for example an investor, they see 50 companies and look for their traditional pattern recognition and then they invest in the same things they have always invested in before, with the same type of people.
What investors need to do is really say “no, these are my particular targets”. They need to hold themselves accountable to invest in x many black founders, x many female founders. Unless they start setting themselves these goals, equal funding is just never going to happen.
Startups: My final question Andrea, is if you could give any words of advice or encouragement to female entrepreneurs starting out on their business journey, what would they be?
Andrea: For any entrepreneur, it’s so hard to make something from nothing. It is tough to convince people to fund your idea. And so in having to do that, it takes a certain level of stamina and my advice is that you’ve got to know you can get up tomorrow and do it all again.
And another piece of advice I would say is that it has to be worth it to you. You have to really want to do it and it’s got to be something you really believe in. And when it all comes together, it is so worthwhile.
Ross has been writing for Startups since May 2021, specialising in sustainable business and telephone systems. He also runs the successful entrepreneur’s section of the website.
He’s previously written for Conde Nast Traveller and the NME and is passionate about music, sustainability, and travelling. Follow him on his Twitter – @startupsross for helpful business tips.
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