Menopause Awareness Day (18 October) focuses on a topic that until very recently would have caused no discussion among senior leaders in the property industry, and if it had it probably would have been the subject of a poor joke. That is the reality of the way our industry was and, sadly to some extent, still is.
The future, though, is without doubt far more female. Watkin Jones’s business is built on the expertise of our people, so we always work to recruit and develop the best talent, whoever they are. Being seen as a poor employer in the eyes of the more highly educated 50% of the population would be hugely damaging and stupid for any leader to allow.
There is an enormous challenge for businesses in the built environment to attract female talent. Every industry wants the best people and raising female leaders up through the ranks is something many sectors are focused on, but in property we are starting from a particularly low base – and in some cases, particularly low mindsets.
If we think the next generation of bright and talented young women aren’t watching how those ahead of them are treated in an industry as they reach more senior positions, we are kidding ourselves.
Which brings me back to menopause awareness. The only way we will change things is if male leaders are willing to play their part in normalising open conversations about issues that affect women. There is nothing we can do to stop the impact that the menopause has on many women, but we can make it an easier experience and help female employees continue to deliver great work while progressing in their careers.
Leaders should be active in recognising the symptoms of menopause
It’s not good enough for men, who still make up the majority of property leaders, to hide away, be embarrassed or use the excuse that women don’t want them at the table for these conversations, because they do. From talking with women in our business, it is clear they want their leaders to really listen, be prepared to ask sensitive questions and then become advocates and deliverers of positive change.
The menopause tends to start at around the point women in senior roles will be taking on more responsibility, but we know that many women don’t feel they can talk to their colleagues, and in particular male leaders, about the challenges they face.
Leaders should be active in recognising the temporary symptoms of menopause, including anxiety, fatigue and poor concentration, as well as mood changes, which can have a significant impact on women’s confidence, as well as their physical and mental health.
Having a more open and positive culture when it comes to our health will ultimately benefit us all. We have started to see more open conversations about mental health and I’ve seen the impact of some of our senior team talking openly about their experience of taking care of their own mental health. Similar conversations now need to happen for women.
Unlearning our culture of not talking about things because they might feel embarrassing is hard. But we have an opportunity to build a better future for everyone in the industry, and that starts by normalising talking about the normal.
Richard Simpson is chief executive of Watkin Jones