We caught up with Saschan and Bukky from The Womb Room to take a closer look at menstrual equity in the workplace. Here, Saschan shares her own personal story and Bukky shares her HR expertise!
“In August 2017 I was unceremoniously ‘let go’ from my role managing a project which I had been working on for nearly 12 months and had built from the ground up. The email I received thanking me for my time with the company was the culmination of 12 weeks of underhanded and unethical tactics to force me out of my job following two 6-week periods of absence due to the necessary and difficult decision to undergo excision surgery for my stage 4 endometriosis which was beginning to impact my quality of life. My story isn’t unique, millions of working women with hidden illnesses have similar experiences.
Like a lot of the people we speak to making the choice to prioritise your health over your career can be a difficult decision to make but should it be a choice we have to make it all?
What’s the situation?
According to research by Gettysburg college, nearly ⅓ of our life is spent at work yet it is safe to say most working environments and the policies we operate under aren’t built to truly accommodate our bodies. We turn up to work, we do our job for 8 hours each day, but can we truly live in these spaces?
The short answer is no. Menstruation has traditionally been a taboo subject and although the world is becoming more accustomed to women being more open about periods, there are still many aspects to consider especially around menstruation and the workplace. The issues of disclosure are directly linked to the traditional narratives about women’s bodies which seek to reaffirm feelings of shame which have historically been ingrained through political, cultural and social narratives. As a result, many women are hesitant to discuss their reproductive and menstrual wellbeing needs at work.
A 2017, survey commissioned by Wear White Again revealed that nearly 44% of women would prefer to cite Diarrhoea instead of menstruation when taking a period related day of absence. We cannot claim that a workplace is truly equitable if we work in environments which foster a culture of shame leaving us unable to have honest conversations about our basic and natural biological experiences as a valid reason for taking time away from work.
For HR professionals, working to address sickness absence and absenteeism there seems to be a ‘lose, lose’ situation here. Having women coming in to work on their period despite not feeling physically fit to do their best can lead to presenteeism. For those who are new to this term, presenteeism is a fairly recent concept which suggests that staff working whilst unwell can be directly linked to loss of productivity, increase in health issues and lack of workplace motivation and engagement.
Managing periods in the workplace
On the flip side, employees having no other options but to take the day as sick leads to the HR issues of increased sickness absence levels which any HR professional will tell you is counterintuitive to the aims of any company. So how can we exercise greater agency at work and encourage more equitable working environments for those of us who’s periods are like a scene from SAW?
As women we tend to know when we are expecting our periods, even if we struggle to track it down to the day, we have a general idea. By planning your calendar around that time beforehand you can plan for flexible working on these days and even ensure that you have met deadlines that may cause additional stress.
If you know you suffer from particularly bad menstrual pains or heavy bleeding, speak to your manager about it if you feel comfortable to do so. If this is not an option, feel out a conversation with your HR person or whoever manages people related issues – the aim is to make them aware of what they can expect during your TOTM and explore what options may be available to you to ensure you are able to show up and be your best self during that time and feel supported to meet your bodies needs at the same time.
Having a designated HR Officer/Manager to be informed of your periods removes that anxiety from your staff and can help foster a culture of more open communication.
Implementing training session or seminars that work to encourage open conversations and reduce – The Womb Room can help you with that *wink*
Flexibility and wellbeing focused workplaces
In order to have genuine agency over our lives we need autonomy around the ways we show up for work. Where a job allows, flexible working arrangements, menstrual wellbeing policies and staff wellbeing days are just a few of the ways that the millions living with reproductive and menstrual wellbeing issues can be supported. If we want truly equitable working environments, we need spaces which are structured to actively challenge systems of power which reinforce a culture of mistrust around disclosing hidden wellbeing issues and by extension maintain narratives of shame regarding our experiences as women.
Thanks to both Saschan and Bukky for sharing their views! You can find out more about The Womb Room here. For more on reproductive health in the workplace, check out this blog by Marketing professional Ella who explains how she struggles to manage her period in the workplace.