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Disastrous! How menstruation myths can easily decrease women's productivity

Updated: Feb 7

With rising female stars in STEM, show business, sports and everything else, women are redefining the acronym of PMS from Premenstrual Syndrome to Pale, Male and Stale. Ironically, historically, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) has been considered a myth. But PMS is very real, affecting three out of four women, and is not defined solely by irrational mood swings.

Premenstrual symptoms can include (but aren't limited to) fatigue, headaches, bad moods, and chest tightness. Some people experience mild symptoms, some experience more severe symptoms, and some have no symptoms at all. Regardless, this myth invalidates people who are forced to deal with such symptoms.

Breaking the menstrual taboo at the workplace

Though finally, many years later, when PMS is officially recognised as a medical condition, female power finally turned the tables. Today, most working women are menstruating. So why don't we talk about it?

Incredibly, the government just recently made menstrual health a mandatory part of the school curriculum for children of all genders in 2020. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many stigmas around menstruation. However, the time has come to break the menstrual taboo and employers are taking action to address menstruation in the workplace.

Menstruation impacts organisations in many ways beyond just employee health and well-being issues.

From short sick leave and long absences to employee engagement and productivity. Nearly a quarter of women have missed work for their period in the past six months, but more than a third have lied about their real reasons for leaving due to fear of embarrassment or criticism.

As a result, employees are embarrassed, and bewildered and often suffer in silence. This inevitably leads to the breakdown of relationships and trust at work, and can ultimately lead to a loss of commitment. Research shows that organisations perform better when women occupy more than one-third of leadership roles, but many organisations struggle to meet their gender inclusion goals. Organisations need to address menstruation in the workplace to create workplaces where women feel valued and want to work.

No more Premenstrual Syndrome, now it’s Pale, Male, and Stale!

A natural first step for organisations is to break down the stigma surrounding menstruation. Do employees actually take "period leave" if they are uncomfortable talking about menstrual issues with their direct supervisors? The answer is probably not. The first step in dealing with menstruation is starting a conversation. Simply increasing awareness of the period and the conditions via training modules for all staff, learning, tools, and resources, can help to normalise the issue. It's time to redefine PMS for those who see it as a barrier. No more Premenstrual Syndrome, women are now redefining the acronym of PMS from Premenstrual Syndrome to Pale, Male and Stale.

I feel that this definition is justified. As a man, I can see how it would be frustrating to always be in the minority in so many settings. When it comes to issues like PMS, it's important to have a voice that is reflective of what women are experiencing. This definition allows for that conversation to take place, and ultimately makes the workplace and other settings more inclusive for everyone. Jamie Irwin, Director, Straight Up Search

It is imperative that companies ensure their menstrual support messages are inclusive for everyone, including transgender and non-binary people.

While progress is being made in addressing myths about menstruation, sadly, it's already 2023 and Scotland is still the only place where women get free period products. We can change that. Upgrading Women is based in the UK and while the rest of Great Britain is still paying for period products, there are many other girls around the world who have it worse.

Upgrading Women took up a pro-bono client of four young women in London who started Project Period. We help them plan a strategy to raise funds to provide menstrual cups for girls in Kenya so they don't have to miss school on the week they have their period. Check out their website if you want to pitch in too!

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