Creating an Environment for Women to Thrive in Medicine Conference

GP and renowned menopause specialist Dr Louise Newson invited Fearless Facilitator founder and CEO, Rachel Cashman, to speak at Creating an Environment for Women to Thrive in Medicine this week – the first Women in International Medicine Network (WIMIN) conference in partnership with the Newson Health Menopause Society (NHMS).

WIMIN organises lectures and conferences with a special emphasis on mental and physical wellbeing for women working in medicine, whilst NHMS is an international collective of multidisciplinary health professionals and experts dedicated to improving women’s experience of the perimenopause and menopause.

As one of 34 panellists, speakers and facilitators invited to share their expertise and experiences, Rachel joined high-profile women from across the professional spectrum, including journalist and broadcaster Liz Earle MBE, Baroness Warsi, Professor Neena Modi and Kate Muir, who together offered their advice and support to a delegate audience of over 100 women medics over the two-day event.

How psychological safety supports midlife women at work

Rachel shared her expertise as a psychological safety and productivity specialist, as part of the first day’s ‘Sustaining healthy high performance during midlife & menopause’ session.

Her presentation, ‘How psychological safety supports wellbeing & productivity in the workplace’ drew on her research-driven approach and experience of helping employers and midlife female staff tackle the physical and psychological symptoms of the menopause together, to ensure a healthy workplace where performance and productivity are as high and as sustainable as possible. Her presentation also covered her own personal story of overcoming debilitating menopausal symptoms that affected her own work productivity in her early 40s.

What is psychological safety in the workplace?

Psychological safety at work is about creating the conditions for sustainable, healthy high performance. It is about creating a space where staff will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with concerns or mistakes, ideas and questions. Based upon 30 years of academic research, organisations that successfully implement psychological safety develop a culture where staff feel secure in the knowledge that they are valued and their contribution is valid. Workplaces with high levels of psychological safety have been shown to be more innovative, more motivated and more capable of achieving their goals.

Rachel’s conference presentation introduced the following 4 dimensions of psychological safety to delegates:

  • Willingness to help
  • Inclusion and diversity
  • Failure and risk
  • Open conversations

Creating a menopause-inclusive culture through psychological safety

High demand, high pressure workplaces in healthcare are known to create challenging VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environments for all staff. For women in medicine, menopause can create additional VUCA ‘micro-climates’ where they can struggle to recognise themselves, let alone the wider VUCA system around them.

One example Rachel uses is around ‘brain fog’ – one of over 50 classic menopausal symptoms, during which women can be prone to forget things or make mistakes. In organisations with low awareness of psychological safety, symptoms can spiral towards unintended consequences such as depression, low self-esteem, absenteeism, even forgoing promotion or other career advancement opportunities.

Applying established theories on the benefits of psychological safety for wellbeing and productivity through a specific menopause ‘lens’ at this week’s conference, Rachel shared her belief that when our workplace is psychologically safe, this can be a platform for creating a menopause-inclusive culture at work – one where it is safe for us to share our fears and vulnerabilities, admit our mistakes and discuss their causes, ask for help and advice and have open conversations about the implications, opportunities and impact of working in midlife and through menopause.

A menopause-inclusive culture is one in which it not only feels safe to experience and raise anxieties around the symptoms of the menopause, but also one in which women feel organisationally supported – for example, through explicit equality measures such as a menopause policy, rather than penalised by a lack of understanding or other consequences like those outlined above.

Through her frontline experience of coaching corporate leaders and Boards and advising senior policy makers, including Ministers for Women, the NHS and central Government, Rachel’s presentation aimed to tackle all of the above from the perspectives of self, team and immediate colleagues, organisational systems, macro systems such as NHS culture and even wider societal culture, to bring real-life understanding and insights into the practicalities of supporting the wellbeing and productivity of mid-life women in the workplace.

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