Periods, Power, and Progress: Being Bloody Brilliant at Work

Rewind to 2014, I was a 33-year-old,  hot, blubbery hormonal mess, and I had no idea why! Back in the days of my old 9-5, I vividly remember, more than once, walking to work with a heavy feeling, trying as hard as I could to hold back tears stinging in my eyes.

I wasn’t sure what it was or why it was happening, but I knew I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I managed to get through the door, fake smiling all the way to my desk (dying inside). I even managed to make it through a few hours. But by mid-morning, I couldn’t hold it back…

I sat and cried uncontrollably.

I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I just knew I couldn’t be there. My concerned line manager pulled me aside. I couldn’t tell her what was wrong because I didn’t know what was wrong; I felt like I was going mad. She didn’t know how to help me either, so she did the only thing she could and sent me home (rather than have me be an uncontrollable blubbering mess at my desk).

I felt betrayed by my emotions, overwhelmed, and completely lost as to why I felt the way I did. What I didn’t know, and wouldn’t know until years later, at the age of 39, is that I was struggling with PMS!

It got me thinking…

If I hadn’t feared being judged for struggling, would I have felt less isolated in my experience? What if I had felt safe in the hands of a line manager who understood what I was going through, thanks to the help of some Menstrual Wellness Education? Would I have felt more supported by her (and myself!) if everyone was ‘in the know’ about exactly what happens to our bleeding bodies during ‘that time of the month’? I can’t help but wonder… Would solidarity replace stigma?

Would understanding usher in an era where support isn’t just a policy, but a palpable presence? This experience has lived with me and is also why I KNOW it’s time for a change.

Because I am not alone in my story.

PMS-related presenteeism costs businesses an average of 8.4 lost days per year!

That amounts to a loss of £673 in earnings paid per employee.

Because so many women and people with periods are made to feel that allowances for symptoms of PMS and menstruation simply aren’t acceptable. And so we battle through cramps, headaches, nausea, and fatigue to ensure we receive the same professional courtesy as our male counterparts. As an employee, this leaves you feeling frustrated, unsupported, undervalued, and burdened by the expectation to endure discomfort to fit into workplace norms.

In my study, 45.8% of women said they do not feel at all comfortable discussing menstrual absence with their employer! It’s no longer enough just to give someone a job; those days are gone. Organisations have a duty of care to support employees with their career development and their mental and physical well-being. Employees need psychologically safe spaces where they feel comfortable to express and be themselves and, more importantly, safe to share their concerns without fear of embarrassment or retribution.

Leaders need to be able to inspire and motivate their people to do and be their very best; that can’t happen in a culture where women and people with periods do not feel safe to discuss their needs. And you can bet that won’t be isolated to menstrual health; it is a reflection of the culture at large. 

This lack of understanding sends a clear message…

People who bleed are being overlooked, and empathy is glaringly absent, which does not foster an environment people want to work in or for! Businesses risk losing valuable talent if employees leave to seek environments where their needs ARE acknowledged and supported.

And the consequences for businesses? Amounts to billions! PMS alone results in a staggering loss of over £6 billion per year in the UK, stemming from the simple lack of support for an experience women and those with periods have no choice or control over. A bleeding body does not equal less ability; having a period doesn’t affect an individual’s competence to perform their job.

Nor does it make them less competent than their non-bleeding counterparts. But yet… in the world of toxic menstrual taboo, periods (unfairly) equal irrational, incompetent, and untrustworthy. Let’s set the record straight – Being in a body that bleeds never makes you ‘less than’. It might make you tired and in need of a few more breaks, but never less competent.

It’s my mission to dismantle the shame and stigma that exists around menstruation. To provide the ‘missing education’ about menstruation women and people with periods never got in school and promote the creation of equitable workspaces. It’s time for employers to recognise the impact of menstrual health on their employees and create inclusive work environments that prioritise well-being and offer flexible work arrangements and supporting policies. To empower their staff to navigate their menstrual experiences with dignity – without compromising their progression OR productivity.

It’s time to change the conversation about being in a body that bleeds.

With the British Standard Institute (BSI) rewriting the workplace menopause standard to include menstruation last year, I saw the leverage I needed to help corporations recognise how impactful Menstrual Health is to their employees AND the success of their business.

So I now offer Bloody Marvellous Menstrual Workshops and impactful training tailored for every BODY. Ideal for organisations ready to shatter the menstrual stigma and taboo within their workplace. Not only to increase awareness and knowledge for everyone but also to drive positive change within businesses (not to mention maximising productivity and profit!). Progressive organisations choose Bloody Marvellous Menstrual Workshops because they change workplace culture from the inside out.

These tailored workshops bring the ‘missing education’ about menstrual health to life in relatable ways to bust the ‘bloody’ shame surrounding periods and create a comfortable, inclusive culture where both businesses and bleeding bodies can thrive. Studies show businesses do better when women fill more than 1 in 3 executive roles! And yet, many businesses are still struggling to achieve their gender inclusion targets… go figure!

One recent study shockingly revealed a third (32%) of men said they think it’s unprofessional to talk about periods at work. There’s a reason women feel nervous about entering male-dominated environments…

  • Norms shaped by male-centric views can be limiting.
  • Power plays, harassment, and bias make it unwelcoming.
  • Limited networking hinders mentorship and career opportunities.
  • Gender bias and stereotypes hold back recognition and promotion.
  • Unequal policies overlook women’s needs, sustaining gender gaps.

According to research…

 48% of employees said there is a noticeable stigma around menstruation at the organisation they work for.

And 23% of female employees say they have had to lie about their PMS symptoms to their employer to take time off.

So if businesses benefit from more women in high-level roles…

Why make unsupportive intolerable environments for them to be in? Not to mention a place where they fear judgment and scrutiny for experiencing something they have no control over? The time has come to eradicate outdated, discriminatory norms within businesses. Organisations must address menstruation in the workplace to build environments where women and people with periods feel valued.

And with the release of the new BSI standard inclusivity for Menstruation and Menopause in the Workplace, it has never been easier.

To reinforce this message, I have launched a Menstrual Wellness at Work research project. The survey aims to gather 5,000 insights into the experiences of employees regarding menstrual wellness in the workplace. But more importantly, so we can support women and people with periods in the best way possible both professionally and personally.

And you can contribute to The BIG Menstrual Wellness at Work Research Study too…. CLICK HERE to have your say.

Find out more about Samantha’s work…

Get your FREE BSI-aligned Workplace Menstrual Wellness Checklist here:

Find out more about Menstrual Wellness Workshops here:

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