Pam McCarthy, Red School Policy Officer, answers all (hopefully!) your questions about menstrual cycle awareness in the workplace.
What is this Pioneering Period Policy all about?
The menstrual cycle is a stress management and self-care tool that offers a clear model of the creative process and sustainable living for men and women. When a woman is aware of the powers and dynamics of her cycle she can value and work with it. With cycle awareness integrated into her life a woman can operate at a well balanced and optimum level physically, emotionally and intellectually. It gives her a more efficient means of managing her energy and time for health and well-being, creativity and vision & effectiveness for realising projects and goals. In short, cycle awareness is a mindfulness tool.
Our Pioneering Period Policy approach is about building menstrual cycle awareness by breaking the taboo and promoting good knowledge about the cycle. It is about providing women with some choice and flexibility to bring their work and life into a better balance with their natural cyclical tendencies. Imagine ignoring the sleep/wake cycle, it would feel like constantly working through jet-lag.
This starts with women and men having the knowledge and language to talk about the menstrual cycle. So we can address the stigma attached to this topic. Then it’s about exploring and putting in place steps that will support women to work in sync with the energies and powers of each phase of menstrual cycle. The result is understanding and respect for natural cycles so that both men and women are better placed to contribute to their own well-being, creativity and mission of an organisation.
What are you aiming for with the Pioneering Period Policy ?
Menstrual cycle aware workplaces where men and women can talk about this comfortably. The development of policies and practices that enable women to work in sync with the amplified powers and resources of the menstrual cycle. Some choice and flexibility so women can co-operate and balance theses natural cyclical energies. Support and trust so that women can harness these capabilities both for herself and her organisation. This will build menstrual cycle literacy and model contemporary ways of leading within organisations and communities.
We are aware this is not a neutral topic. We seek to reframe the conversation and present the menstrual cycle as an asset, a resource to be capitalised upon not derided. All aspects of a natural cycle must find their balance and harmony for cycles to work well and sustainably.
It is about people and organisations working with the concepts of agility, flexibility, resilience, stress management and seasonality. This work is about bringing our humanity back to the core of our relationship with nature and each other.
What can you offer organisations ?
Red School is very happy to work with those who wish to become more menstrual cycle aware. Our approach is about facilitating a policy process with an organisation so that any menstrual cycle awareness policy would be bespoke and tailored to each organisation’s circumstances, needs and desires.
It would cover the knowledge and information needed so that women and men can talk about this together and become more menstrual cycle literate. Then explore and put in place practices that support these new ways of working. Maybe some additions to existing health and well-being practices within an organisation. It may include offering some flexible working during menstruation but it won’t be solely that. By not insisting women override the pulse of the menstrual cycle a lot of women feel less distressed physically, and emotional problems are eased. There are various steps which an organisation can take to make women feel more supported and to help them work with the different stages of the cycle.
It is about working with trust and respect. Some hierarchical, top-down or heavily structured organisations may find this very difficult and for them it may always be an issue. We are aware that at this stage it may be creative, environmental and leadership organisations, those used to working with any cycle process or those organisations with a progressive approach that may be most open to these ideas.
What are the benefits for companies and organisations?
By supporting menstrual cycle awareness we believe organisations can achieve more efficiency in the workplace and create more productive, healthy and dynamic teams. It is about empowering people within an organisation. And this will reap rewards for an organisation – cycle literate women have the edge. They don’t work harder, they work smarter, capitalising on the powers of the cycle for optimum well-being, creativity and leadership with inspired vision for themselves and their organisations. By respecting and utilising the natural cycles of men and women we are able to live and work more sustainably. In truth it’s about treating people with dignity and respect. We see this as part of the social responsibility of organisations within a modern society.
So if you’re part of an organisation that wants to find out more or if you’d like to recommend an organisation to us or there’s some great group out there you think we should be networking with please do get in touch.
Is it just about having a day of work ?
Most certainly not! It’s not about introducing menstrual leave for women, it’s about building menstrual cycle awareness for all. Working with your cycle will be different for different women. It’s about raising awareness of the cycle as an asset to working life and about creating choices so that women can co-operate with the energies and patterns of the cycle. In a menstrually aware organisation there will be an element of giving people a little more autonomy to manage their tasks and schedule. It might be about providing some flexible working during menstruation, knowing that this will pay dividends in productivity at other times. It’s about building trust and flexibility in the workplace and respecting your staff.
