Unfortunately, period stigma in the workplace is not uncommon, and it is understandable to feel anxious about getting your period at work! This stress is increased even more when you come on unexpectedly, having to make a dash for the loo, all the while worrying that your colleagues might notice that pad stuffed up your sleeve. However, as more and more women enter the workforce, it’s more crucial than ever that we battle this stigma and challenge workplace attitudes towards periods.
In 2018, the total rate of female employment reached 71.4%, with around 15.3 million women over the age of 16 in employment. With so many women in the workplace, PMS on the job is a realised normality for many. So why is it often overlooked by bosses? Join us as we discuss how we can fight the stigma surrounding getting your period at work and ensure that employers are more accommodating to the monthly cycle.
Even if you haven’t felt it personally, workplace stigma is very real, especially surrounding periods. From major discrimination to hurtful jibes about ‘that time of the month’, women in the workplace can often be left feeling belittled. In one survey, it was revealed that one-third of men think that talking about periods in the workplace is ‘unprofessional’.
It has also been proven time and time again that people find it ‘embarrassing’ to discuss periods at work, with women saying that they’d rather admit to a mistake at work than talk about their period in front of male co-workers. One YouGov survey investigated this further and only 27% of women whose performance was affected by period pains had ever admitted to their employer that this was the case and a further 33% said they’d made up an excuse in the past.
In one example in 2018, Mandy Davies took her medication to work after suffering from extreme menopause symptoms and was dismayed to have misplaced her diluted medication. Glancing over at two men who were drinking water nearby, she suddenly began to panic that they could be drinking her medication and went over the warn them.
After this, things spiraled out of control and Ms. Davies faced an in-depth investigation from her company’s health and safety department, which led to her being dismissed under gross misconduct. As it turned out, her medication hadn’t actually been in the water in question, but things got out of hand so quickly. Thankfully, later in court she was awarded £19,000 in total for the pay lost and to compensate for injury to feelings, but the stigma against her menopause medication is difficult to overlook.
Workplace culture is always evolving, and we are constantly seeing changes in HR procedures as period-related issues are being seen to have a huge impact on employee welfare. Whether women are negotiating the menopause or struggling with particularly bad PMS or PMDD symptoms, they will likely be experiencing issues that are affecting their ability to work, such as heavy bleeding, brain fog and dizziness. In fact, 57% of women affected by these symptoms have said that they adversely affected their working!
There’s no doubt that periods can impact your working life, and that such symptoms are often overlooked, belittled, or shamed. So, what can we do to change the narrative?
From the day girls get their first period to the moment the menopause happens, they should feel comfortable to discuss their menstrual cycle in an open and non-judgmental way. This begins in school and at home, but for the majority of a working woman’s life, it continues in the workplace.
It’s certainly difficult to come up with one sweeping solution, but tolerance, understanding, and conversation are at the route of fighting this problem. In her book, Period, It’s About Bloody Time, Emma Barnett suggests that companies should make period pain a valid reason for taking sick leave and that they should introduce flexible working to allow female employees to manage their symptoms. In addition, workplaces that can afford it can fight the stigma and help their female employees out by providing free sanitary towels and tampons in the bathrooms.
We still have a long way to go, but we are most definitely on the way to tackling the taboo about getting your period at work. Think about the places you’ve worked or where you are now, what do you think your employers could have done better to make women feel as comfortable as possible in the workplace? At the very least it may be worth a chat with your HR representative to action some positive change!
House of Commons Library, Andrew Powell, 8/04/2019 Women and The Economy