Jackson is on a mission to help brands and retailers not only shed the stigma around menopause products, but put them front and centre

In a typical photo shoot, the photographer calls the shots. They set up the lighting, position the subject, move the furniture. And in Heather Jackson’s shoot for this interview, that’s how things go, initially.

After about 20 minutes, however, the tables turn. “Surely we’ve got to do one on this sofa?” she asks, the item already halfway across the room. That’s followed up with suggestions on camera angles and light, before Jackson adds with a grin: “I’ve always wanted to be a photographer’s assistant.”

It’s an apt location for Jackson to take charge. The shoot is taking place on the fifth floor of the AllBright women-only members’ club, located inside a Mayfair townhouse off Regent Street. Jackson is a regular here, using it as a hub for GenM, the company she founded to act as the “menopause partner” for brands including Boots, Innocent and Co-op.

The idea began when Jackson was on a holiday in Portugal, coming to terms with a depression diagnosis. Chatting to her friend Sam Simister – a former Innocent executive, and now co-founder of GenM – Jackson realised she could be dealing with perimenopause.

From her basic research on a sun lounger, she noted a distinct lack of menopause-friendly products on the market. So she and Simister set about planning a one-stop shop for all such items.

Name: Heather Jackson

Lives: Yorkshire woman living in the Cotswolds

Potted CV: Co-founder of GenM and chair of the Northern Superchargers cricket team in The Hundred league. Previously founded An Inspirational Journey, empowering 15,000 women into executive roles. Created The Balanced Business Forum – the world’s first gender-balanced leadership conference.

Last great book you read: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Hobbies: Running and Farm Fitness.

Death row meal: Baked jacket potato with a dollop of salted butter and some homemade chunky coleslaw, with a side portion of Heinz baked beans.

There was a snag, though. Having built and pitched the platform to numerous companies, they soon met a brick wall. “They all said: ‘What’s menopause friendly? What’s menopause?’” Jackson recalls. “We realised we were giving them medicine when they didn’t even know there was a problem.”

Customer research confirmed their assessment. According to GenM’s first Invisibility Report in 2020, 87% of mid-life women felt overlooked by brands and society, while 97% felt brands should cater more to the menopause.

All this led to the official launch of GenM in October 2021 with one core mission: to make menopause a more positive experience through collaboration with some of the country’s biggest brands.

Sitting in AllBright’s expansive restaurant – where she has persuaded the waiter to bring some muffins left over from breakfast – Jackson explains she has another persuasion job to do in helping brands communicate the right message.

“Women are entering the biggest marathon of their lives and they’re woefully unprepared”

On the positive side, menopause has shot up the public agenda in the past two years, thanks to the likes of Davina McCall, Michelle Obama and Kathy Burke sharing their experiences. 2022 was the year menopause became mainstream, according to Marie Claire, while NielsenIQ named it a retail trend to watch for 2023. Jackson is effusive with praise for celebrities who have brought about change.

But there is a downside: GenM’s research shows more women are more daunted by the menopause than in 2020. “Menopause now feels very fearful because the press has focused on the debilitating symptoms,” Jackson says. “But the majority of women will say ‘my menopause isn’t that bad’. Therein lies an opportunity for GenM: “‘not that bad’ suggests it could be better”.

The M-sign

Menopause friendly

To that end, the organisation is now working with over 70 brands and supermarkets to help transform their approach to the menopause among both customers and staff. A key part of that work is the M-sign (pictured) – a logo to distinguish menopause-friendly products on the shelf, whether food, clothing, or beauty products.

Boots has pioneered the format, launching the logo on more than 100 products across its stores. “I promise you this M-sign will be as recognisable in the next two years as the vegan sign is today,” Jackson says. “And that to me is game-changing. That’s normalising it.”

By helping women understand what products could alleviate their symptoms, whether a shampoo for dry hair or wicking bedsheets for hot sweats, Jackson is insistent the entire experience can be transformed.

“No one can take the menopause away from us but it’s how we give choice to women to manage their menopause their way,” she argues.

“I’m a marathon runner, so let’s use that as an example. If you’re running a marathon you get the right kit, the right food, you do the right exercise. You prepare, prepare, prepare. So why is it that women of my generation, we’re entering the biggest marathon of our lives and we’re woefully unprepared?

“Was it a surprise when Davina came out with these stats on how badly women fare through menopause? There’s a reason many of us fare badly and it’s because we’re hitting it like a brick wall. We’re not prepared.”

Changing that goes beyond labelling products. Holland & Barrett worked with GenM last year to train 4,000 staff to deliver better support to menopausal consumers, while Co-op launched a menopause support guide for managers across Co-op outlets – one that is now publicly available to other employers.

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“Brands need to wake up to the fact this isn’t just about having supplements on a shelf for menopause,” Jackson says. “This is about understanding the symptoms of menopause and how they can help women understand them, delivering with not just products or services but actually the entire experience.”

For example, in the future, she asks, “why wouldn’t we have a menopause aisle just as we have a gluten-free aisle or a vegan aisle?”

These changes have a commercial benefit too, rather than simply being ‘nice to haves’. Around 13 million people in the UK are currently menopausal, making it “the next big market for businesses”, says Jackson.

“Menopause is the new vegan,” she claims. “Four per cent of the population is vegan – and I don’t have a problem with vegans, my daughter is one – but you look at how much marketing has gone into veganism. How much product development. How much signposting.

“You wouldn’t put a meat counter next to a vegan counter. So why would you put menopause products in the deepest, darkest depths of Peru of your store if you know the woman going in is maybe sleep-deprived, anxious, brain-fatigued? You’re going to give her a nervous breakdown if they’re trying to look for something.”

Looking at the far more prominent signposting in the likes of Boots and Holland & Barrett, it’s clear GenM has incited change in important places. But none of the major supermarkets have signed up yet. What’s holding them back? “I think what they feel at the moment is it’s been a very medical issue or a gender issue and actually where do they fit?” Jackson suggests.

But the problem also goes deeper. “Two to three years ago, when I was talking about the idea of this, many brands said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to put that on because it will put younger people off using the product’. Commercially for some brands that is a fear.

“But putting this M-sign on everything will make that awareness so much better,” she stresses. “So actually, have the balls to stick up for this, do the right thing, and put it on there.”