Which organisations are offering examples ?
In March (2016) Red School co-operated with CoExist to initiate the development of their new menstrual policy and there was plenty of coverage in the media : redschoolonline.net/pioneering-period-policy-update
The organisations (that we are aware of) with formal policies in place include :
Some words of experience from Edveeje Fairchild, Chief Operations Officer, Tree Sisters : “Working with the monthly cycle – in very practical ways – is one of the ways we put life at the core of our organizational culture. In the last two years we have watched this approach create a working environment that encourages a more productive, healthy, and inspired team..
While some might argue the fiscal practicality of our policy, each year we are out performing the previous year in both fundraising and achieving our organizational goals. We are proving that organizations can work with women in this way while also increasing the bottom line, enhancing productivity, and promoting overall health and wellbeing. A period policy just makes good business sense.”
What can I do…in a school?
There are some great resources out there to introduce and discuss this topic with young people and their teachers. If you know a school or youth organisation that would like to explore this more please do get in touch. We’d also like to recommend www.mense-ed.com/programs who run some wonderful workshops for young people and schools.
Myself or my organisation are interested to learn more and explore this further – what can I do ?
Great, let’s pioneer this together – get in touch with Pam, she would love to hear from you.
General & background questions
Are you saying the Menstrual cycle is an asset, a positive thing?!
Yes we are. What if the menstrual cycle was seen as something powerful, useful, an asset that supports a woman in all her potential and thereby really contributes to the life of an organisation. For women the menstrual cycle provides the ultimate blueprint for optimum success. Working in balance with it improves health, stress, emotional well-being, creativity and can be the means to fully realise projects and goals. It is the creative process embodied into your being – remember, cycle literate women have the edge. And women can harness these powers and provide leadership and inspired vision for themselves and their organisations
And what would it take to achieve this change in perspective? Well, to start with some good education on menstrual cycle awareness, then a shift to value the importance of cyclical life and finally a big vision to bring more humanity back into how we live, work and treat each other. That is the work we are exploring and developing with the Pioneering Period Policy initiative.
Is it anti-feminist ?
No, it isn’t. We don’t think a woman’s biology determines her destiny. However, what’s more telling is that the menstrual cycle and menstruation are not talked about, can barely be mentioned in fact. We believe that’s far more telling – and says something about society’s view of women’s role, voice and status. Women menstruate yet hide all signs of it. That’s odd. We see women as healthy, strong, equal and capable. We don’t see this approach as anti-feminist. We see it very much as part of making space and building women’s equality in our society and the wider world.
Is it anti-men ?
No, not all at. This is a warm hello to all the men out there supporting us. We’ve really appreciated your fun and enthusiasm along the way. This work is about building the space for men and women to have a conversation together and providing knowledge so that we can all talk about this in a language that empowers, not humiliates or denigrates. We’ve been quite surprised how curious men are about this work. As individuals, and in relation to how it affects their partners, daughters, work colleagues and friends. And how supportive men are for moving towards new models of living and working together that serves women, men and indeed all genders better in the 21st century.
What is this word Menstruality all about?
Menstruality is a new approach based on how the knowledge and awareness of life processes from menarche, through the menstrual years, menopause and the mature years informs and shapes a woman’s health, skills and capabilities and consciousness.
By working with the dynamic of a monthly cycle women are tutored in the nature and power of natural cycles, how to work with them and not against them. How the potential of each part of a cycle can be respected and fully realised. Menstrual cycle awareness breeds ecological awareness and is sustainability thinking in action. Women and organisations who can support cycles are modelling sustainability to those around them.
And what are the Four Stages or ‘Inner Seasons’ of the Menstrual Cycle ?
