Kathryn Colas started her career, aged 16, as a stenographer for MobilOil, with lofty ambitions to become a secretary or PA. In her sixties, she launched a unique business that puts the spotlight on a sensitive and significant matter.
“One day I said to myself, ‘Is this as good as it gets?’. I thought, ‘I’m useless, a waste of space, how did I get like this?’. This was before I joined up all the dots and realised that hormonal change and menopause was the cause.”
In 1992 Kathryn Colas was selling life assurance, pensions and mortgages. Her husband, aged 40, was made redundant but the couple took a risk to start a business and bought a hotel.
Through her contacts in financial services, Colas was able to re-mortgage their house to help purchase the hotel, which they went on build up from a £150,000 turnover to £2.5million.
When the time came to start reaping the rewards of their labour, Colas started to suffer ill health, not realising she was peri-menopausal.
“I felt I couldn’t cope and resigned, as much as one can resign from a family business,” she says. “I was also diagnosed with depression. But I discovered that I was not alone.”
Around 12 million women in the UK go through menopause and 75 per cent of them, like Colas, experience debilitating symptoms and in some cases resign from their jobs for the sake of a better work-life balance.
With her marriage also on the rocks, the future looked miserable indeed. Colas says she wanted her life to end: “This was when I had that conversation with myself and said ‘is this as good as it gets? Surely life had more to offer’,” she explains.
She began research into the physiological and psychological elements of menopause, and through this, SimplyHormones was birthed in December 2008.
The business works with corporate organisations, menopausal women and those affected by the menopause by supporting them with practical, workable and measurable solutions.
“It would appear I have created a niche market, pioneering this type of advice and support,” says Colas. “I am not aware of anyone else in the UK that does it, certainly not in the workplace.”
A hot flash
Fast forward to 2016 the Simply Hormones website is approaching a launch in its fourth incarnation. The business is now reaches B2B2C audiences.
From its inaugural training programme for key corporate personnel, the business has grown to employ fifteen professional trainers delivering workshops and creating focus groups. It is also planning workshops for women.
Beyond this, the future goal is to encompass hormonal health from puberty onwards, including lessons for schools to adopt.
“I approach the situation from the point of view of equality, diversity and inclusion. This subject is on the agenda of major organisations, some are committed and some only pay lip service, ” Colas says.
“My aim is to get menopause and hormonal health onto that same agenda because it is vital for the progress of women, who work for large employers and women in business generally, to be fit and healthy to progress to the highest level.
“I want to ‘normalise’ menopause. Women don’t was to highlight this area of their lives, they tell me they ‘just want to get on with their jobs’ but feel hindered by so many symptoms.
Colas has had her share of hindrances and uncertainty, often facing doubts from family who did not see the business taking off.
She says: “I would then get a phone call or an email for help or advice and when people actually use the words “thank you for saving my life”, I know that the journey will not end until we have totally saturated the market with good information on how to get knowledge and support for menopause.”
The biggest challenge. however, has been trying to working out how to get in front of the right people.
“I started to get invited to speak at universities and hospitals when they were having a training day for practice nurses and doctors and I would go and tell my story,” She says. “I really wanted people to seek my advice but it didn’t happen. They loved my story but because I hadn’t developed the ‘end’ product, I had nothing to sell and it was all free of charge.”
Gradually the word got around and Simply Hormones now works with organisations including the UK police and fire service, employee health insurance and law firms. The business also has customers in Canada and Colas intends to seek investment to support the expensive task of growth.
She says: “We are only now turning the corner financially. I have supported the business financially since the beginning, often wondering if I would ever make any money, never mind get my money back.”
Perseverance and sheer determination have been Colas’s mantra but she admits to lacking in confidence when she began, even though she was already a successful hotelier.
She says: “I can tell you what holds women back is lack of confidence – it’s well documented and it applied to me –, always waiting for approval, waiting for others to tell you, yes, you’re good at this – just do it.”
“I had guts even though I felt I lacked confidence. I was rubbing shoulders with the medical profession and had that feeling that I would be caught out, they’d know I was a fake and throw me out of the room (when I attended medical conferences).”
Over the years, Colas has seen both her fledgling business, and confidence, transform. It has spurred her drive and passion to help women in their mid-forties and upwards, who are resigning from work because of menopause.
She says: “The challenges of family life are well documented but not the challenge of hormonal health, especially menopause.
“If we can support women and show those that want to succeed, how to succeed, that they can do it their own way and not be part of the boys club, I am sure that we will reach 50–50 at full executive board level not just at the non-exec level.
“I am happy doing what I believe I was put on this earth to do. I only wish I’d found out sooner and even though I’m in my 60s I don’t see retirement on the horizon. I love public speaking and I hope to continue and develop that, perhaps a TED talk. Above all, I love what I am doing. I have a new career. ”