More organisations are talking about supporting colleagues through menopause, which I believe is mostly a positive move, but I am worried that some of the support will inadvertently lead to privacy breaches, which I’ll explain below. So I pulled together some research and my own experience and expertise in privacy to produce a training session – and this article – about supporting colleagues through menopause while respecting their privacy. Links to videos of the training are at the end of this article. Let’s start though, by considering who the support is aimed at.
When you Google “menopausal woman” you get pictures of sad, depressed looking, older women. And it feels a little bit unfair, because perimenopause, which is the time running up to your periods having stopped for 12 months, can start in your late 30s or in your 40s.
A huge number of women are going through perimenopause and menopause while still in the workforce. We’re working longer – till we’re 67 at least. And some of these perimenopausal women, well, one of them is me!
I definitely don’t put myself in that category of the greying (well I am greying, but I dye it!) older, very sad, very tired looking lady that you get when you Google “menopausal woman”. I am very much struggling with perimenopause…and have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. So that’s fun!
Collecting sensitive data?
When we talk about Menopause Policies, which involve collecting or recording information about the women involved, the information we’re talking about is known Special Categories Data.
If you know something about someone’s physical or mental health, that’s Special Categories Data which is classed as higher risk data because of the harm that people can suffer from that data being misused.
So, health-related data needs stricter processing conditions and controls; a higher bar to reach before you can process this information and tighter controls around it.
The Purpose Paradox
I see a lot of what I call the Purpose Paradox when Menopause Policies or Period Policies or similar are planned.
The Purpose Paradox is when the purpose of a project or a policy, or anything else, isn’t actually going to achieve the desired purpose, because of the way that it’s being handled.
The “how” doesn’t align with the “why” and we get a conflict, or a paradox.
You might have a great purpose for carrying out the project or policy, but due to the way go about it you end up with a real conflict. And I call that the Purpose Paradox.
How to respect privacy
If we’re going to respect privacy there are two ways to go about it: Reduce the data that we’re actually handling, and/or control that data.
Let’s start with the controls.
If we’re going to collect and use health-related data about women in our workplace who are going through these things, we should be thinking about the data protection principles, the rights of data subjects (the people whose data we’re collecting) to access their data and so on, and how we move that data around, who we share it with, and where we store it.
The Data Protection Principles:
- Lawful & Fair data processing – the need to identify a legal basis for collecting & storing data (2 legal bases are required for special categories data).
- Transparent – privacy notices and other communications about how & why data is handled.
- Limited purpose
- Minimal data
- Accurate & up-to-date data
- Limited data retention
- Accountability – policies, training, etc.
It is possible to collect and store health-related data, if we comply with the Principles, rights, and other obligations under the (UK)GDPR.
However, if all that is putting you off a little bit, let’s think about how we can support people while 100% respecting their privacy; there are also things we can do that don’t involve collecting any data.
Reduce the amount of data collection
Generally encourage, and allow, things that can help with some of the debilitating symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, including mood swings, brain fog, hot flushes, insomnia, and more:
- Healthy eating
- Temperature control
- Comfortable clothing
- Flexible working arrangements
- Frequent breaks
- Open communication*
There’s an asterisk on the bottom one because if you’re going to be communicating, are you writing the information down? Are you putting it in a system or a file, or just talking about it?
How to adjust workplaces to support perimenopausal & menopausal colleagues
Some ideas for swaps we could make, to bring these adjustments to life in workplaces.
Some of these are very small changes, but could make a huge impact:
Healthy Options: Celebrations and raising money in the workplace often involve cakes and bake sales. Can we Include and encourage healthy options too?
It doesn’t need to be boring. I was at an event in May and one of the stands was a smoothie bar and it was absolutely fantastic. The colours and the flavours and the smells – it felt like a real treat (much more so than the dried-up pastries.)
Informal dress codes: Are we expecting people to wear a dress code that’s uncomfortable? Or can we allow people to be a little bit more comfortable, wear what they want to wear, be themselves?
Remote working: Are we expecting people to come into an office, or as we’ve proven can happen over the last two years, can teams work successfully from home?
Flexible working: Do we expect everyone to log on at 9am on the dot, or can we go with the flow a little bit and be more flexible about times?
Professional help: If you have colleague assistant programmes, don’t make colleagues ask how to access it; make sure – through the Intranet, signs, etc. – that everybody knows it exists and how it works and that it’s confidential, so that nobody’s sitting there thinking “I need help, but I really don’t want to ask for help.”
Make sure people know the phone number and the website address so they can access the support themselves.
Celebrate: And finally, celebrate (but not always with cakes!) Celebrate World Menopause Day and all these sorts of things and make it really clear that you are listening, and you are open to improving life for women at this stage of their lives.
Summary Action Plan for supporting colleagues through menopause while respecting their privacy
- Purpose – what are you trying to achieve & why?
- Policy – how will you achieve your objective, while controlling risks?
- Procedures & Actions – put the policy into action.
- Communication – be clear about your commitment and your policy.
- Review – keep the policy, procedures & actions under review and continue to improve.
When putting a policy in place, first think about what you are trying to achieve and why; is it that we just want to have statistics (which isn’t a good purpose by the way!) or is it that we actually want to help people?
The policy should include thinking about what we can put in place without collecting data and then where we absolutely feel we do have to collect some data, you can record data, but think carefully about all those points from earlier about data protection compliance.
How are we going to keep the data secure? How are we going to make sure we only collect the minimum data? And that we don’t keep it forever? And all those kinds of things.
Make sure those controls are in place in your policy and then cascade down to your procedures and actions; everything that happens on the ground should be aligned to the policy and its purpose, to avoid the Purpose Paradox.
Be clear about what the policy is, and how it applies, through open communication.
And then keep it under review, because there’s no such thing as a perfect policy; it will probably need to change over time. Be open to two-way communication and listen for people telling you what’s working and what’s not working.
Although there is no such thing as a perfect policy, there are many actions employers can take to support colleagues going through perimenopause and menopause, and a lot of them don’t involve collecting any information. Where you do feel the need to collect data, that can – and should! –be done with careful planning, to protect people’s privacy.
Further help and advice
If your organisation is considering implementing a Menopause Policy, or a Period Policy or any other Equality, Diversity & Inclusion related Policy, please reach out so we can help you support people while respecting their privacy.
Click here for information on our on-demand training covering all aspects of EDI while respecting privacy, which is proudly co-hosted with Kathryn Paylor-Bent of Consult Seated, the self-described award-winning lady in the funky heels, oh and the wheelchair!
Contact Clare@cpdataprotection.com with any questions or to arrange a chat.