It may be helpful to think about the four phases of menstrual cycle rather like the seasons, with pre-ovulation as the inner spring, ovulation as inner summer, premenstruum as inner autumn and menstruation as the winter of the cycle. Each woman will experience the tendencies and capacities of her cycle in her own unique way but an archetypical pattern is to have new ideas and enthusiasm in the inner spring, the energy and resources to power through, make things happen & network in the inner summer, a desire to review and edit in the inner autumn and an opportunity in inner winter to renew, imagine and clarify next steps.
Therefore for a woman there are amplified powers in each stage that she can capitalise upon. Each phase is a resource that she can draw upon to support her own health, creativity and help bring a project to fruition. That’s rather fantastic isn’t it?!
I suffer physically or emotionally with menstrual problems and this presents major problems at work.
We know this is hard. Especially when you can barely mention it at work. Or, if you do, you feel denigrated. We hope you can find support in our community here at Red School.
But in the long-term the only way to change this is by changing what is acceptable. We suggest you find allies, talk to others, see how other colleagues feel and begin a conversation about it. And when you feel ready, you can raise it more formally at work together. Employers, this is why we need you to take this issue on board.
On the health side – suffering with severe physical and emotional distress during your period or menstrual cycle may be common but it’s not normal. It’s not healthy. It’s a sign that something is out of balance. It can be addressed and supported. They are many resources and forms of support out there to ease and heal menstrual problems, we know, we’ve been there. Please do get in touch and we can direct you to sources of support and information
Yes, but there is lot of shame and taboo around this topic – it’s hard to discuss.
Yes we know – sometimes it feels like the last taboo. Because menstruation is still seen as a liability or a problem. Menstruation happens but we hardly talk about, barely mention the word in fact. That’s strange, isn’t it?
For centuries women have endured shame, ridicule and embarrassment around menstruation. They have been deprived of education and positions of influence and power because of the menstrual cycle. Whilst this is shifting to some degree for many women until women everywhere can comfortably talk about their cycles as healthy and positive we are all in some ways diminished.
This is also crucial for women who do suffer physical or emotional menstrual difficulties, so they can manage and heal their symptoms without feeling stigmatised. And as support for girls as they move through puberty, and women as they go through the transition of menopause.
What can I do to support my own menstrual cycle awareness?
As a first step, if you’re a woman we suggest start charting your own menstrual cycle, paying attention to it and see what you discover. There are many tips on how to do this – see Red School Menstrual Cycle Literacy and Hormone Harmony online courses.
As for some further steps – allow yourself to co-operate with the energies and pattern of the cycle and see what effects that brings for you. Both in your life and work. You can learn how to work in sync with the various aspects of your cycle. These practices alone are a potent form of natural medicine that can help ease distressing symptoms and will open up whole new ways of living and working more efficiently and effectively.
What else can I do?
Take whatever steps you can to lift the taboo. Be open to the menstruality concept. Notice where it crops up. Talk to friends and colleagues – be prepared for some people to be uncomfortable with the topic but also you may find more support than you realise. And with menstrual cycle awareness there’s nothing to stop individual women from informally introducing it regardless of their workplace conditions, building a movement from the ground up.
Many wonderful organisations and people have been active on menstrual awareness for years and all this good work has achieved so much. Something is shifting in the zeitgeist – we think people are more ready to have this conversation now.
What about the menopause ?
We think the menopause deserves a policy and approach in its own right. At this stage we are not able to address it in the required depth here. Red School does run a Menopause workshop . But how this relates to the workplace is something we’d like to explore much more. Perhaps you have your own experiences? We’d love to hear from you, please do get in touch
What can I do…if I’m a man?
Watch out for the menstruality meme. It will start cropping up in places. And if you’ve read this far you’re already a pretty open person, so listen, talk, call out menstrual shame where you see it. Maybe find out something new menstrupedia.com/blog/men-in-menstruation and you might just become a menstrual expert womanswheel.com/our-brothers and if all else fails just be cool Daveed
Are you the only ones onto this ?
No we are not, as coverage in the mainstream media has shown : Cosmopolitan named 2015 as “the year the period went public”. And then Newsweek declared 2016 as “the year of menstrual change” devoting the whole of its US edition front cover There Will Be Blood to menstruation. We think something has shifted in the zeitgeist – people are more ready to have this conversation now.
Still have questions?
Please ask in the comments below! Thanks