HomeEmployee ExperienceCultureAvanti West Coast’s menopause ‘Gift Bag’ sparks controversy

Avanti West Coast's menopause 'Gift Bag' sparks controversy

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UK train operator defends offering to staff despite significant backlash from unions

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The conversation around menopause and its impact on women in the professional sphere has gained significant momentum. However, the recent approach taken by Avanti West Coast, a prominent UK train operating company, has sparked a wave of controversy and criticism.

The company’s attempt to address the issue with a gift bag for menopausal employees has been deemed demeaning and insulting by rail unions and social media users alike.

In an attempt to support its menopausal employees, the UK train operator designed a gift bag containing a variety of items. These included a fan for hot sweats, a jelly baby sweet “in case you feel like biting someone’s head off”, a tissue for emotional moments, and a paperclip to “help you keep it all together”.

These items, along with others like chocolate and teabags, were handed out to staff at drop-ins for menopause support conversations.

Rail unions, including Aslef and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, denounced the gift bag as demeaning, dismissive, and an insulting gimmick.

The menopause, they argued, is not a joke but a debilitating condition for some women, and the company would be better off developing supportive workplace policies and procedures.

The drivers union Aslef shared a photo of thegift bag on social media, stating: “The menopause is debilitating for some women, it’s not a joke. Rather than handing out insulting gimmicks to female employees you’d be better placed developing workplace policies and procedures that value and support perimenopausal and menopausal women!”

This sentiment was echoed by the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which called the pack “appalling, demeaning and dismissive.”

Avanti takes defensive stance

In response to the backlash, Avanti defended the gift bag, stating that it was designed by the company’s in-house menopause support group, which is made up of women going through menopause themselves.

The company also highlighted its other menopause support initiatives, such as guidance for colleagues and managers, a support group on internal channels, and a specialist library offering free access to books on the subject.

However, despite these efforts, the criticism continued. Experts and commentators argued that while it’s good to hear Avanti talking about menopause, it’s essential that they also have a solid menopause action plan in place.

This includes training, information sharing, flexible work, absence policies, and dress codes that support menopausal women.

“If someone had given me any of that stuff, and I was close to giving up my job as a doctor, I would have just burst into tears,” said Louise Newson, a menopause specialist and author.

She emphasized the need for employers to provide proper advice and support, and to involve healthcare professionals in the process. She also highlighted the importance of proactive measures to enable women to understand what treatment is available, in the same way that support would be provided for any other condition affecting them in the workplace.

Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, echoed these sentiments, stating: “Our landmark menopause study showed that the majority of women find at least one menopause symptom very difficult and that one in 10 women have left a job because of the menopause.”

She stressed the need for Avanti to have a solid menopause action plan in place, including training, information sharing, flexible work, absence policies, and dress codes that support menopausal women.

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