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Professional women on a conference call

The Colt Women's Network 25: leading the way with supporting menopause in the workplace

An interview with;

Jenni Sach, Director, Global Business Partner Marketing at Colt Technology Services. Jenni has been in the field marketing sector for 17 years and is the co-lead of Network 25, Colt’s global women’s group.

Rachel Collins, Head of Inclusion & Diversity at Colt Technology Services. Rachel has been with Colt for 11 years and leads on the inclusion agenda, forming part of Colt’s wider ESG (environment, social, governance) strategy.

Colt Technology Services provides world-class agile, on-demand and secure high bandwidth networking and voice solutions to businesses in Europe, Asia and the US, connecting 900+ data centres and over 29,000 buildings globally.

What is Network 25 and why was it set up?

Network 25 is Colt’s women’s network and it is so called because it was formed when Colt was celebrating it’s 25-year anniversary.

It started from the ground up, with many Colt employees expressing the need for a space for everyone to be able to talk openly and share. There are chapters across all of Colt, in countries from India to Italy, and everyone is welcome to join – it’s not exclusive to women but is for anyone who supports our goal of a more gender-balanced workforce. Network 25 is actively involved in holding events, and providing training and mentoring opportunities in Colt. We are also very active in the community, working with various charities that support women.

How many active members do you have within the women’s network?

To put a specific number, I’d say we have around 500 active members, but participation is much larger. All our events are open to all Colt employees.

And when we first formed the network, women made up 25% of the Colt workforce, whereas it is now around 31%!

What activities do you do?

Our activities align within the three pillars of events, community outreach and development.

Events – we run virtual and face-to-face events at Colt. We also collaborate with women’s groups in other tech companies. Some recent event topics have included leadership styles, making the most of mentors and networking, how to be an active bystander and domestic violence.

Community outreach – we run mentoring programmes with girls who are thinking about a career in the tech industry. We also work with charities such as Dress for Success, which helps empower women to achieve economic independence, and Bloody Good Period, who are taking steps to tackle period poverty. In India we recently worked with a charity that supports women to set up their own small business.

Development – by focusing on development specifically, we aim to support members in increasing their confidence, step up to leadership positions and reach career goals. One of our main focuses in development is running group mentoring circles with experts. For example, groups of around six individuals may meet with a mentor who will share their own personal experience on a topic, such as motherhood and work. These groups have been so successful, participants tend to stay in touch and have regular meet ups outside Network 25.

What activities and events have you run in relation to dealing with menopause symptoms at work?

Our recent event with a doctor on the menopause was attended by over 100 guests. The insights into symptoms and how to recognise them really resonated, with many agreeing GPs may not initially associate symptoms with the menopause. The session highlighted the importance of personally knowing what to look out for if someone is struggling.

Our CEO Keri Gilder, along with Christine Poole, Sales Effectiveness Director, and myself (Jenni) spoke personally on our experiences with the menopause. Talking openly within the business is important, we even had allies from outside the organisation ask to join. Our events are filmed, with many then sharing with friends and family members who may also be struggling. It’s not just helping those within our organisation but our wider network also.

We followed up with event with Katie Taylor, a speaker from The Latte Lounge, an organisation that supports women over 40, and this also gained great momentum. It helped us establish many changes in the organisation (including the guidance document mentioned below).

Katie spoke on the menopause from her own experience, referencing what is known as the ‘sandwich generation’ – the heavy load of juggling children, caring for older parents and dealing with menopausal bodily changes. This situation often leads to women having little time to focus on themselves, making it difficult to manage and cope with their symptoms.

Post event we always send resources out, such as links to charities, detailed information on symptoms, and the names of local organisations to contact for support.

What changes has the women’s network brought about in terms of menopause policies within the organisation?

We decided to create guidance documents for people experiencing menopausal symptoms and also for managers who want to know how to support someone in their team going through this. Booking a meeting with your manager can be daunting, but having a guidance document that outlines managing symptoms at work is a practical tool for all employees and managers, that can help people to have that conversation.

As our organisation is global, we made sure we signposted links to helpful charities and organisations that support women in all our locations.

Was it difficult to encourage people to talk openly about the menopause within the company culture?

As a woman in my fifties I have seen a huge difference in people’s willingness to discuss the menopause in the last 20 years. I think celebrities such as Davina McCall talking openly about menopause in the media has helped break down barriers. However, the 2002 report which linked breast cancer to HRT had a negative effect, with many women being put off HRT due to it. Despite it now being discredited, understanding is still low, and so it’s important to build awareness on the right information to implement change.

At Colt, our company culture is very open and our leadership team is very supportive, something that has really helped us hold events that explore wellbeing and gender diversity. Colt has also introduced mental health first aiders, where we have 60 people globally in place to support employees. By having these discussions openly, we are uncovering more information, challenging taboos and learning all the time.

Did the pandemic have any impact on Network 25?

The main difference we experienced was an increase in participation because all our events became virtual, which opened up the possibility to reach our entire English-speaking audience.

What did you do for International Women’s Day this year?

We had lots of amazing activities running across the organisation worldwide. In Asia, we focused on financial planning and investment for women. In the UK, we focused on leadership styles and the path to leadership. In India, the focus is around our charity partnership that helps women in the community set up small businesses.

We have also released a video celebrating some extraordinary women from history who have pushed boundaries in STEM and made a significant contribution to gender equality worldwide.

 

To find out more on Colt and Network 25 have a look on their website here https://www.colt.net/about/inclusion-diversity/network-25/