Fifteen to One | Barbara Macpherson

Ahead of our annual World Menopause Day event, Associate Professor of Clinical Education Barbara Macpherson shares her personal journey to improve support available to colleagues across the University.

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With more than 13 years’ service under her belt, Barbara – or Bee, as she’s known to friends and colleagues – shares her passion for promoting equity and belonging, stressing the importance of greater awareness about the menopause given the potential impact it can have on people’s personal and professional lives.

Discover what motivates her work and learn how you can play an active role in making a difference at Leeds by helping empower colleagues to make the right choices for their health.

Can you describe your role in 100 words?

I wear a number of hats! As Associate Professor of Clinical Education and Lead for Student Education in Leeds Institute of Medical Education, I provide academic leadership and strategic vision for our student education activities. I’m also School of Medicine Lead for Athena Swan – a framework designed to support and transform gender equality within higher education. I’m passionate about equity and belonging, so I’m delighted that I now have time to both work within the school and centrally to develop the Athena Swan initiatives aligned with the University’s EDI strategy. My personal focus, leadership and research is around menopause. 

How have you enjoyed your time at the University?

I’ve worked at Leeds for 13 years, starting as a part-time teaching fellow. I’ve been so lucky to work with wonderful colleagues who’ve supported me to develop. I now get to lead on areas of work I’m passionate about, with colleagues from across the organisation like the Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), Fiona McClement, and Paddy Craig, Head of Health and Wellbeing, to make positive change within our community.

What question have you most frequently been asked in your role?

Lots of people ask about treatment options for perimenopause and if the wide range of symptoms they’re experiencing is the menopause (often it is). Menopause isn’t just a women’s issue and it’s important we raise awareness of it – the potential impact on personal and professional life and to change the culture within the University so conversations about menopause are normalised and not taboo. Mostly, I find people want the opportunity to be heard and know they’re not alone in finding the transition though menopause difficult. People talk about feeling unseen, unheard and dismissed. I think this is a reflection of the lack of education at all levels, but we have the opportunity to make a difference in Leeds. 

What are you most looking forward to working on? 

This is an exciting time. I’m collaborating with colleagues locally and nationally to develop menopause research. For example, I’m working with the Leeds Health and Care Partnership LGBTQIA+ group, leading on menopause. Within the University, I’m looking forward to developing teaching within the medical curriculum through Curriculum Redefined and the support for students, too.

We’re currently organising our sixth annual World Menopause Day event on 18 October. The theme this year is ‘menopause and misinformation’. We aim to bust myths about menopause and empower colleagues to make the right choices for their health. I believe with more understanding, conversation and support, this transition – which can be a real challenge for some people – can be made easier. 

That sounds interesting… how can we get involved?

Everyone is welcome! It’s important we all understand menopause and how it can affect an individual’s quality of life. Save the 18 October in your diary! Come along on the day to one of our staff or student Meno-Pause for Thought Cafés. There will be a workshop for female minoritised ethnic colleagues and lightening talks, too, as well as goody bags. We also host monthly Menopause in the Workplace workshops, bookable via Organisational Development and Professional Learning (OD&PL). Starting in October, there will also be a six-week menopause exercise toolkit, thanks to Michelle Smith, Group Exercise Coordinator at The Edge. I also recently joined the Humans of Healthcare podcast discussing menopause at the University which is available on a number of platforms.

Is there something, or someone, that has inspired you in your career?

I’m inspired by many people, particularly those who’ve faced adversity and still make a difference in our world with kindness, a smile and integrity.

We all have that professional or personal achievement we’re incredibly proud of – can you tell us yours?

That’s a tough one. Recently, it would be facing the fear about how vulnerable I was making myself by raising menopause as a workplace issue, and surviving the menopause as a younger-than-average women whilst bringing up three girls and working! I hope I can inspire others that are struggling to know it does get better and there can be strength in vulnerability. I’m proud of the wonderful, supportive community we’ve grown during the past five or so years, where people tell me they feel empowered. Personally, bringing up three girls to be independent, young women is a privilege.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career that you know now?

That all will be well, everything passes and take opportunities that present themselves. 

If you didn’t work in HE, what would have been your chosen career?

I’ve always been interested in holistic health and energy medicine. I believe health is so much more complex than just the physical body… or I could have been a rock queen like Pat Benatar!

What are your campus highlights so far?

When I walk across campus, I feel privileged to work in such a diverse environment, in terms of geography and people. Sadly, I don’t get offered flyers to student events anymore though!

Have you found a favourite location on campus?

My health professional roots run deep. I like the areas in the Worsley building where you can see old medical and dental equipment – I find it fascinating! St George’s Field appeals to my love of quiet and nature.

What’s still on your ‘to do’ list to visit?

I’ve heard there are music concerts in Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall on a Friday lunchtime. I must take my lunch there one day and enjoy a concert.

What do you do to relax away from University life?

I love to spend time in nature, usually on top of a mountain or in a river. I find this alchemical.

Where’s your favourite travel destination and why?

At the moment, its Saltburn-by-the-Sea because it’s less than an hour from home. Beautiful sand, gorgeous sea and delicious fish and chips. I’ve enjoyed some very special times there during the past year.

What’s your random claim to fame?

I’m not sure I have any of my own. My life is quiet (apart from three daughters). My proxy claim to fame is one of my daughters received a personal letter, complete with hand-drawn animations, from Cressida Cowell, who was the Children’s Laureate.

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