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Helen Normoyle is one of the UK’s top marketers. For over two decades she led the function for brands like the BBC, DFS, Countrywide and most recently Boots, where she was its chief marketing officer. But she left the ad world behind earlier this year to launch a startup that aims to demystify the menopause.

“It was a scary thing, leaving the ego and the titles at the doorstep to start something new,” she tells The Drum.

The catalyst for her decision to quit Boots, where she had spent the latter four years of her career, was her own experience of the menopause coupled with – like many life-changing decisions of late – the pandemic.

Normoyle first noticed pre-menopause symptoms a month before her 50th birthday and says she was “completely unprepared”, “didn’t know anything about it” and, being the go-to marketer for one of the biggest companies in the country, “didn’t have any time for it”.

“I’ve always been very evidence- and insight-based [in my career] so I went to look for information about the menopause and what I could do about it,” Normoyle recalls. “I really struggled to find good quality information and advice that I could understand and rely on.”

In the end it took her 18 months to find the right treatment, and during that time she turned to Dr Claire Spencer, a mum she met on the school run, for advice. Spencer – already seeing so many other confused women coming to her practice in desperate need of holistic menopause treatment – and Normoyle realized there was a massive gap in the market to provide a service offering simple information that didn’t require a doctorate to digest.

But it was just an idea, a loose plan to maybe do something one day when they were both at a point in their careers when the timing would be right.

“And then Covid changed everything,” says Normoyle. “We could really see how healthcare was going digital, people were getting used to an online medical service in a way that they hadn’t before. [Without Covid] it would have taken a lot longer for this to take off.”

My Menopause Centre promises to give evidence-based, scientifically-proven information and advice on the menopause for women, as well as family members and employers. It details 38 symptoms and asks women to complete a short survey on what they have experienced, and then an algorithm, based on the decision-making process that Dr Spencer goes through, will determine where they are in the process and avenues for treatment.

The survey has had 1600 responses to date, and the long-term plan is to collate and publish that information to “close the data gap” on how things like age and ethnicity can affect menopause symptoms.

Breaking the taboo in the workplace

Normoyle’s end goal, though, is to break the menopause taboo. She cites research it conducted, which found that 47% of people believe it’s still an unspoken subject – but breaking out the opinion of just women, it found that nearly three-quarters believe it to be a taboo still. And it’s those in the workplace feeling it the most, with 67% of women agreeing that it could impact their careers, and over half admitting they can’t talk to their employers or colleagues about the often debilitating symptoms they experience.

She says while the workplace menopause policies that have been introduced in the last few months “are great”, they are simply not enough, and urges businesses to start collecting data on staff going through the process.

“Surveys show that women will hold themselves back from promotion, reduce their hours, and will think about leaving their jobs because of the symptoms of the menopause,” she says.

“[Bosses] really have to lead it. They have to look at how they’re driving it from a cultural point of view. And what gets measured gets managed – so understand the key performance indicators like retention, engagement, recruitment, and so on.

“Half of women wouldn’t let their employer know the real reason they were taking time off is menopause-related, because they wouldn’t want to talk about their symptoms. We need to start codifying this, we need to start capturing that data, because it’ll help us understand the magnitude of the issue and what you can do to support women [before they leave].”

Discussing the advertising industry’s role in changing the conversation, she says systemic change is needed if we are to move past the tired representation of a grey-haired woman looking wistfully out of a rainy window, or the progressive campaigns which are too few and far between to really make a difference. Holland and Barratt’s Me.No.Pause campaign, which ran on free Transport for London ad space through its diversity in advertising award scheme, while applaudable ultimately fails to move the dial on people’s perception and understanding of the menopause.

“We need much more than that, we need more than marketing moments,” she says.

“Look at the IPA survey, the percentage of men and women aged between 51 and 60 across all agencies is 5%. Now I’m pretty sure that far less than half of that will be female, and the number over 61 was 0.8%. Think about how that impacts the way we portray middle-aged women. There’s still a lot of ageism and a lot of stereotypes that are used. I really do believe the ad industry can be a force for good, but we need to look at our workforce and what we’re doing to retain talented women in their 40s, 50s and beyond.”

She urged fellow marketers to look carefully at the make-up of the agencies they hire, saying as a client it “absolutely makes a difference” if they have policies in place to support the women working on the account.

“If there were more middle-aged women in agencies, you would have less [stereotyping in ads].  

“There is a big opportunity for brands to really sit down and reflect on how they’re communicating with a middle-aged woman. It’s a massive market and this is the age at which women have money.”