With periods being a monthly – and often painful – occurrence for many women, wouldn’t it be nice to finally turn the corner from taboo to normalised when it comes to talking about menstruation and the workplace?
Many working women already feel ostracised for taking longer maternity leave, not taking a long enough maternity leave, for prioritising their career over having children, and for not prioritising their career over children – the list is endless.
But the difference is, for the most part, women can pick which of these options suits their lifestyle better – but what they cannot choose is whether or not they menstruate.
A painful period can leave many struggling to focus and exhausted, with headaches, mood swings and more – so trying to work during this time can be incredibly challenging.
This is especially the case for with those living with conditions such as endometriosis, which amplifies symptoms.
And because UK women have simply been expected to get on with work every month, if they experience this period pain – or other period-related symptoms – they sometimes need to take sick leave as an employee.
However, in a landmark decision the Spanish cabinet voted this year to approve paid menstrual leave every month – potentially paving the way for the rest of Europe and the UK to do the same.
This is welcome news considering nearly half of Brits are in favour of paid period leave for workers.
The new Spanish bill says anyone suffering with dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) could have three days of leave a month – extended to five in some circumstances.
It’s clear change is underway – but it’s happening slowly.
When it comes to women’s health and their careers, 2022 saw multiple companies making steps to accommodate female employees and their health.
Co-op introduced paid fertility leave for up to ten appointments per cycle, for up to three cycles of fertility treatment, while Channel 4 introduced a trial partnership with Hertility for six months – so female employees can order a hormone and fertility test worth £149.
They can also screen for 18 different health conditions such as PCOS or endometriosis.
Of course, the majority of women won’t need to utilise their menstrual leave that much – but it’s about recognising that it’s acceptable to take time off for debilitating period pain.
Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Zambia and Taiwan all already have a form of menstrual leave policy in place, although these are not without their flaws. So Europe, the UK and America are certainly lagging behind in that respect.
With all this change in the air, could 2023 be the year that allowances for menstruation in the workplace come into effect?
Expert Jenny Saft, CEO and founder of Apryl, says it’s a step in the right direction – and it will benefit businesses, too.
Jenny says: ‘I hope more employers will start to consider introducing menstrual leave as a benefit – just as many have embraced fertility support and menopause leave this year.
‘Inclusive women’s health support is an incredible way for employers to differentiate and build happy and diverse teams.
‘I don’t think we can underestimate the influence powerful women and companies have had (and will continue to have) on the trend towards supporting women’s health at work.’
This year, we’ve seen a number of women speaking openly about their health and fertility issues: from Jennifer Anniston to Rebel Wilson.
It’s a huge stepping stone each time a woman opens up.
Jenny adds: ‘Every time a woman speaks up to normalise experiences of infertility, the menopause, painful periods and PCOS, they’re paving the way for more inclusive attitudes to women’s health, and opening doors for workplace support like menstrual leave to become the norm.
‘Thanks to these women – as well as pioneering companies such as SoundCloud, Channel 4 and the Co-op (who introduced fertility policies this year) – we’re more aware than ever of women’s health issues and the support women need and should be entitled to at work.’
But it shouldn’t just stop at fertility and menstrual leave, says Jenny.
She continues: ‘Now, as we move into 2023, these policies will only gain momentum.
‘50% of the population menstruate, so it only figures that this is an issue that should be recognised and addressed by employers.
‘But I also want to see other things – like fertility support and menopause leave – factoring into employee support packages as standard.
‘By normalising these issues, employers can help transform attitudes to (and acceptance of) women’s health needs in society at large.’
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