How can you be a better advocate for reproductive health in your workplace?
It’s 2017 and we’re leaving the patriarchy behind (slowly but surely). While larger movements, like January’s Women’s March underscored how women are organizing to make their stand on umbrella issues known, there’s still much work to be done on day-to-day realities.
One space, specifically, where work could be done is actually at work. Whether you’re a junior employee or the CEO of your own company, there are various ways to create an inclusive environment, champion a person’s reproductive health needs and empower others to speak up on issues that are important to them.
Offer free menstrual products, no questions asked
Lots of businesses stock their bathrooms with menstrual products, but often at the cost of a quarter or two. Unfortunately, that quarter multiplies quickly throughout the span of a menstrual cycle. The small cost per menstrual product at work is the tip of the iceberg on a larger issue — a menstruating individual could spend an estimated $18,000 on menstrual products throughout their lifetime.
In fact, the high cost of products and the luxury tax associated with them has led to legislation like the Menstrual Equity Act for All and Common Cents Tax Reform Act, which support increasing access to menstrual products for all. Particularly, the legislation focuses on making these products accessible to more vulnerable communities — like those living in shelters.
Following suit on a company-wide level and offering products for free could help create a more livable environment for those who work for you.
“I think the free menstrual products is a really nice touch if you ever have external people at your workplace as well [including] customers, clients, applicants, etc.,” explains Laura Gluhanich, Head of Community at Everwise.
Advocate for gender neutral bathrooms
In March 2016, the governor of North Carolina, Paul McCrory, signed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which sparked mainstream news coverage of what we know today as the ‘transgender bathroom debate.’ In October 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case from Gavin Grimm, a 17-year old transgender male student from Virginia who was banned from using the boy’s restroom at school. The conversation around the topic has only grown more prominent since then.
According to ATTN, major corporations like Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, and Target are implementing gender neutral bathrooms in their storefronts.
To go the extra mile, challenge your company to make the bathroom experience an inclusive one and stick to words that are gender-neutral. For instance, steer away from speaking in gender binaries like “ladies and gentlemen,” “boys and girls,” “he or she,” etc. Adopt gender neutral vocabulary—“they, them, theirs”—to refer to people, especially if you don’t know which gender they identify with. There are more than two genders—and those who you work with, that don’t identify with a binary gender, will notice how your language changes.
Allow for remote work
Offering the option for remote work could be a cost-effective alternative for any company. When looking at reasons why people may miss work regularly, a top reason that may come to mind is the presence of health issues.
According to the Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy, people with endometriosis are more likely to miss work due to their symptoms.
Many companies all over the world—in the United Kingdom, Italy, India, and more—are beginning to offer menstrual leave, or unpaid or paid monthly time off an employee can take due to menstruation. While period symptoms vary from person to person, this policy can greatly benefit those with serious medical conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Be flexible with schedules and time off
Paid time off is a reproductive justice issue. In an interview with Forbes, Werk founders Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean insist “flexibility is the future of feminism” because mothers need flexibility to succeed professionally.
Money explains major technology corporations including Amazon, Apple, and Facebook are implementing generous family leave policies. For instance, Adobe offers 26 weeks of paid paternity leave. Fast Company also reports Netflix, Evernote, and LinkedIn offer unlimited “take what you need” vacation time for employees.
Unfortunately, workforce legislation often determines the culture of what offices will look like. According to the Independent, the United States still has one of the worst maternity leaves in the world, leaving new American mothers extremely vulnerable to financial hardships as they raise children.
“When a woman needs-or chooses–to take three to six months by cobbling together benefits, disability, or unpaid time and partners only have or choose to take two weeks, it’s a pretty brutal setup,” adds Tessa Petrich, a leadership and life coach.