10 years ago, Lauren Chiren began experiencing a series of debilitating symptoms, including sleeplessness, anxiety and palpitations.
Convinced she had early onset dementia, wracked with self-doubt and struggling to function confidently in the workplace, she resigned from a senior role in the finance industry.
“I subsequently found out it was, in inverted commas, ‘just the menopause’”, says Lauren. “But it left me reeling. I knew in that moment that I would do anything and everything I could to ensure no other woman had the same experience.”
“Senior colleagues lost confidence in me”
Lauren’s CV is rich and varied. From rolling out electronic monitoring for offenders for the Home Office to working as a sports therapist and nutritional adviser with her own clinics in Bristol and London, career wise, prior to the menopause, she was pretty much unstoppable. But it was whilst working as a senior transformation executive in finance that menopause hit.
She recalls with great candour the nightmarish scenarios that unfolded at the office:
“On one occasion, I found myself, literally, being caught by a colleague because I was just about to pass out. He was a part-time paramedic and had to lay me down on the floor with my legs in the air… just before I walked in a meeting.
“Another time, I was sat in my director’s office and I had to cling onto the chair for 45 minutes to stop myself falling off of it. I still don’t know what actually happened in that meeting because all I could concentrate on was my breathing and just kept nodding – hopefully - in the right places. I was so dizzy, I thought that if I stood up, I’d have fallen over.”
Understandably, the ordinarily strong and forthright Lauren’s confidence plummeted, she struggled to make big decisions at work and as her confidence hit rock bottom, her colleagues, unaware of what she was experiencing, lost confidence in her too.
“It was just like a spiral,” remembers Lauren, “so I left.”
This all-time low ended up being a turning point in her life. She retrained as a coach and established Women of a Certain Stage; providing individuals with the tools and techniques to navigate menopause, and offering businesses guidance on protecting the welfare of menopausal women.
Opening up the menopause conversation
Some companies, says Lauren, already have menopause policies in place. Others still feel it’s a taboo subject and don’t fully understand it. The good news, however, they’re all up for opening up the conversation.
“Businesses must realise that women over 50 are the fastest growing cohort of employees in the UK. They have to support them if they are to retain those skills and knowledge and help female talent flourish. If they don’t, the figures prove that a business’s bottom line will suffer.”
Lauren typically conducts a ‘menopause audit’ of a business before offering advice. She looks at things such as line management training (can managers recognise symptoms? Do they know where to access support for their employees?), uniform policy (tight clothing and hot flushes make for uneasy companions) and the possibility of flexible or homeworking for women whose symptoms are, for example, interrupting their sleep.
“Policies are great,” adds Lauren, “but it needs to be more about changing the workplace culture; transforming it into a space where people support people. It’s about adapting working styles, so that organisations are more women-friendly. Menopause causes enough anxiety, women don’t need concerns about losing their job adding to it.”
Women need to know they’re not alone
Women of a Certain Stage hosts monthly Menopause Social events in Bristol (where Lauren is based). From 10.30am to noon, the first Sunday of every month, like-minded women can meet up to share advice, make friends and simply be themselves. Lauren also supports women and businesses to run their own pop-up Menopause Social events.
“It’s so important during menopause to know you’re not alone,” says Lauren, “and that what you’re going through isn’t unusual. I didn’t get the familiar hot flushes or brain fog, so was clueless as to the cause of my symptoms, let alone connect with others experiencing the same. It’s great to see a bunch of women in a room and suddenly the one who says, ‘I haven’t had sex with my partner for four years because it’s too painful’ discovers that the entire room has vaginal dryness too!
“It’s about having a voice and being heard, not being made to feel like you’re ‘not all that anymore’. That’s the feedback I’m getting from the women who attend.”
Women of a Certain Stage regularly hosts pop-up workshops outside of Bristol. Lauren thinks social engagement for many menopausal women is often lacking:
“They call us the ‘sandwich generation’ – looking after children, caring for elderly parents and holding down a full-time job. There’s little time left to look after your needs and socialise. These events go some way to addressing that.”
A positive place
When we speak, Lauren is just about to jet off to Texas. In her role as both an esteemed keynote speaker and coach, she’s taking her menopause message global. Did she ever imagine, whilst sat clinging to that chair, she’d ever find herself in such a positive place?
“No, but I wouldn’t change my experience,” she smiles. “In fact, I’m really grateful for it. It led to me to retrain and now I’m able to now work in a heart-led industry – and one in which my hair and make-up doesn’t have to be perfect every day!”
She’s visibly delighted that the conversational tide is turning around menopause, words are being put into action and a growing number of meno-centric companies, like Become ™, now exist:
“It’s great. Half the population’s going to go through this and the other half will be impacted by it one way or another, so I don’t think you can have too many people helping support people through this time of life.”
Lauren Chiren will be working with Become ™ to help support women experiencing menopause, sharing her knowledge and experience both here on the website and on social media. Watch this space!