My Time with Bloody Good Employers
By Anushree Gupta, our bloody brilliant intern
Bloody Good Employers (BGE) is a new initiative by Bloody Good Period which aims to help employers play a more active role in the conversation around menstruation, and improve the support they offer to employees who menstruate. As BGP prepares to launch our dual research report early 2021, encompassing both employer and employee contexts around menstruation, Anushree Gupta - our first ever intern - shares her experience of our work and why it's so bloody important for the next generation.
When I was 10, my school organised a period seminar for all girls in my grade. They went the entire 40 minutes without using the word period or menstruation. I had not had my first period by then and naturally had absolutely no clue what was being discussed. I asked my friends around me and they smirked and giggled without really answering anything. That right there is the period problem. The assumption that period knowledge is common, while avoiding most conversations about it.
This lack of conversation and the prevalence of misinformation were common themes throughout my teen years. What then changed this, and made me realise the importance of open conversations, was a strong group of female friends who would talk about all things that would have been conventionally considered inappropriate - or even disgusting.
I had never had any qualms about menstruation and ‘period talk’, but there was truly something liberating about being able to discuss menstrual cramps and hair removal and body insecurities with this amazing group of girls. I don’t think we ever found any solutions, but the shared knowledge of each other’s problems and insecurities truly made those experiences so much less terrible and lonely.
This belief in camaraderie and supportive conversations has continued throughout my time at university. Additionally having to set a working schedule for myself outside of a school timetable brought me to my second big period realisation: hormones can be hell. I was familiar with hormones and PMS before but they were simply the reasons behind acne and snide remarks respectively. I never thought about how it affected my productivity, eating behaviour, and sleep.
Hence I would criticise myself for not being healthy enough or productive enough or energetic enough every month, without discerning the pattern right before my eyes. Even after I spotted the commonality of the timeframe in which this would happen, it took me over four months to establish a clear link between this and the hormone variations associated with the menstrual cycle.
It took me another year before I actually started tracking my periods, not just to predict my next date but, to understand how the cycle unfolds through the month. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of tracking periods for women of all ages, as understanding these fluctuations we go through as a function of biology is so much more liberating than blaming yourself for your perceived limitations.
These revelations, along with a desire to tackle the world’s biggest problems head on, instead of running away from them, is what led me to Bloody Good Period.
In my time as an intern for the Bloody Good Employers initiative, I tried to understand what the lack of these practices meant for working women. I read reports of women struggling with access to bathrooms during their periods. I spoke with women who were made redundant during pregnancies. I came across legal cases of discrimination against menopausal women. And these were far from one-off examples. As someone who is still at university, I was surprised if not terrified, by the fact that every working woman I spoke to had at least one such story.
It has been a truly humbling experience to investigate how challenging the Bloody Good Employers initiative is, despite all our modern resources and specialisations. Or perhaps it is challenging because of the nature of our modern resources?
Simone de Beauvoir called women ‘The Second Sex’ - they are not secondary of course, but typically they are always thought of in addition and never by default. For the majority of previous centuries, the world has been designed for men and run by men, keeping in mind the needs of men. Then, it is only logical that a design and logistical flaw would have ensued when women moved into the workspace.
Our next step then should be to correct this design flaw and simply do away with the whole problem, right? Well, it is not as simple as that. Physical spaces and social interactions within are inherently a reflection of a society and its power structure.
So keeping in mind the past and the politics of the present, our challenge now is to build a forward-looking strategy.
The pandemic and lockdowns have been particularly hard on women. Women-dominated industries like healthcare, wellness, tourism and retail have been amongst the worst hit, while increased care responsibilities at home have meant women have had to opt out of their jobs too. However, the pandemic has also shown that if employers are willing, flexible-working and working from home is very much possible. This then casts a shadow on all other arguments against policies that could make the workplace and the work requirements more female-friendly.
As a part of Bloody Good Employers, BGP conducted a survey titled Have your Bloody Say. It was circulated over the summer and garnered around 3,000 responses. It saw a mix of women in stable jobs, temporary positions, and those working in precarious conditions. The survey was broken down into three key aspects: understanding the demographics of the respondents, current provisions, policies, and colleagues’ attitudes surrounding menstruation, and what the road ahead could look like.
When choosing the strategies that would help them going forward, survey respondents told us that the their priorities were: help normalise the conversation around periods in the workplace (63%), provide free menstrual products in the workplace (61%), and provide more information to all employees, creating and championing a culture of menstrual equity (59%).
I would be biased if I were to omit that 10% of the respondents felt that their employers were doing enough to support them. This is a great sign of progress and an indicator that progress is possible in making sure that periods are factored into the modern workplace.
The survey responses and the wealth of literature I came across on my internship has motivated me to conduct my final year dissertation on periods in a work environment. BGP has been instrumental in not only paving my way into this academic inquiry, but also in normalising period talk in a work setting.
While it can be frustrating at times to think of real progress and its speed in this realm, working with organisations like BGP and talking to the people passionately associated with it in varying capacities truly fuels one’s energy. I can’t wait to see an initiative like Bloody Good Employers be a part of all workplaces of the future and hopefully the next few generations can come to think of menstrual inequity as a thing of the past.