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AECOM pledges to support its people going through menopause

AECOM pledges to support its people going through menopause

 October 17, 2022

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For many women, perimenopause and menopause can be life-changing and, without support, an isolating experience. Awareness raising and education means women can be better supported in joining the dots as they understand the connection between their symptoms and midlife hormone fluctuations.

To mark World Menopause Day, we find out what AECOM is doing to support employees experiencing perimenopause and menopause in Europe and India.

In addition, AECOM Senior Project Surveyor Paula Hanks-Jones [pictured above] shares her story and insights in the hope further women may benefit from her experience.

Marking World Menopause Day

World Menopause Day aims to raise awareness of the menopause and to support options to improve health and well-being for women in mid-life and beyond. For more information on World Menopause Day, visit the International Menopause Society website.

The day and provides an opportunity to educate about women’s health and the management options available while combating global stigma and misinformation. For AECOM, the day is also closely aligned to their focus on employee wellbeing. “Our wellbeing vision is about promoting a culture of care. The mental health impacts of the menopause aren’t well understood so we want to educate and put the support in place for both employees and managers to support their teams. 99% of women believe their symptoms have led to a negative impact on their career too so in line with our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion agenda, we want to remove any barriers to progression for women in the workplace,” explains Claire Wilkinson, Wellbeing Lead at AECOM.

So what is perimenopause and menopause?

According to the NHS website, menopause is when periods stop due to lower hormone levels. For many women this occurs between the age of 45 and 55. Some women don't experience any symptoms, whereas others may have a number of symptoms, and this can sometimes impact both the physical and mental aspects of a woman's life including relationships, work, and activities.

AECOM is a Menopause Workplace Pledge signatory

AECOM menopause

AECOM has signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, showing its commitment to supporting employees going through the menopause, an action that Paula is pleased about.

"I feel I'm no longer alone and should any of my colleagues feel a bit lost during menopause - we know there are people and a system in place to help support them," says Paula.

AECOM menopause

Supporting employees in the workplace experiencing menopause

When asked why it's so important to support employees in the workplace experiencing menopause, Paula explains that it's important to support employees experiencing menopause because there are a huge number of women with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the workplace. A People Management article highlighted that almost a million women have left the workplace because of menopausal symptoms. “We need to maintain the strength of our teams, and we can only do that if we support women through menopause, so that their working and family lives don’t suffer,” she says.

AECOM’s menopause champions

2022 saw AECOM introduce menopause champions and Paula Hanks-Jones is one of them.

AECOM’s Menopause Champions are available to both its employees and managers to offer reassurance and support for those experiencing menopausal symptoms, to provide guidance towards appropriate treatment and other sources of supportive help. In her role as a Menopause Champion, Paula hopes to support anyone who may feel affected by perimenopause.

"I hope to raise awareness with managers, so they know how to best support anyone who approaches them. I want to get people talking about menopause and help make it less of a taboo, and something that we need to understand and address together," explains Paula.

AECOM menopause pledge Paula Hanks-Jones

Paula’s journey

Paula had struggled physically with menstrual symptoms since her early thirties.

"I just felt this was part of being a woman and something I had to deal with,” she says.

“It got to the point where I had to carefully plan my meetings around cycles (I was having two a month in my early forties with excruciating pain and iron deficiencies) and felt generally like life was a hard slog. Again, I just felt like this was all part of being a woman of a certain age, but never once thought that the perimenopause would be the cause. In fact, when I contacted the doctor on several occasions over the last five years, I was always told I was ‘too young’ to be going through the perimenopause."

Menopause in the media

Watching the documentary by Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause proved to be a turning point for Paula. 

Paula says: "At that time, I felt my mood swings were a problem and my symptoms had escalated to the point where I would get so distressed that I could see that it was starting to impact on my family. After watching the documentary, I again contacted my doctors, and again was told I was too young. I decided this time I wasn’t going to accept this answer, so I conducted further research. I realised all the symptoms and frustrations around not getting any support was a common thing."

“A second Davina McCall documentary also helped me understand the effects of perimenopause on the brain, which could have an impact on me and my family as well as potentially affect everything about me, especially work," reflects Paula.

A turning point

Despite getting into running, Paula started feeling anxious over simple situations and fearing daily tasks at work.

"I had got to the point where I couldn’t even face writing an email due to severe anxiety, and I questioned my general ability to do anything. I also contemplated giving up my job. The irony of this is that I put myself through university as a single mother of two children on my own, while also working, and recently completed a Masters degree in Construction Law while working full-time and managing a busy family and household," she says.

Paula called her doctors again, emphasising that she wanted to see a younger female doctor. "By that time, my mental health had suffered so much that I felt inadequate in every area of my life and was having sinister thoughts. This was something very out of character for me, and something I had never experienced previously," she explains.

Regaining her life through medical help and mental wellbeing

Paula received a call back from a female doctor who immediately agreed she sounded like she simply required a top-up of estrogen. The doctor prescribed a solution that Paula has since been on for the past 12 months.

"I started feeling less anxious after two days of taking the vital hormone and, after a week, most of my mental health symptoms had diminished. I went on to get a coil fitted, which dealt with the physical ailments and provides the necessary progesterone hormone which needs to be taken alongside estrogen. A year on I feel like I have my life back," says Paula.

As well as paying close attention to her body, Paula also focuses on her mind and what makes her feel strong and what doesn’t.

“I listen to both my body and my mind when they are telling me that I need to get out in nature, or rest (which can often be difficult!) or need some exercise which always makes me feel great!” attests Paula. 

Education on perimenopause is key

“I would encourage everyone to please educate yourself about the perimenopause - what the symptoms are, how it may affect women, and the implications for family and work generally. Women may feel they are inadequate and often reduce their working hours or give up roles they’ve invested years moving into," Paula explains.

"I can't help thinking of all that wealth of knowledge and experience just wasted because women are misunderstood, not only by their colleagues but sometimes by themselves. I'm not a medically trained professional and can only share my story and experiences, but there are many studies being conducted that prove the negative impacts of the lack of estrogen to the human body, which is something which naturally occurs in women, sometimes as young as their twenties,” adds Paula.

Advice for women starting the menopause journey

"Document everything," says Paula.

"There's an app called Balance that I found to be highly beneficial. The app enables you to document ailments and your mood. It then generates a downloadable report over three months."

Looking forward to the future

Paula is in her late forties, and she's excited about her future.

She has a strong friendship group and busy social life. She works hard, constantly keeping herself educated in her field and is currently studying her Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to obtain her Chartership. Paula has three grown up children, and a new husband with whom she has just bought a new home - so life is good.

"I feel like me again and more than capable and adequate. I honestly believe the vital estrogen top up has provided that for me," attests Paula.

"It’s a horrible feeling when previously you've been someone with a huge zest for life, who suddenly then feels inadequate in every aspect and full of dread getting through each day," explains Paula.

"Thankfully, I'm back to feeling like possibilities for me are endless. I have my zest back again - and I'm me again. Everyone is a winner – my family, my employer, my friends."

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