Period Inclusive Workspaces
Period-inclusive workspaces: Why and how employers can support their menstruating staff at work
Words by: Harriet Gray
Employee wellbeing is a growing and dynamic workplace requirement but, unsurprisingly, women's needs have long been excluded from the employee wellbeing equation. Women's specific workplace needs often start and end at fertility and maternity leave, while menstruation is ignored. At a basic level, workplaces provide toilet paper, soap and water. They may even take further steps to foster employee wellbeing and inclusion, think; birthday cakes for employees, Friday night drinks, flexible working hours, education and workshops on maintaining positive mental health habits. When will menstrual equity be factored in as an essential pillar of employee wellbeing? Menstrual equity means menstruators are not disadvantaged by their period, and are supported with period products, education, and flexible conditions to work around symptoms.
Whether a small tech start-up, hospitality venue, academic institution, or a big corporation with hundreds of employees, menstrual equity at work needs to be considered. Traditional office practices need to be reformed to not only increase productivity but to also illustrate proactive support for employees who menstruate. So, what can employers do to make their workplace more period inclusive?
Provide free period products to staff
One of the easiest ways to achieve menstrual equity in the workplace is to ensure period products are free and accessible! Periods can be unpredictable, and menstruators are burdened with the unspoken expectation of having period products on them to get them through their day. It is not uncommon for your period to arrive unexpectedly, so having period products available in the workplace removes additional stress. Many people also cannot afford period products, further highlighting the need to make period products accessible at work.
Paid period leave
Paid period leave is a policy allowing menstruators to take time off during the month when experiencing severe period related symptoms. Paid period leave is a contentious policy with such implementation sparking many gender-based arguments. Some leaders believe period leave reinforces menstrual stigma and perpetuates the stereotype of women being 'weak'. While others reinforce the human experience of menstruation, bringing light to what can’t be denied - the physical and emotional symptoms that rise and fall during the menstrual cycle. Here’s what we do know:
- A British Medical Journal found that menstrual cramps are responsible for an average of nine days of lost productivity per year, with 80% of menstruators continuing to work with severe symptoms resulting in overall reduction of productivity.
- Bupa research concluded that 23% of menstruators had taken time off work because of their period in the span of size months. 36% of menstruators did not disclose to their managers that period related symptoms were the reason they were unable to work.
Period related symptoms can be severe and deserve consideration in the workplace. Further, those diagnosed with endometriosis, PMDD and other related menstrual issues carry a bigger challenge and burden while working. Open dialogue is so important to ensure these people are supported in their employment.
The act of acknowledging the biological differences that exist in the workplace validates the experience of period related symptoms and removes expectations and pressure for staff to perform while experiencing monthly symptoms. As an employer, it is important to provide time to rest and recover whilst reassuring employees their position will not be at risk.
Educate + raise awareness
It may feel awkward at first, but having open and fluid communication about menstrual health and menstruation is SO important to create an inclusive and welcoming space for employees. Here’s a few ways employers can foster two way open communication about such topics:
- Make it CLEAR that the conversation is welcomed and that period related concerns are valid. The conversation can be integrated into onboarding processes and team/individual check ins - employees need to know their health and wellbeing is prioritised.
- Enlist third party professionals (such as TABOO!) to provide presentations and workshops to start the conversation around periods, menstruation and conditions such as endometriosis in the workplace.
- Involve ALL genders in the conversation - it is important for those who don’t bleed to have an understanding of the monthly cycle that their colleagues experience.
Period inclusive workspaces - the bottom line
Shaping workplaces to be more period inclusive is increasingly becoming an expectation - this is particularly evident with discussions around legal menstrual policies in the works. Integrating period inclusive practices into workplaces communicates an acknowledgement of these needs as valid and helps create productive and positive places of work.
TABOO's Cycle Supply program is tailored to workplaces, offering both period products and services to help start the conversations around periods in the office. There is always more to do to ensure workplaces are inclusive, but setting a norm of providing period products in workspaces is a step in the right direction.