I have been a civil servant for over 30 years, and my main role in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is on the Honours team. I founded SWIM (Supporting the Workplace in Menopause) staff network in MoJ as a result of my own menopause journey.
From about 2017 onwards (the year of my 50th birthday), I knew something wasn’t quite right, health-wise. Eventually, after joining the dots, I realised I was entering perimenopause, the start of the hormonal changes bringing my fertile years to an end.
I did a couple of things about it. First, I went to see my GP, who was very sympathetic and referred me for some tests to rule out other things. And so began my journey to feeling better medically.
I also turned to the Ministry of Justice intranet for some help and guidance for being at work. After all, there is help there on sickness, pregnancy, disability, faith, sexuality, and many more topics. To my astonishment, I found nothing.
Disappointed, I started looking around social media and, as a big Twitter user (my puppy has 2,000+ followers, me not so many), I came across the Cross-Government Menopause Network (or Working Group as it was then), which aimed to fill the gap in support and advice when it came to menopause. As a network, we worked together to address that gap and developed a set of guiding principles and a toolkit for the Civil Service and launched them in September 2019.
While contributing to this group, I set about planning specific help for MoJ staff. This resulted in the SWIM network being founded on World Menopause Day 2018. Supporting the Workplace In Menopause was created to provide practical support on a subject rarely discussed.
After 18 months we have nearly 700 members from right across the department and its agencies, in courts, prisons, policy offices, the Legal Aid Agency, Office of the Public Guardian and other MoJ arm’s length bodies; and with guest members from the Crown Prosecution Service, Government Legal Department, and Government Internal Audit Agency, who all share HQ accommodation with MoJ.
We aim to support members (and all staff) with resources on menopause, a fortnightly email update, quarterly newsletter and regular face-to-face and online events. We support intersectionality with our other staff networks, and do as much with them as possible, around matters including gender, age, LGB&TI, disability, faith, parents, and so on.
Every menopause journey is different. I share mine in the hope it will encourage someone to speak up and seek help if they need it, and open the conversation on what has previously been an almost taboo or, even, joke subject at home and at work.
If our network helps just one person who is experiencing problems in this area then, to me, that is a success.
That success has since been validated, with the Cross Government Menopause Network’s winning several awards. As well as the SWIM network secretary winning a community award and me being shortlisted for an MoJ Spotlight Award earlier this year.