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Why period dignity REALLY matters

10 June 2024

By improving period dignity, FMs can help hit ESG targets and offer a positive boost to employee engagement and productivity. More importantly, it's the inclusive thing to do.

Every day, some 800 million people all over the world are menstruating. Yet, even today, in our enlightened times, it can be a source of shame and embarrassment. According to the charity Bloody Good Employer - which supports employers who are committed to promoting equality and diversity in the workplace – 89% of people who menstruate have experienced stress and anxiety in the workplace due to their period. More than just that, it’s actively putting the brakes on gender equality in the workplace, because 25% of those people surveyed by Bloody Good Employer said that taking time off because of menstrual health impacted on their career progression. 

The right to period dignity is a human right, according to the United Nations. “Period dignity is about ensuring everyone has access to sustainable period products and a supportive environment to manage their periods comfortably and with confidence,” says Frances Lucraft, Founder and CEO of sustainable female hygiene product company Grace & Green, whose website states that only 3% of employees feel the workplace does enough to support their needs around menstrual health. “Facility managers have a key role to play. By providing accessible restrooms with a stock of menstrual products, and fostering a culture of understanding, FMs can help create a workplace that empowers everyone,” she adds. 

Indeed, for facilities managers - who are responsible for ensuring all colleagues and other stakeholders are properly supported to work safely and with dignity and comfort – it’s no longer enough simply to provide the female washroom with a machine stocked with tampons and a regularly changed sanitary bin, and job done. Facilities managers are helping move the dial, creating workplaces that are truly equitable and supportive of diversity and inclusion, and washroom dignity plays a significant part in that.

An inclusive approach

One significant change is that a growing number of people now identify as trans and non-binary, and for those struggling with gender dysphoria, periods can be triggering and upsetting. For trans men and some non-binary people, using male washroom facilities can be problematic if the washroom doesn’t contain menstrual products and sanity bins. While one obvious solution to this is to ensure that men’s washrooms do cater to trans and non-binary individuals by including locking toilet cubicles and menstrual products, another solution is to ensure that there are all-gender single use bathroom stalls available, containing a toilet, sink, drying facilities, menstrual products and bin, and a floor-to-ceiling locking door. Some people object to all-gender washrooms on religious grounds, or are simply too embarrassed to use them, whereas single use bathroom stalls enable everyone – men, women, trans and non-binary people – to toilet and take care of their menstrual health in complete privacy. This is as important to men as it is to women, trans and non-binary people, as men, too, can struggle with dignity-related issues in the washroom.

However, it is important to note that the UK Government has brought forward new requirements for single sex toilet facilities in new non-domestic buildings, meaning that any all-gender single stall facilities will be needed to be in addition, rather than instead of, single sex toilets. 

Regular cleaning

Another thing that’s absolutely vital to period dignity is a washroom that’s cleaned regularly – and properly. Dirty toilets and overflowing sanitary bins are not conductive to menstrual hygiene, so working with cleaners who deliver to a high standard is essential, as is regular monitoring of washrooms. This is yet another area of FM where IoT technology comes into its own, as sensors and smart tech can be deployed to monitor usage and deploy cleaning teams as and when needed. Touch-free sanitary bins - such as those designed by Citron Hygiene, which co-sponsors the Period Dignity Award at the annual Loo of the Year Awards – can also offer a more hygienic solution to ordinary sanitary bins.

The normalisation of menstruation as a regular part of working life has also seen a growing number of washrooms being stocked with free menstrual products – and in fact, with the cost-of-living crisis still in full swing, many employers recognise the importance of offering free menstrual products. The average woman spends a whopping £4,800 on period products in her lifetime – and a 2019 poll conducted by Bloody Big Brunch found that a shocking 27% of women had missed work or school due to not being able to afford menstrual products.

Boosting ESG

For facilities managers and employers, procuring eco-friendly menstrual products that are offered free to employees is a great way of hitting ESG targets. One company offering sustainable menstrual products is Grace & Green. Their founder Frances Lucraft worked for over a decade in the water and sanitation industry, and was shocked by the impact conventional female hygiene products have on the environment. Their products are 100% certified organic, ethical and sustainable period products that offer consumers a safe, effective choice that provide ultimate protection – and they’ve also created the Period Dignity Scheme, which they say is the most comprehensive period employer scheme in the UK, and with benefits including corporate discounts on all organic product lines, 15% off one-off Grace & Green product orders, and 2% of revenue donated to tree planting and charitable product donations.

Organic Mondays is another brand offering sustainable menstrual products. Set up by former investment banker Elisabeth Dewey and former accountant Nancy Saddington in 2019, the company is on a mission to encourage businesses to boost DE&I by offering the products freely to their employees. “It’s a simple thing for companies to do, and once they grasp that, they realise they can have all this positive messaging around diversity and equity, inclusion, sustainability,” says Elisabeth Dewey. 

All this highlights that facilities managers have a huge amount to gain from taking period dignity seriously. As well as helping to hit sustainability and social targets, it helps with engagement and productivity – and Dewey points out, is excellent value for money. ““For less than the price of a cup of coffee per month you create an environment where 50% of your workforce know they belong,” she states. “And those people are your brand ambassadors, who go out and tell the rest of the world what a great company you are.”

Have you heard of the Black Cardi Initiative?

For many women, non-binary and trans people, the fear of being caught out by a heavy or unexpected period or perimenopausal flooding, and having to cover up stained clothing, is very real. The Black Cardi Initiative was an idea dreamed up by Julie Cridland, lead of the menopause support group at Aster Group, one of the first three UK businesses to achieve menopause friendly employer accreditation. It’s now being rolled out in businesses across the UK and consists of a long black cardigan being hung up in the toilets which anyone can wrap round their waist if they’re caught short, enabling them to retain their dignity until they’re able to get a change of clothes.

Emma Rannard works for one of the educational establishments rolling out the Black Cardi Initiative. She says: “At Our Community Multi Academy Trust (OCMAT), we've launched The Black Cardi Initiative, placing a long cardigan on the back of staff toilet doors in our 10 schools across Kent for any staff to use for emergency cover-up situations and we also provide care boxes in staff toilets containing sanitary towels, tampons, deodorant (male and female) etc because we prioritise our staff's wellbeing. 

“We want every team member to feel comfortable and supported, knowing they can handle any personal accident or issue with ease and dignity.”

Image: Shutterstock

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