A new survey of 2,000 menstruators by CIPD training specialist DPG has revealed a significant period stigma in UK workplaces. Almost half of workers who experience periods (48 per cent) say there is a noticeable stigma around the issue at the company they work for.
This stigma was found to affect how people act at work, as three-quarters of menstruators (74 per cent) say they feel it’s necessary to hide sanitary products at work. Many also feel the taboo is preventing conversations around the issue, with six in ten survey respondents (60 per cent) saying they’d be uncomfortable discussing the topic of menstruation at all with colleagues or managers. Almost one-third felt that colleagues did not take period pain seriously. As a result, 57 per cent of those who suffer period related illnesses have had to lie about their reasons for taking sick days.
Left unchecked, period stigma can result in direct negative comments to menstruators. Over one in ten survey respondents (13 per cent) said they had been confronted with such comments in the workplace. Examples gathered from the DPG survey include:
- “It’s not a real illness”
- “It’s because she’s on the rag”
- “You’re just lazy”
- “My wife manages, so why can’t you?”
- “Can we call it girl’s week?”
Currently, workplaces are not always providing basic facilities to help employees deal with their periods: Over one-quarter (27 per cent) of menstruators don’t have sanitary bins at work; Almost one-third (31 per cent) don’t have constant access to a toilet; Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) have no way of accessing sanitary products at work if they run out; Just seven per cent have access to back supports to alleviate pain; Only three per cent can use heat pads at work; One in ten respondents (10 per cent) said that their employers currently provide free sanitary products for them.
Nadya Okamoto, Founder and Executive Director of charity PERIOD, recommends the following to overcome workplace stigma:
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”.
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, said about the research:
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.
Interested in wellbeing in the workplace? We recommend the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Forum 2019.