Breaking the taboo with Channel 430.03.21
Head of Proposition
Despite wider progress towards gender equality in the world of work, the menopause remains an often-taboo subject at work; a taboo which is restricting some of your best employees. We spoke to Charlotte Mounsey, Pensions & Benefits Manager at Channel 4, to hear about their employee-led approach to HR innovation, their ground-breaking menopause policy, and how it kickstarted a series of industry-first policies among peers.
The perfect combination of data and people
At Channel 4, we have a dual approach: we have the data side, and also the people-led side. Communication is a real key factor for both of those. On the data side, we like to set goals for how we can improve what we're doing, for example around gender pay gap reporting. So one of our goals is for the top 100 employees’ pay to be split 50/50 by gender by 2023. Of course, all this data is based on people, so we also like to educate employees on things like societal factors that affect our goals and how we achieve them. This allows employees to see how they could be part of that.
Rather than just focussing on gender, we also publish more broadly, including ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation data. This isn’t something that’s required legally, but shows our dedication to equality. It goes beyond just gender for us; we’ve also recently launched a career development programme which has a focus on typically-excluded groups, which we’re hoping will help overcome some of those societal factors.
The Channel 4 purpose is actually to ‘create change through entertainment’ – a big part of it being around diversity and giving people a voice. So on the people side, we try and do the same with our employees through a number of networks that enable them to challenge the way we’re doing things. It’s very much everything we do is based on data, but we still have that personal side with employees because we realise they’re the ones who are going to drive the change.
Employee-led networks to empower change
We have nine employee networks at the moment, which are all very much created by employees based on the subjects that are most important to them. The aim is to have a network that every employee can resonate with; that they feel they can be part of and contribute to. Our newest network is called 4Parents & Carers, which was only set up last year of the back of the first lockdown.
Each of the networks has an executive sponsor, so they can signpost members to resources but also escalate any issues up to the executive board and create discussion at a corporate level. That ensures we’re keeping connected with the groups and what’s coming out of them, to really drive change through the business right from the top.
One of the biggest success sorties is our 4Women network who are passionate about gender equality, and specifically women, in the workplace. This network is who identified the need for the menopause policy, which was designed to support and educate employees around menopause. As a result, Channel 4 was the first media company to have a menopause policy which made global news, so we’ve had some big successes as a result of the employee networks.
The root of the change
The policy was really brought about as a result of one of the co-chairs of the 4Women network who started to experience symptoms of the menopause herself but didn’t know what it was. It was only when she got a diagnosis from her doctor of perimenopause that she realised what was going on. She was quite shocked that no one in her life had prepared her for the moment, and she spoke to the other 4Women network members. Everyone felt it was an issue that’s not even discussed in the workplace, so they put it forward as an area of interest.
The 4Women network held focus groups to look at how menopause symptoms affect the way people can work, and what Channel 4 could do about it to support employees. The group got direct support from our CEO, Alex, who said she thought the menopause was the next big issue to tackle in the workplace. The group then worked closely with our HR team to write the policy and when it came to launching it they worked with our apprenticeship team to produce an internal film that showed the lack of knowledge around the menopause, interviewing colleagues across the business.
Education and awareness
There’s a lot covered within the policy, a majority of which is the educational piece and to raise the awareness of menopause and how it affects employees. It discusses how employees can be supported with flexible working arrangements and paid leave if they’re feeling unwell, and that includes sudden onset of symptoms if it happens whilst they’re at work. When we were in the office we had a specific room dedicated to being a private, cool, quiet place, and we also do working environment assessments to see if we can alleviate anything making symptoms worse, with provisions of fans or reduction in noise or light.
The policy also includes a lot of backlinks to various resources and support, and there’s details for our dedicated HR menopause champions and our 4Mental Health employee network. Everything is held online so it’s accessible through the internet, and we also have a little menopause hub with all the virtual resources, such as internal videos, recordings of live events and more.
Benefits as a policy backbone
Next, we wanted to explore ways we could further support employees directly with health needs rather than solely on the emotional support side. We looked at a few options and started looking at support-based platforms for menopause, but again it didn’t really offer the level of healthcare that we were looking for. We approached BUPA who are our provider for our Private Medical Insurance as we thought they may be able to incorporate this under our existing policy.
We found that there was a lack of demand for the service and on trying other insurers it was exactly the same story – lack of demand, not possible, etc. We even started looking at partnering with specialist GPs directly, but it was very high cost within London and we have employees all over the UK.
On reassessing, we went back to BUPA who had actually gone back to market and got feedback from other employers and started working on a menopause plan, which they were able to provide us early access to.
The plan itself really meets the healthcare needs of employees: it includes access to a specialist GP, a personalised care plan and follow-up appointment with the same GP. There’s also access to specialist blood tests which Channel 4 have chosen to fund for employees. Finally, there’s an anytime helpline which has menopause-trained nurses to speak to anyone dealing with symptoms, or even looking to support someone else.
Separate from our PMI we also have a benefit which offers counselling, so employees can receive free, confidential support, should they need it.
Looking forward 4Women
The menopause policy really highlighted the need to work closely with our employee networks; to not only understand the motivation behind work they do, but anticipate any future initiatives they may have. That’s one of my objectives for this year: to get more involved with all our employee networks, not just 4Women. Another key objective for the team is about sharing our experiences with other employers, like we’re doing today. Just to help understand the challenges employers may face with their employees who don’t necessarily have the same access to a voice as at Channel4.
It’s great that lots of organisations now have networks for all different subjects, with diversity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees and BAME employees – I think that’s really empowering, and there’s been some great things to come out of those internal networks.
Benefits is really my key area, and we hear a lot about diversity and inclusion, so it would be great to push the market a bit more and say ‘what can you do?’. I think if we can link all of these areas to benefits more and more it would be fantastic; there’s definitely pieces out there ready to be made.
Listen to the full interview
Hear our complete conversation with Charlotte, including a deep-dive into what Channel 4’s menopause policy includes and why it matters for all their employees.
With more than 20 years experience in the UK employee benefits market, Charlotte joined Benefex in 2019 as Head of Proposition. Charlotte believes that the changing landscape of the workforce driven by both technology and social developments means now is the time for organisations to review how they can better connect with their employees to maximise engagement and productivity in an increasingly competitive market.