Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott, specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic, explores the merits of a company period policy and why the subject of menstruation should be a discussion in the work place.
The taboo of menstruation is gradually being dismantled.
2020 saw the launch of a scheme to provide free sanitary products in UK schools and Scotland went one step further in securing free sanitary products for all women. However, progress must continue to align with the role of women in modern society. Historically, the denigration of menstruation has been perpetuated by cultural agendas: many religious traditions view menstruation as ‘unclean’; misogyny represses and discriminates against women, boys and men are not adequately educated, and many women report issues of bullying related to menstruation. This leads to subconscious shame, and women themselves also need to find their voice. Add in ‘period poverty’- coined to describe the inability to access feminine hygiene products – alarmingly common, even in the UK. This has risen sharply in the coronavirus epidemic according to a recent BBC report.
We must encourage the next generation to view menstruation as the natural, feminine, life creating process it actually is and avoid being socialised into thinking it is an exclusively female issue. Transgender men who still menstruate can feel particularly stigmatised.
So how does this translate into the workplace? Approximately 50 per cent of the UK workforce are women, represented across all employment sectors and professions at every level, including top executive and governmental positions. Menstruation and menopause have been taboo subjects in the workplace for too long and this must be the age of ‘period dignity’. Women can have a variable experience of their periods and many women suffer with cramps, severe pain, endometriosis, PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and migraines. Menopause and the perimenopause cause symptoms of hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, mood changes, loss of concentration and focus and memory loss. There is still a lack of awareness with employers and women about these changes, particularly the perimenopausal period which can go on for a number of years. Many stop working altogether and in fact a recent survey by the British Medical Association found many highly experienced doctors were leaving the profession because of the menopause.
Stigma affects how people act in the workplace and a survey of 2000 employees done by DPG showed 75 per cent of women hide sanitary products at work, 33 per cent feel their period pain is not taken seriously and 57 per cent lie about reasons for taking sick days. There are 4.4 million women age 50-64 at work in the UK and growing in number. 80 per cent of women going through the menopause are working and the majority are suffering with symptoms affecting their quality of life.
Periods and menopause can significantly impair a woman’s personal and working life. It is widely recognised that women have valuable skills and talents so focused support improves well-being at work and employers will reap the long-term benefits of loyalty, increased productivity, engagement and attendance. Employers have a legal duty to ensure proper working conditions and remove discriminatory barriers to progression for women. Let’s aim to close the gender pay gap! An inclusive, diverse and nurturing workplace leads to a thriving business.
Employers have a corporate social responsibility to formulate HR policies and a framework to support menstruation and menopause in the workplace. Information and training is key: managers should have access to high quality information and education about female health issues to enable appropriate support of their teams. Organisations such as CIPD and ACAS produce guidelines and resources on how to develop menstruation and menopause policy in the workplace.
Open communication must be facilitated with conversations about relevant topics to break the silence, and gauge and promote awareness. Women must be enabled to ask for what they need without judgement to create a supportive, inclusive environment. Some companies have employed a menopause or well-being champion for this purpose. Women must be encouraged to seek medical advice and support as appropriate.
It is important that policies around sickness and absence do not unfairly penalise women. Ideas around cyclicity and working with your body should be embraced. It is now recognised that women have greater productivity in the first half of their cycle, especially around ovulation and menstruation should naturally be a time to rest, refresh and self-care. Some countries have therefore introduced ‘menstrual leave’, and in Japan and Korea, women can legally request time off work. This did not pass legislation in Europe where the idea was controversial. Some would argue it creates a double standard in the office, the message that it is not a normal, natural process, and women would be paid even less.
Employers must identify reasonable adjustments that can create an inclusive space for women. Free sanitary products, sanitary bins and easy access to toilets are all simple solutions. Back supports, heat pads and a first aid box with analgesia are other supportive measures. There must be capacity for risk assessment for each individual employee. For menopausal women, moving a desk to the window, providing fans, cool drinking water and regular rest breaks are a welcome relief for problematic symptoms. Small changes can be really beneficial and engender goodwill.
Flexible working patterns are important, and surely the ability to work from home rather than taking a day off is a better solution. There has been a huge culture shift in working from home due to the current pandemic and we have been positively coerced into making productive work arrangements. Zoom has boomed! The benefits and possibilities in our digital age are vast and there will be permanent changes in the corporate landscape- an opportune moment for senior leadership to jump on board.
Anecdotally, some modern tribal societies regard menstruation as being powerful, healing, protective and sacred. The biggest grass hut of the Mbuti tribe in Zaire is the menstrual hut where women retreat on their period and have the full blessing of the moon! In contrast, NASA scientists gave the first woman astronaut 100 tampons for a 7-day expedition. Period!
About the author
Dr Ghazala Aziz-Scott is a specialist in integrative women’s health and bioidentical hormone balancing for the Marion Gluck Clinic
The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing.
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