Coexist Pioneering Period Policy

by | Oct 24, 2017 |

The menstrual cycle has long been a taboo subject in societies around the world. This has resulted in a widespread culture of menstruating staff being afraid of the consequences of being open about their menstrual symptoms and needs in the workplace, in case of being deemed weaker or less employable than other employees. The suppression of the menstrual cycle in the workplace has meant that menstruating staff experience shame and unnecessary suffering (including endometriosis, dysmenorrhea) whilst their colleagues may feel uncomfortable to address the topic and/or offer support.

Coexist has been witness to a number of menstruating staff suffering significant physical discomfort at work during their menstrual cycle. This led Bex Baxter (former People Development Manager (PDM), who herself had suffered with dysmenorrhea for over 25 years, to pioneer the idea of a menstrual policy to support menstruating staff.

The purpose of bringing more awareness to the cycle, including communicating about it more openly, is to help minimise the adverse effects experienced which in time greater supports the employee, and therefore Coexist.

Find out more information about Coexist here.

The Coexist Menstrual policy has provided a new permission field that allows women to let go of shame and instead to honour their cycle. The results are inspiring. Menstruating staff at Coexist are now tracking their cycle, taking individual responsibility for their needs. Coexist as an organisation have responded by making adjustments to accommodate these needs, resulting in improved wellbeing among female staff. This research process has never been done before and is proof of how a Menstrual Policy can change everyone’s relationship to women in the workplace.

Where did the inspiration for the policy come from?

Coexist has been witness to a number of menstruating staff suffering significant physical discomfort at work during their menstrual cycle. This led Bex Baxter (former Director and People Development Manager), who herself had suffered with dysmenorrhea for over 25 years, to pioneer the idea of a menstrual policy to support menstruating staff.

Is this a policy that is required for all, or is it a choice for each individual?

All staff are auto-enrolled to ‘opt in’ to this policy. However, Coexist recognises the importance of difference and debate, therefore should an employee not wish to take part in the policy, they can request to opt out with no judgement or discussion.

How has it been implemented practically? How does it work?

Menstruating staff who opt in to the policy are entrusted to respect their cycle and take responsibility for their own wellbeing. If they opt in, they need to check in with their line manager regarding their individual wellbeing requirements, and in any instance, any time off or alteration to their working hours must be communicated and signed off with their line manager.Some roles allow menstruating staff the option to work from home, or alternatively to use a quiet space away from the main office.

Coexist encourages menstruating staff to plan for their menstrual cycle effectively to support the balance of the business needs with their wellbeing. We have found that tracking the menstrual cycle can be the answer to making this policy really work, especially for staff who have irregular cycles or who would like to plan ahead for their work effectively.

Have many women used the policy?

Out of thirteen menstruating staff in the Coexist team, seven have actively used the menstrual flexibility policy over the past year. This has mainly translated as leaving work early, and either working from home or making up the time lost at another point in the month. For a few members of staff, it has been a case of having half a day or a day off work as paid menstrual leave, and not making that time up because their roles do not allow it- for example if they work full time, or work within a department that operates on a shift basis.

Within certain departments there has been a significant shift in how women track their cycles and plan their work- for our Front of House team this has meant introducing a menstrual work calendar so that they can plan rota’s around their cycles, for others it has been a case of getting an app to start tracking their cycle to enable better planning ahead.

Has the policy increased productivity within Coexist?

This would be hard to quantify, and is not the core purpose of the menstrual policy. The suppression of the menstrual cycle in the workplace has meant that menstruating staff experience shame and unnecessary suffering. Coexist commits to focusing on the menstrual policy as a primary example of how working with natural cycles enhances wellbeing and contributes positively to an organisation.

Does it count as sick leave?

Time taken off for menstrual flexibility leave is on a trust basis and it is openly communicated as ‘menstrual leave’, not ‘sick leave.’ This is paid time up to one day, after which staff must refer to Coexist’s statutory sick pay policy.

