Tag Archives: women in the workplace

Period policies : a woman’s friend or foe?

Period policy at work

It seems that a forward-thinking company in Bristol is planning to put in place a ‘period policy’. It would to allow women to take time off work during their period, thus boosting  overall productivity and efficiency. The director of the company claims it will help synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles.

*splutters tea over laptop*

It’s all very admirable. Unless you think it’s just plain balls.

Whatever next? Paid leave for bouts of hysteria? Pregnant women being turned away from the office and forced into confinement until their child is delivered into the arms of a wet nurse? Tying underperforming female colleagues to a ducking stool? Well goodbye 21st century and hello Dark Ages.

I have several problems with something that proposes “a radically new model of the menstrual cycle as an asset for your entire organisation”. (Just imagine if that popped up as the title of a Powerpoint presentation at work!)

1. Yawn, another stigmatising nod to de-stigmatisation

Yes, periods can bloody hurt. They can leave you doubled up, nauseous and feeling like you’re at death’s door. Of course they’re not an illness and we all know how women can still roller skate, swim, ride bikes and dance in tight-fitting white lycra when the decorators are in, don’t we? Far from de-stigmatising periods, the special treatment proposed by the ‘period policy’ is just that: special treatment – and not in the positive sense. It seems to be yet another way to demarcate women and highlight their ‘difference’ in the workplace.

Please let’s not lumber women with another ‘weakness’ that sets them one step behind their non-menstruating, non-child-bearing colleagues. But, I hear you cry, the article says that the “spring section of the cycle immediately after a period is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual” – surely we can harness that? In reality, would a business really wait for your period to pass?

“Oh, don’t talk to Beryl – she’s got her period. Give that important client to someone else. Beryl’s just not that creative when she’s on the blob … No, the client won’t wait. But don’t worry, there will be another less important client for Beryl when she’s back to her normal self. Bless her.”

2. Isn’t this unfair on men and anyone else who regularly feels a bit yucky?

Most men don’t do the period thing (and obviously not in the literal sense). I can clear my husband from a room by tossing an unused, wrapped tampon at him – they’re like kryptonite to his Spider-Man. Integrating menstruation into the workplace (another Powerpoint title for you there) isn’t going to happen. Why expect men to suddenly start feeling comfortable talking about menstruation around the water cooler? From a woman’s perspective, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing or assuming I’d got my period. Not because of any stigma but because it’s personal. In the same way I wouldn’t want the whole office knowing if my bowel movements had been a bit loose that morning. Most importantly, I’d hate for people to feel they had to treat me differently.

Interestingly, an article in the Telegraph last year reported on a study which found than 25% of British men believe they have a monthly ‘man period’. Should they be let in on the ‘period policy’ too then? Whilst we’re at it, I’d also like to put my hand up for a ‘migraine policy’ please. And perhaps a ‘my kids have been up all night puking policy’. It’s only fair.

3. Shouldn’t it be about better workplace policies generally?

This shouldn’t be about new-fangled workplace policies. If someone feels they cannot take some time off when they feel genuinely unable to perform at work, then there is a problem with the culture of their company. If “when women are having their periods they are in a winter state, … they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies” then sort out flexible working policies and let them work from home beneath a humongous hot water bottle. If employers treat their employees well and meet needs where they can, then they will be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and creativity – it doesn’t matter one jot whether the employee is male or female.

I’m sure some women would say I’ve completely missed the point. Perhaps the article caught me at the wrong time of the month. Maybe my body temperature was 0.5 degrees too high to be able to appreciate how truly bloody brilliant the idea of a ‘period policy’ is. I hope for the sake of that business in Bristol that their female employees aren’t all on the same cycle. As the tumbleweed blows through the office they’ll have time to discuss the wisdom of the policy, if they can make themselves heard over the sound of men rubbing their hands together in glee.

Women: big business

Businesswoman

Sometimes I wonder if top female business executives would be better off keeping their mouths shut about the issue of women in the workplace and the challenges they face. Do they actually do more damage to the cause in trying to support it? Hell’s bells, I hate to use the word cause. It shouldn’t even be a cause. Whilst a topic remains a ‘cause’ it will never become normalised. Are high-flying business women really all that inspirational?

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, used the opportunity to talk about the gender stereotypes that are holding women back in the workplace.  According to Sandberg, the more successful men get the more they are liked and the more successful women become the less they are liked.  It seems that people don’t like to see women outside of their stereotypical role of wife/mother and assuming the supposedly masculine traits needed to succeed in the cut throat world of business. So unladylike!

I’m very much with Sandberg in grimacing at this unfortunate by-product of centuries of gender stereotyping. However, in the interest of openness at work (and perhaps with a misguided nod towards the ‘normalisation’ of working parents), she went on to suggest that employers should be allowed to ask their employees whether they want to have children. On this point I have to disagree with her. That’s right, one of the most personal questions you can ask someone and the answer could be scribbled down on your employment record. Perhaps the employer will also tell you openly how many doors will be shut in your face depending on the answer you give. I’m all for a climate of openness and flexibility in the working environment to help parents but I question whether Sandberg’s suggestion would genuinely benefit both parties.

Differences aside, Sandberg did use a prominent stage to champion equality for women in the workplace and for that I salute her. But here I put on my weary face. We’ve heard this a million times before from women – or, more specifically, mothers – in top jobs. These are women who have made it to the top with immense effort but – and here’s the rub – they are also women who are exceptional in some way. Exceptional can mean a whole range of things:  they have voracious ambition (oops – I almost said like men), they have ninja business brains, they have made enormous sacrifices in their family life, they can afford dawn to dusk childcare, their partners have been the stay at home parent, etc, etc.  The list could go on. What I am trying to say is that women who make it to the top of their career bring something extraordinary to the table that (dare I say) ‘ordinary’ women (like me) don’t or can’t.  I would hazard a guess that whatever their unique quality is, it has the power to override any unfair treatment they might receive on their way up the ladder. (To be fair, the same applies to men. Not every man has, as this debate would sometimes lead us to believe, the innate ability to be a CEO just because they have different genitalia.)

Top business jobs do require an exceptionally talented candidate and when you get to such a narrow stratum of the business population is it really such a surprise that you don’t find representatives from every walk of life? Is there debate around discrimination against the unexceptional people in society? Those who are great assets to a business but cannot work until 2am in the morning? The people who say “I want to have a brilliant career and a brilliant family life in equal measure”? Perhaps we should be focussing on letting women get on with their careers and creating their own definition of success so that a woman running a multi-million pound company isn’t constantly marked out as the sole example of success in a man’s world. The women I would love to hear from are the ones who are happy, content and successful in their jobs and who have achieved a work-life balance. There are plenty of stories of women flying high because they’ve sacrificed something from their personal life or are so hard-wired to business that they started turning a profit selling tampons in the school toilets aged 11. I want to hear more from women who have achieved the Holy Grail of a perfect work-life balance – if such a thing indeed exists. That I would find inspirational.