Workplace period stigma must be tackled

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​Employees feel unable to discuss menstruation at work, while many workplaces do not offer sanitary bins or products

Almost half of workers who experience periods (48%) said there is a noticeable stigma around the issue at the organisation they work for, according to research from DPG.

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.

The research also found that many workplaces are not properly equipped. More than a quarter (27%) of respondents said they did not have sanitary bins, and almost a third (31%) do not have constant access to a toilet. Just one in 10 (10%) said their employer provides free sanitary products.

The research comes as the government announced on 26 May that it was launching a 'period poverty taskforce' made up of businesses and charities, to analyse the effects of period poverty across society. In 2017 Plan International found that 10% of women and girls aged 14 to 21 are unable to afford sanitary products.

Nadya Okamoto, founder and executive director of charity PERIOD, said that employers have a responsibility to tackle the taboo around periods in the workplace.

“Companies and managers should treat periods as normal and natural. They should not be treated as a taboo topic in the workplace, they are part of being human. They should also provide menstrual hygiene products for all of their employees and should not tolerate comments like 'they did X because of their period',” she said.

Okamoto added that leaders should kick-start an open culture around periods: “Start a conversation and be open to discussing periods with your employees and co-workers. Transparency needs to start with leadership so just start that conversation and create a safe space for people to be honest with each other. A really tangible way to show your support for people with periods in the office is to stock every restroom with tampons and pads.”

Sarah Aubrey, CEO at DPG, added that periods should be part of an organisation's commitment to wellbeing: “These results show that it’s high time managers and employers make a concerted effort to overcome period stigma in the workplace.

“We need to be making a focused move towards normalising periods and removing misconceptions around them. This can start with small steps, such as introducing the subject in wider conversations around health and wellbeing, and making your workplace period positive.”

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