Mentorship Series #4: Breaking Workplace Stigma Around Women's Health

By Publications Checkout
Mentorship Series #4: Breaking Workplace Stigma Around Women's Health

In the fourth of a series of articles by the LEAD Network Ireland Chapter, in partnership with Checkout, Maeve McCleane, chief people officer, Lidl Ireland & Northern Ireland, talks about how Lidl embarked on a journey of breaking the stigma associated with menopause in the workplace and her own personal experience.

Having spent nearly 20 years in Lidl – eight of them as chief people officer – developing people-centric policies has been at the forefront our people strategy for many years.

Part of my role is to ensure that we are an inclusive place to work, creating an environment where each colleague can perform at their best every day.

As is the case with many menopause advocates, my interest in menopause came about through my own personal experience.

About three years ago I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep. I was putting on weight and I had dreadful pains in my feet and ankles, to name just a few!


At the time, I did not know a single menopausal woman in work.

I was on the board of a company employing over 7,000 colleagues across the island, over half of whom are women, and many of those who are in the menopausal age bracket.


I then met Loretta Dignam and her team at the Menopause Hub, and they were a fantastic partner in helping us educate our senior leadership team.

They were instrumental in supporting us to develop our policies and guides, and in educating and training colleagues on how to be supporters and allies of women during perimenopause and menopause.

Including an expert partner in the development of policies or initiatives was vital.


This ensured that we were designing a policy that would be the most effective in supporting colleagues, and it gave colleagues confidence that this was advice or support they can trust.

The recruitment and retention of the best talent, be it in retail or other industries, is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges facing any business today.

Women are the fastest growing demographic in the workplace.

It is crucial that we create a work environment where women feel they are supported to be at their best.

The recent Menopause Summit survey revealed that 72% of women say that their menopause symptoms have affected their performance at work.


I can completely relate, and many other women are battling devastating symptoms while trying to hold down a career.

Menopause policy

One of the biggest impacts of introducing a menopause policy is breaking the stigma associated with menopause.

I believe it is one of the reasons that female representation at a senior level is so important.

Women openly telling their stories gives others permission and confidence to do the same. It breaks the taboo.

Although it is improving, the number of women on boards remains far too low.


It is another reason why we need to support the 24% of women surveyed who said that they have considered leaving their jobs because of their symptoms.

We need women with 30+ years of knowledge and experience to continue contributing well into their 50s, 60s and beyond if that is what they choose to do.

So, to support the menopause policy, we also introduced two menopause awareness support guides, one for employees and one for managers.

Both guides describe what menopause is.

This seems straight forward – but as we all know, most people don’t know!

It covers the many symptoms’ women may suffer – it includes a symptom checker, and it explains why menopause matters, as well as the research behind it.

These guides are critical to ensure that women suffering with menopausal symptoms feel empowered to ask for adjustments to ease such symptoms, without embarrassment.

It also ensures that they have discussions with colleagues and line managers so that they feel part of an inclusive work culture.

Menopause Hub

At Lidl, we encourage employees to inform their line manager that they are experiencing menopausal symptoms at an early stage to ensure that symptoms are treated, and the necessary support made available.

However, there may be those who don’t feel comfortable doing so and they may find it helpful to have an initial discussion with another woman in similar circumstances.

In that instance, what we have found works is having volunteers who have trained with the Menopause Hub as Menopause Buddies or Champions to be exactly that support.

Everyone’s journey is different, but in the case of menopause, I think most of us have experienced that a problem shared is a problem halved!

I believe that it is critical that menopause is not an awkward or embarrassing topic, and it certainly shouldn’t mean that a woman needs to press pause on her working life.

Often a few simple changes to someone’s working environment can make a world of difference – enabling someone experiencing menopausal symptoms to continue performing and contributing to their full potential.

Break The Taboo

I am in a very different position now than where I was three years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, perimenopause is still a bit of a rollercoaster, but it is certainly more manageable having had access to the right medical advise and lifestyle information.

I have been supported by my boss, my colleagues and the organisation as a whole and that has made a huge difference.

I don’t have the additional anxiety of having to try to hide my symptoms.

That alone means that there is a much higher chance of me continuing to make an even greater contribution in my organisation when I am the other side of menopause!

Launching the policies and supports is a crucial first step to break the taboo of menopause, yet it is only the start.

We must keep the conversation going, advocate for a new norm in workplaces, and continue to develop compassionate leaders.

Being involved in LEAD Network has been vital to the sharing of information and best practices across our industry, with the hope that we can have a real impact on the next generation. This will ultimately have an impact on female representation at all levels of organisations. To become a member of LEAD Network is free and gives it you access to inspiring and educational events, as well as access to grow your own personal network. To join, visit

Read More: Mentorship Series #3: The Benefits Of Extended Paternity Leave

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