Davina McCall said she “lost three years” of her life to the menopause after struggling to get support for her symptoms, which created struggles for her at work, including short-term memory loss.
But she is turning negatives into positives by using her experience to try to “reframe how the world sees mid-life women”.
The TV presenter – known for her role on Big Brother – became outspoken on the menopause after creating a documentary in 2021, which was followed by widespread shortages of menopause treatment HRT, which was dubbed the “the Davina McCall effect”.
Touching on the ageism that mid-career women can experience in workplace and media, she said that as she entered her 40s, she began to feel “invisible”.
McCall added: “I felt like society didn't see me, that advertisers didn't see me, my work didn't see me. I'd been told I probably wouldn't get shiny floor TV shows in my late 40s, and I should start thinking about factual entertainment.”
She said: “I thought I’d never work again” and told how, when she first considered making a documentary on the menopause, she was advised against it and told that it would limit her career.
However, she found it had the “opposite effect”. Rather than limiting her, it opened up a host of opportunities – and she says she has now become “an accidental activist” for the menopause.
Being “honest and feeling really strongly about something” aided her career, rather than restricting.
She said it creates a wider issue for women in the workplace: they are fearful of “ageing” themselves, so do not seek support, which then creates a vicious cycle – which sits at the heart of menopause awareness in the workplace.
“You don't want to make a fuss because you're embarrassed and you think it's ageing,” she said. “You feel like perhaps an older stateswoman in the business will not be valued and that the menopause will be ageing.
“So you don't tell people that you're struggling. And then, you think you're in fear of your job, but then you don't get any support. And then the worst thing happens: you really do feel like you can't do it anymore and then you leave.”
Women and those going through the menopause need “strategies” and support from their workplaces in order to feel they can go to work and perform to the best of their abilities, McCall said.
A lack of organisational awareness of the menopause is what made her feel most “lonely and isolated”, so she consequently urged businesses to signpost employees to trusted resources on support, charities and information.
Workplaces should also think creatively about how they can introduce low-cost but effective ways to encourage greater conversations about the menopause.
This could include introducing “menopause spokespeople” or “menopause cafes” once a month where people can talk about their experience. Or even “menopause wine bar nights” if workplaces “really want to put their neck out”, she said.
She stressed that line managers need to be supportive and create working environments where people feel they can talk honestly and openly.
“It just takes one bad line manager who is a stressy person,” she said. “I cannot tell you how catchy stress is. You've got to keep an eye on somebody that is stressed, because they will infect other people with their stress.
“Either you go and speak to them and say, 'Are you stressed? Can I help? What should we do? Because you're affecting somebody with your stress. And, you know, should we go out for dinner? Do you want some help? Or you need to speak to your boss about it,” she said.
“But it's not right that you would leave a job because your line manager is unbearable. I think it is something that is worth sticking out. If you like your job, try and heal the problem. I would say that would be either talking to your boss or to them.”
Ultimately she told delegates: “You are the amplifiers. I'm amplifying to you; you go forth and amplify.”