Is it on full pay?

The policy allows for up to one day paid leave a month for menstruating staff.

Does Coexist think it could affect women’s employability?

Absolutely not. The policy was introduced to help Coexist’s staff to be at their optimum health both mentally and physically. To relieve menstruating staff of the stigma that goes with menstrual leave, different options mean that there is choice for individuals to choose the method that works for them, none of which imbalances them with any other worker; flexi-time, work from home, work in a quiet space, and taking time off are options for all staff. The policy encourages staff to get to know their cycle, educating them to then better manage their time and their health, and therefore their work.

How is it managed, in terms of making sure women aren’t just taking time off?

Coexist operates within a culture of trust. Should you need time away from work, it is assumed to be a genuine request. Coexist relates to policy as being there to support both the organisation and the employee, not to control or reprimand staff’s motivation – assuming their motivation is bad. All line managers at Coexist are expected to have regular check-ins with staff regarding their needs, which includes any health needs. The majority of employees are part time and are able to be flexible with their working hours, therefore should they need to move or ‘make up’ hours, it is possible to do so. This is different for shift workers, and those who have full time hours, at which point it works on a case by case basis, and is something individuals would organise with their line manager.

How is the policy communicated to male colleagues?

Non-menstruating staff receive the same information as menstruating staff, and the menstrual policy was created by and is discussed by staff of all genders within Coexist management meetings, with everyone involved in any updates and changes that are made.

In our experience it has been menstruating staff who are afraid of being stigmatised and have struggled to communicate, rather than non-menstruating staff lacking empathy or struggling to communicate around this subject. We recognise that this might not be the case in the wider world.

What other things are put in to place to help women who suffer from bad period pains, but don’t necessarily want to take the day off?

If any member of staff is feeling unwell, Coexist encourages them to take some time away from work, whether this is for a cup of tea on the sofa or an hour away from their desk to rest in our wellbeing rooms. There is also the option to work in a quiet space away from the busy office environment, if needed.

Does Coexist have any plans to bring this issue to the mainstream?

This policy was created first and foremost to support Coexist’s staff. Coexist recognises that many organisations are not ready for a policy like this yet, however we are delighted to be an example of change, and breaking the historical taboo around menstruation.

What do Coexist’s male staff think about this policy? Is it fair?

This policy has been built by Coexist’s employees, and supported by the board of directors. The team, male and female, has wholeheartedly supported the ongoing journey of this policy. Coexists definition of ‘fairness’ or ‘equality’ is in valuing difference; no two people- male, female or non-binary – are the same, and therefore we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The fact that we still live in a patriarchal society which means that people who menstruate are expected to fit into a system designed for people who do not menstruate, is something which Coexist wishes to challenge; the menstrual cycle is an asset, not a weakness, and we believe it should be valued as such.

Bex Baxter is a former People Development Manager at Coexist. Having suffered from dysmenorrhea (severe period pains) for over 25 years, and witnessing menstruating staff suffering significant physical discomfort at work during their menstrual cycle, she decided to pioneer a menstrual policy for Coexist, partly based on the work of women’s leadership coach and menstruality educator Alexandra Pope.

Bex felt that menstrual leave is a basic human right for all menstruating staff and that Coexist could pave a new way for menstruation in the workplace. Coexist allowed her to explore a new model, working with Lara Owen (leader at the forefront of menstruation and author of ‘Blood is Gold’). Together they created a policy that could be monitored and evaluated by Monash university, Australia.

We have now piloted a policy that empowers the Coexist team (women and men alike), that harnesses greater productivity, creativity and well-being, a policy that recognises menstruation not as a liability or a problem, or as women getting ‘special treatment’ but as a natural cycle that allows everyone to work and live at their optimum and in so doing to model a contemporary way of leading within their community.

Find out more about Bex’s work on her website.

Bex took part in a TED talk as part of TEDx Bristol in November 2017!

You can see the full video below. (Skip to 7 hours 36 mins to see Bex’s talk).