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Why periods and menopause shouldn't be taboo at work

23 August 2023

Meshi Taka, ICE Fairness, Inclusion and Respect committee member, discusses the British Standards Institution’s guidance on menstrual health.

Why periods and menopause shouldn't be taboo at work
Inclusive change needs inclusive action, says Meshi. Image credit: Meshi Taka

As representation of women in the workplace continues to grow, it’s becoming more evident how many of the existing frameworks and cultures don’t serve the specific needs of women.

The British Standards Institute published BS 30416 Understanding menopause and menstrual health (BS 30416) in May 2023.

It provides guidance to support menstruation, menstrual health and menopause in the workplace.

The way we work is changing; however, in many cases, core working practices are still not far from those that were designed at a time where women were not equally represented or prioritized as employees.

As pressure grew for women to enter the workforce, it became a case of them fitting into existing frameworks where their specific needs were not served, and in many cases are still not served today.

Extract from BS 30416

The way we work is changing

In recent years, talking about menopause has become more common place as is the conversation on creating more inclusive workplaces.

There have also been some knockbacks.

Notably, in January 2023 when the government rejected the proposals from the Women and Equalities committee of the House of Commons to:

  • a ‘workplace menopause leave policy’ trial
  • a consultation on making menopause a protected characteristic under the Equality Act

I got myself a copy of BS 30416 – it's free to download by the way.

Here are my thoughts.

Setting the scene

BS 30416 starts off by exploring why women’s health in the workplace is important. And, why now?

It addresses the importance of tackling entrenched cultures and misconceptions as well as workplace adjustments even when women health’s issues are managed elsewhere.

It considers some of the widely held myths and beliefs that sometimes misguide and/or distract when discussing women’s health and welfare.

It also touches on the mutual benefits for employers and employees including:

  • better engagement and productivity
  • better staff welfare
  • talent retention in a challenging recruitment market with a growing skills gap

Practical actions

This standard seeks to embed changes through practical actions in our workplaces in order to make them more inclusive.

Especially in five key areas:

  • policy guidance
  • supportive work cultures
  • work design
  • physical aspects of work
  • role adjustments

The standard places inclusivity at the organisational core and applies metrics to monitor progress.

BS 30416 also provides supporting documents for employers:

  • HR and line manager toolkit including tips on how to start confidential conversations, workplace risk assessments and examples of reasonable adjustments
  • internal review checklist – for organisations to use when implementing BS30416 and its recommendations
  • recruitment considerations
  • initiatives to enable culture change
  • communication and training
  • cross referencing associated standards for example BS ISO 45003, BS ISO 30415, PAS6463

Does BS 30416 go far enough?

I shared the new standard with a friend to read and asked for feedback:

“I felt the statistics were light and covered more general menstrual symptoms…”

“The general guidance was useful and I liked that it touched on the small things that can make a big difference (like controlling work place temperatures)…”

“I think it could still go further, the BSI is a good starting point but I feel there is still a missing link between the general public of menopause and acceptance”

It’s a poll of only two, but our feelings are shared, it could go much go further.

BS 30416 goes a long way towards supporting employers in driving more inclusive workplace changes.

…assist organizations to identify misconceptions around menstrual and peri/menopausal health, and the impact the stigma surrounding them can have on workplace support.

The practical workplace adjustments and activities recommended here support existing activities around workplace wellbeing and occupational health and safety initiatives.

These workplace adjustments support and complement existing medical provisions in a more rounded and holistic way.

Extract from BS 30416

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 recognises duties on the employer and employees to protect the health, safety and welfare at work.

This standard doesn't provide any specific support for the employees as an active influencer:

  • What happens when the organisation fails to drive to adopt the guidance or nurture more inclusive workplaces?
  • What role can employees play to help establish behavioural changes?
  • What support system is available to those directly or indirectly affected by women’s health and welfare in the workplace?
  • How can the public support colleagues, partners, friends and/or family?

The ultimate goal of BS 30416 is to help create a workplace environment that is suitable for everyone.

Inclusive change needs inclusive action and empowerment at all levels.

A problem shared is a problem halved!

I recently read that BSI plans to bring BS 30416 to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) after one year.

Perhaps some (if not all) of these questions could be addressed before that happens.

  • Meshi Taka, associate director at Waterman Aspen