It’s 2020: no woman should feel uncomfortable about their period. For too long menstruation and menopause have been taboo subjects in the workplace. This is especially true in the often male-dominated businesses we support in the Technology, Engineering and Life Sciences sectors. Skills shortages in these sectors mean it is essential that businesses are attractive to female workers and providing period dignity at work is an important step in ensuring this.
According to research from DPG, almost half of workers who experience periods (48%) said there is a noticeable stigma around the issue at the organisation they work for.
The survey, of 2,000 employees who menstruate, found that this stigma is affecting how people act in the workplace. Three-quarters (74%) feel it’s necessary to hide sanitary products at work, and 60% stated they’d be uncomfortable discussing the topic of menstruation at all with colleagues or managers.
Almost one-third (32%) felt that colleagues did not take period pain seriously. As a result, 57% of those who suffer period-related symptoms said they have had to lie about their reasons for taking sick days.
Periods and the menopause can have a negative impact on an employee’s personal and working life. Although not everyone will experience symptoms, supporting those who do will improve their wellbeing at work and minimise any impact on productivity and attendance.
So, what practical steps can employers take to help improve their female workforce’s health and wellbeing, to ensure dignity and normalise menstrual health?
1. Provide information & training
As with other health and wellness issues, ensure managers have access to high quality information about menstrual and menopausal health and are given training and clear guidance on dealing with any related issues.
2. Talk about it
Engage in conversations around the topic and practice open, transparent communication.
3. Develop policies
Introduce policies around periods and menopause to create a positive approach that empowers women and supports their wellbeing and effectiveness. Ensure that policies around sickness and absence do not unfairly penalise women because of symptoms they may be experiencing such as cramps, memory loss or lack of concentration.
4. Provide free products
Provide free sanitary products and bins in female toilets – this should be as normal as having access to toilet roll.
5. Flexible working
Allow greater flexibility of work practices to make it easier for employees dealing with menstrual or menopausal symptoms. Being able to work from home is better than having to take a whole day off.
6. Rest breaks
Ensure adequate rest breaks to take medication or have a short rest. Most people only need a relatively short amount to time to manage menstrual or menopausal symptoms before being able to return to work.
7. Foster an open & honest culture
Take a holistic approach and create a culture where women feel comfortable talking to their managers about their health and can come to productive arrangements which work for everyone and where employees ultimately feel supported and heard. This will have the greatest impact on engagement and retention.
Fellow Unlocking Ambition cohort member Hey Girls are doing fantastic work around period poverty and period dignity. Created by founder Celia Hodson with a clear mission to end period poverty, Hey Girls sell plastic-free period products with a ‘buy one, give one’ model, by giving a girl or woman in need one pack of products for every pack purchased. Since launching in early 2018, Hey Girls has donated more than 5.6 million period products across the UK, and its products are now stocked by two-thirds of Scottish local authorities and in major UK supermarkets.
Their Period Dignity campaign is part of a wider campaign to assist employers in making conditions more equal for women at work by providing period dignity in the workplace whilst contributing to the Hey Girls mission to eradicate Period Poverty in the UK. They want to see free period products in the workplace become the norm.
“Just by offering free pads and tampons in washrooms, corporates can instantly create a more inclusive space and help to destigmatize period products and menstrual taboos.”Celia Hodson, Hey Girls
Employers have a corporate social responsibility to ensure that women have the highest possible quality of working life, unimpeded by menstruation or menopause related issues. They must create an inclusive working environment for all employees at all stages of their working lives, where staff can ask for what they need, without judgement. This includes enabling employees who experience problematic periods or menopausal symptoms to get the support they need in order to manage their symptoms at work.
It’s time to break down the stigmas and ensure that no woman is put at a disadvantage in the workplace, from menstruation to menopause.
Get in touch to find out more about how we can support you in developing an inclusive, diverse and purpose-driven workplace to enable your team and business to thrive and grow.