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Unions criticise ‘demeaning’ gift bag for menopausal staff at Avanti West Coast | Menopause

Unions criticise ‘demeaning’ gift bag for menopausal staff at Avanti West Coast | Menopause
Unions criticise ‘demeaning’ gift bag for menopausal staff at Avanti West Coast | Menopause


A gift bag designed for menopausal women working at Avanti West Coast containing a fan and a jelly baby has been denounced as “demeaning” and an “insulting gimmick” by rail unions.

The pack included a fan for hot sweats, a jelly baby sweet “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off”, a tissue “if you’re feeling a bit emotional” and a paperclip “to help you keep it all together”.

The cards and accompanying small items, including chocolate and teabags and a pencil “to write down things you might forget”, were handed out to staff at drop-ins for menopause support conversations.

Avanti said that the packs had been available for a year and were designed by the firm’s support group, made up of women who were themselves going through the menopause. However, they provoked outcry on social media after being highlighted by rail unions.

The drivers’ union Aslef shared a photo and said: “The menopause is debilitating for some women, it’s not a joke. Rather than handing out insulting gimmicks to female employees you’d be better placed developing workplace policies and procedures that value and support perimenopausal and menopausal women!”

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association said the pack was “appalling, demeaning and dismissive”. It added: “Women deserve informed support and respect from their employers, not belittlement.”

Among those who responded was Tanni Grey-Thompson, the peer and Paralympian, who commented: “I’m going through this. Haven’t slept properly in a year. Chocolate doesn’t make it OK.”

An Avanti spokesperson said: “This is a gift bag designed and created by our own in-house menopause support group and derived from a suggestion from a colleague based on her own personal experience. It is part of a much wider and well-used package of support provided by Avanti West Coast, as part of our commitment to be a proud menopause friendly employer.

“Over the course of the last year, Avanti West Coast has undertaken a wide range of menopause support initiatives including launching guidance for colleagues and managers, creating a support group on internal channels – which is a safe space for women to chat and seek support around menopause and perimenopause – as well as setting up a specialist library giving staff free access to books on the subject.”

Dr Louise Newson, a menopause specialist and author, said: “If someone had given me any of that stuff, and I was close to giving up my job as a doctor, I would have just burst into tears. If it’s a delaying tactic, I’m horrified. But if it’s a way of people learning more and hopefully being able to signpost them to the right treatments, then I think that’s good.”

However, she warned, not enough employers and organisations were giving women sufficient proper advice: “If someone had a broken leg, I would give them all the support and empathy and whatever they needed, but I would also encourage them to get it repaired. You’ve got to involve healthcare professionals as well.”

Newson said only a minority of menopausal women were receiving HRT, adding: “It’s important that we’re not just allowing people flexible time or reducing their hours, or talking about it – we’ve got to be a bit more proactive into enabling them to understand what treatment is available, in the same way that we would if they had any other condition that was affecting them in the workplace.”

Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Our landmark menopause study showed that the majority of women find at least one menopause symptom ‘very difficult’ and that one in 10 women have left a job because of the menopause …

“While it’s good to hear Avanti talking about menopause it’s essential that they also have a solid menopause action plan in place including training, information sharing, flexible work, absence policies and dress codes which support menopausal women.”

Avanti said it now provided access to 100% cotton shirts to support those with menopause symptoms.

Avanti’s latest internal communications controversy comes just weeks after a leaked presentation showed company managers joking about “free money!” for the firm from taxpayers, regardless of performance.

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