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How Childs Farm improved its focus on women's health

14 Oct 2021 By Eleanor Whitehouse

The children's toiletry brand has begun offering more support for employees around the menopause and is starting conversations on the topic

Tucked away in a corner of rural Hampshire, Childs Farm is a brand borne of one woman’s very personal problem – there was no product on the market that would treat her young daughters’ chronic eczema without harsh steroid creams and chemical-based sealants. So Joanna Jensen set about creating her own solution using only natural ingredients, and Childs Farm was born. What started as a single-person venture in 2010 with 1,000 bottles of the company’s first six products given away to friends and family is now the number one UK brand for babies’ and children’s toiletries, with a workforce of 40.

It’s no surprise, then, that when Jensen encountered another very personal problem – namely taking 11 years to be formally diagnosed with the menopause after experiencing a raft of symptoms – she set about ensuring her own workforce didn’t go through the same. The company’s work on promoting and supporting women’s health, explains its HR director Laura Guttfield, has been driven by Jensen based on her experiences.

 As well as wanting to prepare those in their 20s and 30s for what’s to come, a quarter of the company’s workforce is female and over 40, so it is at real risk of losing key employees if it failed to offer proper support. “The numbers of women who leave their jobs or are on long-term absence because they aren’t supported during the menopause is terrifying,” says Guttfield.

As well as paying for every female member of staff over 40 to have a one-to-one consultation with a private GP specialising in the menopause whom the company has partnered with, Childs Farm has also held a series of ‘lunch and learn’ events on the topic for the entire workforce – not just the women. “This affects men too – they might know someone in their personal life going through it, or they might manage someone who is,” explains Guttfield, who has been with the company since the beginning of 2019.

 On top of this, the firm is providing free copies of a book on the subject so staff can read up in their own time, and making sure it puts in place any adjustments that affected staff might need. “It could be something as simple as a desk fan,” adds Guttfield.

But Childs Farm is also acting as a lobbyist for further change – notably, Jensen has contributed to the Women and Equalities Committee’s enquiry into the menopause at work. “It’s definitely an issue HR has to be more aware of, especially employment law, how the condition manifests itself, and that everyone’s experience is unique,” says Guttfield. “We’re a small company, but women in larger firms might not know where to turn for support.”

And while Guttfield is avoiding attaching targets and metrics to the company’s work around women’s health, she’s keen that it doesn’t become a policy that gets “forgotten about”, and is adamant that the benefits will begin to be noticed in other areas of Childs Farm’s wellbeing efforts. While the wider subject of wellbeing, she says, certainly wasn’t ignored prior to the pandemic, the company had no formal strategy and just did what it felt was needed. “Covid definitely made us more aware of wellbeing as a topic,” she explains. “I think people also now look at wellbeing as a hygiene factor in where they work, so it was important for us to do more in this area.”

As well as having set a wellbeing calendar for the year, focusing on a different topic each month and tying it in with national awareness days, the company has also provided standing desks and yoga balls for those in the office (it recently successfully introduced a hybrid working model after going fully remote for six months at the height of the pandemic), taken the twice-weekly Pilates class it offered in the office prior to Covid online, and Guttfield keeps her diary clear one day per week for ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’, where any member of staff can drop in for a chat about any issue and be signposted to further support. With the subject now forming part of the HR report Guttfield compiles for the company’s board, it’s never been so high on Childs Farm’s agenda, she explains. “It’s now seen as a critical business update,” she says. “Which is great – it’s an area of HR I get really excited about. In terms of where we take it next, we’ll be led by what people tell us they’d like to see.”

With the company’s wellbeing efforts in much better shape coming out of the pandemic and the challenges of doing HR as a team of one in a fast-growing business beginning to abate, Guttfield now plans to turn her attention towards recruitment and diversifying the workforce beyond bolstering support for women. The company’s countryside location brings its own recruitment challenges, she explains, but its recently implemented hybrid working model allows employees to work in the office and at home, with some staff also fully home based, as far away as the south west, Manchester and even Germany, and a new flexible location in London available for those with ties to the capital.

“Because of our recruitment challenges and where we’re based, we need to work even harder to open up those pools,” explains Guttfield. “If we need to do that from grassroots because those people aren’t there at the levels we need them, then we’ll do that.” 

Creating opportunities for people from more underprivileged or diverse backgrounds, she adds, is an extra challenge for small businesses like Childs Farm. “It’s difficult because we don’t have deep pockets or the luxury of access to formal schemes,” she says. The firm, however, is within touching distance of qualifying to pay the apprenticeship levy, and Guttfield is keen to turn it into an opportunity when it comes. “Perhaps we could do a positive scheme around building diversity in the FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] world,” she muses. “But that’s probably one for 2022.”

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