Many women have experienced period symptoms — from menstrual cramps to headaches — that are severe enough to interfere with their ability to work, but it’s rare to find a business that officially makes allowances for its female employees’ monthly flow. Recently, Coexist, a community interest company based in Bristol, UK, has done just that; the company has created an open period policy for its staff that encourages them to take time off if they are experiencing debilitating menstrual pain. The policy will be a boon to the 24 women in Coexist’s 31-person staff, and will, hopefully, help lift the stigma that surrounds this fundamental aspect of many women’s lives.
As Bex Baxter, one of Coexist’s directors, explained to the Bristol Post, many women feel that they can’t take time off work due to period pain because it doesn’t count as “real” pain. “I have managed many female members of staff over the years and I have seen women at work who are bent over double because of the pain caused by their periods,” she said. “Despite this, they feel they cannot go home because they do not class themselves as unwell. And this is unfair…. If someone is in pain — no matter what kind — they are encouraged to go home.”
Coexist will craft their policy as part of a “Pioneering Period Policy” seminar, led by Australian women’s leadership coach Alexandra Pope. “In the past any proposal to allow women to for example have time off at menstruation has been derided by men and women alike,” Pope told the Bristol Post. “In this context menstruation is seen as a liability or a problem. Or as women getting ‘special treatment.’” She added, “The purpose of this policy initiative is to create a positive approach to menstruation and the menstrual cycle that empowers women and men and supports the effectiveness and wellbeing of the organisation.”
Baxter said that the period leave will not be mandatory, and that she doesn’t expect to have any problems with employees taking unfair advantage of the policy. “[E]veryone at Coexist respects the company and gives more than 100 per cent to their work, so I don't think we will have an issue with people deceiving us,” she explained. She believes that the policy will actually increase worker productivity, saying, “There is a misconception that taking time off makes a business unproductive. Actually it is about synchronising work with the natural cycles of the body.”
Coexist isn’t the first company to create a policy to accommodate menstruation. Refinery 29 points out that Japan has had a law giving leave to menstruating women since 1947, and Taiwan, South Korea, and Indonesia each have their own variations of menstrual leave. (Such policies are not without detractors, however). According to The Daily Mail, Nike seems to be the only global company with menstrual leave written into its Code of Conduct.