At any one time, there are 15.5 million menopausal women in the UK, yet this section of society is often ignored, overlooked and misunderstood. On the 1st of October 2021 GemM exploded onto the scene with a full-page advert in the Guardian, and from that point, menopausal women had a champion. Now partnered with 80 of the UK’s biggest brands from Co-op to M&S, GenM is empowering them to understand and support the menopausal audience – customers and employees alike. From creating informative national awareness campaigns to launching the world’s first recognisable menopause-friendly symbol, GenM is transforming the menopause experience for millions.Stella caught up with Heather Jackson, one of the GenM co-founders to find out how this movement started and where it’s going next.
Before the birth of GenM, I was actually starting to enjoy my life. I’d got my life to a point where I’d cashed in on my previous business, which was all about talent development and helping more women take the careers of the top. My kids had all left home for all the right reasons. I’d got cash in the bank and was about to start my bucket list of activities: climb Kilimanjaro and go to base camp on Everest. I was going to have a guilt-free time and really enjoy myself because many people will know how hard it is to run a business and be a single parent. I was really looking forward to having my time. Then I got hit by perimenopause. I didn’t recognise or understand, but once I did, GenM was created. Menopause is so woefully underserved for women of my generation, who I felt deserved better. And back to that phrase: If not now, when? If not you, who?
The story started for me when I met up with Sam (my now fellow GenM founder), and she invited me to go on holiday with her because I looked so woefully exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious and on antidepressants. While on holiday in Portugal, Sam said: ‘I don’t think you’re depressed. I believe you are actually perimenopausal.’ Once she returned to work, I Googled perimenopause and realised I had nearly all of the symptoms. I started to look for solutions for my perimenopausal symptoms but Sam was not optimistic about my chances.
Sam and I invested in GenM ourselves. Sam was still working full-time so I just went into my garden office and committed six months to researching, understanding, and working out what we needed to do. We both invested a considerable amount of money and invested in the business ourselves. Taking our first baby steps, we commissioned a ground-breaking survey of 2,000 menopausal women, which we named The Invisibility Report and it became the basis for all we do at GenM.
The Guardian advert was to raise awareness that brands needed to come on board. We’d already got Boots, Marks and Spencers, Holland and Barrett, on board. But when we put the big advert in the paper, it raised the awareness that everyone had been talking celebrity-wise about menopause and its symptoms. Still, no brands had thought about their role in this, other than we need to do something about menopause for our employees. But we’re saying it’s a business issue that impacts every division of your business.
And to me, the brands have the most extensive power. They can help raise awareness of menopause, normalise the conversation, and celebrate this period of our life. Because there are 45-year-old models on advertising campaigns and then a leap to Jane Fonder and Helen Mirren, not that there’s a problem with either of those, the problem is that there is nothing in the middle, and that affects our psyche as women.
As two peri-menopausal women, Sam and I can’t make a difference on our own. We need to unite brands to use their platforms, resources and marketing to make a difference. They all have a role to play for their consumers and colleagues. It’s about showing women they are seen and valued, especially during this transitional phase. When we see ourselves reflected in advertising, it validates our experiences and makes us feel understood. By creating more diverse and inclusive marketing campaigns that feature women of all ages, including those in the menopausal stage, we can help break the stigma and make menopause a more visible and accepted topic in society.
Women going through menopause deserve to feel seen and empowered, not just as consumers, but as individuals with unique needs and experiences. Advertising can significantly shape societal attitudes and perceptions around menopause, leading to more significant support, understanding, and, ultimately, a better experience for women during this life stage.
My proudest achievement has to be the launch of the M-tick, the world’s first menopause-friendly symbol that makes it easy forconsumers to find products that support their symptoms and take control of their menopause their way. In the next five years, we want to make the M-tick as recognisable as the vegan V.
Prepare. I can’t stress this enough. The better prepared you are for entering menopause, the better experience you’ll have. It’s similar to training for a marathon. Anyone can run a marathon if they’ve got a gun against their head and their loved ones are threatened, but whether you enjoy it or not or get injured depends on your preparation. Menopause is like the biggest marathon of our lives, lasting up to 15 years. So being woefully unprepared is not the way to go. Take the time to understand menopause, its symptoms, and its impact on your body. Look into your diet, exercise, and lifestyle to ensure you’re giving your body the best support during this time. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to have a positive and empowered menopause journey.
And the first thing you can do for yourself is to look at your food, your nutrition, and the exercise you’re doing. My generation we’ve lived through the Atkins Diet, the Cambridge Soup, and Cabbage soup; we were Guinea pigs. It was all about calorie deficit and size rather than health and strength. So, we’re hitting the menopause. I haven’t got the stats to back this up, but my experience tells me that when I look at my grandma and my mom, my grandma had an allotment. She didn’t drive. She ate three meals a day. She carried all the bags from the supermarket. She was doing strength training and eating well. She still had a full head of hair when she died at 95, absolutely living each day.
I think we are the worst generation yet to hit menopause. I believe when nutritionally deprived, we’re lethargic; we’re not doing the proper exercise, which greatly impacts our menopause experience. when I changed my food plan, my sleep was better and I felt more energised. I would always argue whether to my friend, my family, a work colleague, or someone who’s caught me on the street; could you have a better journey if you looked at your food and exercise? This isn’t a diet for the bikini, beach, wedding, or party; this is a diet for life. We are now living longer, but why would we want to live longer if we’re going to feel like crap? Wouldn’t you want to be the best version of yourself? And you can’t be the best version of yourself if you’re not eating the right food or exercising; it’s an essential ingredient to the happiness of our lives.
Companies need to normalise the conversation around menopause and raise awareness about it across the organisation. It’s not just an HR issue; it impacts every division of the business. Companies need to understand the symptoms of menopause and make menopause-friendly products more accessible.
Thelma and Louise is a film that highlights the menopause journey in a way. They wanted to live their best life but felt overlooked and let down. We need to celebrate this period of our lives and have women see themselves as thriving in menopause.
The future of Gen M is focused on activating the world to understand menopause better and delivering the M-tick as the most recognisable sign, similar to the vegan V, within the next five years. Our main goal is to raise awareness about menopause, normalise conversations around it, and celebrate this phase of women’s lives. We aspire to inspire large organisations and challenger brands to recognise their role in supporting, serving, and positively influencing society concerning menopause. GenM aims to create a world where menopause is not feared but embraced as a significant life phase where women can thrive and feel genuinely seen and heard. Our journey revolves around empowering women during menopause and ensuring they receive the support and recognition they deserve throughout this transformative experience.